I can't help but notice while the American media continues to cede more and more ground to Trump on facts, on coverage, and on propriety, local newspapers are dying at such a rate that ten years from now they won't be around. The latest victims: the Youngstown (OH) Vindicator and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as Philly Inquirer columnist Will Bunch observes.
On Friday night, the Vindicator stunned the journalism world when the family that owns Northeast Ohio’s largest newspaper (having resisted the chain ownership that’s gobbled up many similar news orgs) announced it will stop printing in late August, killing off 144 full-time jobs and also delivering a blow to 250 part-time news carriers. It’s another hit for a region that’s suffered 40 years of industrial job losses and is still reeling from GM’s shutdown of its giant Lordstown assembly line, but there’s a much deeper significance to this news.
Ever since the rise of the internet sped up declines in print newspaper circulation and blew up that business model in the 2000s, media pundits have speculated when and where a significant American city will no longer have a daily newspaper, and now we know the answer: Youngstown, Ohio, in 2019. It’s hard to imagine a worse place or a worse time.
Even sadder, the grim announcement from Youngstown was the exclamation point on a Black Friday for journalism in the United States. On the same afternoon, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, one of the most iconic nameplates in American journalism history, was absorbed into the rival Advocate, a move that will also shrink the number of journalists covering a city coping with poverty, murder and climate change. But scores of other news orgs -- including the one you now hold in your hands -- are also coping this year with job losses, and this is in the so-called good economy.
But journalism’s problems transcend mere dollars. Friday was also a painful day for American journalists because it marked the one-year anniversary of the newsroom shooting by an angry local resident that claimed five lives at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. — highlighting the rising threats to a free press in this country. Halfway around the world, President Trump chose this day to joke with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — who’s had more reporters killed than the monster of Annapolis — about “getting rid of” journalists who produce what these two autocrats both call “fake news.”
All of this is a reminder that the closing of Youngstown’s only daily paper is a blow not just to a struggling city that needs information, but to American democracy.
As more and more news sources are lost and replaced by deliberate disinformation, corporate PR and Trump state news, we run the risk of a populace that falls below a critical threshold of being able to maintain anything resembling a democratic state.
Of course, that's the point.