A blockbuster deal involving the two largest newspaper chains in the U.S. was announced last week. It will most definitely affect Asheville’s daily newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times. Here’s a look:
The deal: GateHouse Media, which owns more than 150 newspapers in the U.S. and is backed by an investment company, plans to buy Gannett Co., which owns flagship USA Today and about 100 other newspapers in the U.S., including the Asheville daily. The combined company would have more than 260 daily papers across the nation, as well as more than 300 weeklies, according to media reports. If the deal meets all regulatory approvals, and it likely will, it should be complete by the end of the year.
A counter move: MNG Enterprises, the owner of Digital First Media, said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday that it has taken a more than 9 percent stake in New Media Investment Group, the parent company of GateHouse Media, CNN reports. That’s widely seen as a move to influence, or undo, a GateHouse-Gannett merger, because MNG has previously made offers on Gannett, which the company turned down.
The backdrop: The consolidation, which would create the largest newspaper company in the U.S. with a print circulation of 8.7 million, comes as the newspaper industry continues to struggle with how to make money online while dealing with a decade of steady print advertising revenue and circulation declines. With no clear path to significant increases in digital revenue, newspaper companies continue to resort to consolidation and spending cuts, not the least of which come in the form of job cuts.
On the ground in Asheville: Gannett owns the Asheville Citizen-Times, as well as the weekly newspapers in Black Mountain and Marshall. It also owns the daily newspaper in Greenville, S.C. Gannett’s printing plant for these newspapers is located in Upstate South Carolina. (The Asheville newspaper printing plant was a victim of cost-cutting a decade ago.) GateHouse owns the daily Hendersonville Times-News, as well as the daily in Spartanburg, S.C. Across North Carolina, GateHouse owns the newspapers in Fayetteville, Kinston, Gastonia, Burlington, Shelby and more.
Consolidation: It’s easy to imagine that the new newspaper company, to be called Gannett, will seek to save money by combining offices and staffing. News for Asheville and Hendersonville could be easily produced by reporters and photographers managed out of one office by one set of editors. Advertising, human resources and circulation duties would also likely be consolidated.
Closer look at impacts: Here’s a much deeper dive into the nuances of the deal, including some key numbers that are driving it, from Newsonomics writer Ken Doctor at Nieman Lab.
Fewer days in print: Regardless of the GateHouse-Gannett deal, one change that will likely affect more daily newspapers in the coming year: fewer days in actual print, writes Doctor at Nieman Lab. Publishers across the country are strategizing and studying the impacts of cutting the number of days they’re actually in print.
Last round of layoffs: The Asheville Citizen-Times was last hit with layoffs in January, when editors Brian Ponder and Bruce Steele, photographer Matt Burkhartt and longtime reporter Mark Barrett were laid off. That brought the decimated reporting staff to a low of 13 reporters, down from about 75 in 2000.
A note about newsroom morale: Newspaper managers worry a lot about “newsroom morale,” an intangible that can clearly affect the quality of their product. After a decade of crippling layoffs, how will the latest merger/acquisition affect the vitality of Citizen-Times newsgathers? It remains to be seen, but it’s worth watching.