By Sam Burnham
There has been some, although I fear not enough, conversation about the announcement that Morris Publishing would be selling 11 daily newspapers in the southeast to Gatehouse Media of Pittsford, New York. I looked Pittsford up so you won't have to. It's just southwest of Rochester, which in on Lake Erie in western New York. Don't feel bad, I didn't know either.
Included in those 11 papers are The Augusta Chronicle, the Athens Banner-Herald, and the Savannah Morning News. The company already operates dailies in Alabama (Tuscaloosa and Gadsden), South Carolina (Spartanburg), Tennessee (Columbia and Oak Ridge), 11 dailies in North Carolina, and nine dailies in Florida. They have a substantial hold on the smaller markets in these states. I was a little surprised to see that they hold both the Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner which were the two competing newspapers that my grandparents read.
This story was covered this past week by On Second Thought and I agree with many of the points raised there. When these companies move in and begin to downsize newsrooms, cut staff, print more AP reports and op-eds while offering fewer real local stories, local news suffers. Remembering the newspaper boxes lined up outside Ocala's Plantation Pancake and now realizing that as many as four of them are owned by the same New York based company is a little upsetting.
Even in our online age, the boots on the ground are the people making the stories happen. These are often the same people who leave lasting influence. Bo Whaley, Lewis Grizzard, Henry Grady, Charles Henry Smith (Bill Arp), Douglas Southall Freeman, Margret Mitchell, and Ralph McGill were all local newspaper reporters and columnists. These people all had influences that went beyond the interests of local politics, crime, obituaries, current events, etc. but they were all first and foremost local newspaper writers. And just as Bill Arp and Henry Grady spent their early days on the beat for the weekly Rome Courier today's journalists often get started in these smaller papers. When you combine future stars cutting their teeth alongside seasoned journalists who choose to stay in local news, you can get a really good product and a well informed populace.
Back during the south Georgia tornadoes, I followed the stories from the Atlanta news outlets but I also followed them from The Adel News-Tribune and The Valdosta Daily Times. While even outlets like CNN were covering the story, the reporters from these two local papers live there. They know the details of the area, the people and places involved, and they understand the impact. A person in Pittsford, New York couldn't find Cook County on a map of Cecil. We need these small outlets to be vibrant and locally controlled.
Papers such as those in Columbus, Augusta, and Savannah hold influence in areas of Georgia. Just as the AJC or the Orlando Sentinel may play roles in the Southeast, The Savannah Morning News plays a similar role along the Georgia coast. They play an important role and often report the news to larger outlets. Not even The New York Times can't put someone on every story. They rely on reports from smaller entities to get information on these stories.
Local news is and will always be important. On the ABG Twitter account we often share stories that are posted from the papers in Augusta, Valdosta, Rome, and even Adel because they are telling the stories of what is going on in our state. Some of my old college companions are doing good work just over the state line with the Anniston Star. We retweet stories from there as well. If people support these outlets with subscriptions, purchases, and supporting their advertisers, these entities can remain as healthy as they are important. Locally owned and led news is as important as locally owned businesses (news falsh, it is one) and local control of government. These newspapers are a vital role in our communities and we should demand these corporations offer us more local influence over them or we need to have better local options. Local news needs to be local.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire