Layoffs and consolidation await the Asheville Citizen-Times staff, who will soon be under new management after last week’s acceptance of a mega-merger acquisition deal between the newspaper’s corporate owner, Gannett, and the investment company that owns GateHouse Media.
Shareholders of Gannett and New Media Investment Group Inc., which owns GateHouse Media, OK’d the proposal on Nov. 14. It’s expected to be finalized later this week. Poynter.org’s Rick Edmonds writes that a first round of cuts is planned for early December, with another round coming after the start of the new year.
It’s not clear exactly how the cost-saving moves will play out in the Asheville area, but the new, giant newspaper company (to be called Gannett, and with more than 250 newspapers under its umbrella) is working with a distinct geographic footprint here. The following area newspapers are affected: the Citizen-Times and the Greenville News in Greenville, S.C., which are both Gannett daily newspapers; the Hendersonville Times-News, the daily newspaper in Henderson County, owned by GateHouse; the weekly newspapers in Black Mountain (Black Mountain News) and Marshall (News-Record & Sentinel) in Madison County; and a little farther afield, the daily Spartanburg Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C., and the daily Shelby Star in Shelby, N.C.
Will jobs be cut? Certainly. Could offices be closed and combined? It’s possible considering the specific geographic area were talking about. Could newspapers be shut down completely? GateHouse has a record of that.
The new company will be focused on establishing a business model that puts digital offerings first. The Poynter story above cites strengths that Gannett and GateHouse bring to the table: an established national advertising network from Gannett; an events arm from GateHouse that specializes in high school sports banquets; and an expertise on the part of new operating CEO Paul Bascobert in the direct sale of products and services to users ,and paid listings by vendors.
The Citizen-Times has recently begun locking down specific stories to keep them from being viewed (the newspaper already has a paywall), labeling them “for subscribers” only, while other content “will remain accessible to all readers, a few of them available for free each month before you’re asked to subscribe,” according to the paper’s editor, Katie Wadington, who wrote a column about the changes.
I tweeted this change, along with a comment that it might signal a move to cut the number of the days the newspaper actually appears in print. Wadington responded on Twitter.
“‘The move’ is part of a shift in the media industry as a whole to recognize the actual value of journalists’ work,” Wadington tweeted.
“Subscription revenue also helps diversify a revenue stream that no longer can rely solely on advertising.” She added: “And it is not a digital-only play. If subscribers want a full access subscription, which includes the print edition, that’s certainly encouraged. We have no plans to cut print editions.”
Time will tell.
An Oct. 17 story posted at Poynter.org by Edmonds reveals a memo to all employees penned by Bascobert, who addressed the issue of the future of print. Here’s his response: “To be clear, the decision will be made by the market telling us where we should focus. We will continue to maintain print if consumers are asking for it and the economics make sense. Our goal is to hold as steady as we can on print while focusing on transforming our digital business…”
McClatchy, the corporate parent of the Charlotte Observer, the News & Observer in Raleigh, The State in Columbia, S.C., and a number of other newspapers, announced last week that it was ending the Saturday print edition at 30 of its newspapers next year. Bloomberg reports that the company could file for bankruptcy next year.
Meantime, the Citizen-Times staff has been working on digital transformation this summer and fall. The newspaper is one of 13 media organizations gathered on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill at the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. They’re focused on audience engagement and creating sustainable revenue streams as part of a push called the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative. The Greenville News is also taking part in this work, alongside other broadcast, digital and newspaper outlets from North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The Citizen-Times involvement runs through August 2020.
The Citizen-Times staff has set out a specific goal for its digital metamorphosis and is working with coaches to make change at their organization modeled after the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, described as “a hands-on program for driving digital transformation in news organizations across the country.” The journalism program at UNC Chapel Hill, and the Knight Foundation, are both top-notch. We’ll see what they plan they devise. Go here for examples of success stories from past participants.