When media giant Gannett wanted to sell the Lake Sun Leader, a community newspaper with a 120-year history, Trevor Vernon decided it would go well with his family’s other publications.
Vernon Communications owns the Eldon Advertiser, the Hermitage Index, and the Tipton Times.
“It makes sense,” said Vernon. “I have a newspaper on both sides. I drove to Hickory County once a week. It made sense that this happened. “
The sale was Announced at the beginning of August and is just one of a dozen titles Gannett or his predecessor GateHouse Media published from their Missouri newspapers. Gatehouse merged with Gannett in 2019, under whose name a nationwide chain with more than 100 daily newspapers, including the flagship USA Today, 1,000 weekly newspapers and numerous specialist publications.
At the time of the merger, GateHouse owned a dozen Missouri and Gannett newspapers, the Springfield News Leader. GateHouse’s largest acquisition in Missouri prior to the merger was the Columbia Daily Tribune, Purchased in 2016 by the family who had owned it for 115 years.
The Tribune was the last family-owned newspaper to serve a Missouri city of 100,000 or more.
Now the Tribune and the News Leader are the only Missouri newspapers owned by Gannett.
In the past few weeks, the others have been snapped up by local newspaper owners nearby who wanted to show that they can offer quality community journalism – and make a profit from it.
Gannett hasn’t made his plans to sell smaller community newspapers clear, but announcements came in regularly over the summer, the trade magazine Editor and publisher reports.
A successful newspaper must provide advertisers with a reason to buy space on their print and online platforms, said Randall Smith, professor of business journalism at the University of Missouri.
“You live and die from content, and if you don’t have quality journalism, you’re not going to be around long and not be essential,” said Smith.
GateHouse expanded rapidly and drastically reduced costs in the years before the merger. The company laid off news staff, centralized business operations, and cut publication days. In 2018 it is Closed the Waynesville Daily Guide and the 134 year old Carthage press.
At the Tribune, the newspaper worked with only one reporter on staff in early 2018.
The Lake Sun leader, who also publishes magazines and specialist publications on Lake of the Ozarks recreational and real estate, will have three reporters and an editor, Vernon said.
That means he’s hiring.
While Vernon does not want to expand his chain, he said he would like more community newspapers to be returned to local ownership.
“I hope it’s a national trend,” he said. “I believe Gannett did the same thing in Kansas. I really believe that local journalists need to do local journalism. “
The changes will be good for both Gannett and the community newspapers under the new ownership, said Mark Maassen, executive director of the Missouri Press Association.
“It was no secret that these newspapers had problems,” said Maassen. “With local ownership, they now get the attention they deserve.”
New to news
Many of the new owners of the former Gannett papers already own newspapers in neighboring counties or states. But there is one owner who only started doing newspapers last year.
Cherry Road Media, owned by Cherry Road Technologies of Parsippany, NJ, bought the Independence Examiner, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, the Boonville Daily News, and the Linn County Leader in a deal announced on September 24th this includes 16 other newspapers in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.
The company now owns 27 newspapers in seven states.
“I think when you look at them, especially the Missouri properties, especially the three smaller papers, they have been pared down to the point where the product is a shell of its former self,” said Jeremy Gulban, CEO of Cherry Road.
That means his newspapers, like Vernon’s, will be discontinued.
“We want to develop a better product that is more local,” said Gulban. “We’ll need a few more hands to bring subscribers and the ad base back.”
Cherry Road meets the technological needs of government and educational institutions. The model that Gulban aims to produce will use this knowledge to help communities improve their technology and make the newspaper an important element of that improvement.
“We have these skills,” he says. “We’re an internet service provider, but some companies don’t have websites. We intend to build a community portal to sell things online and make it a lot more affordable to keep the dollars in the community. “
The first paper sold from GateHouse’s Missouri holdings was the Hannibal Courier Post, which was purchased in 2019 by Quincy Media, the publisher of Quincy, Illinois, Herald-Whig. This firm was bought in early 2021 from Phillips Media Group, an Arkansas newspaper company that owns eight other publications from Missouri.
Phillips bought the in August Kirksville Daily Express. It also bought the Rolla Daily News but turned around and sold it to Salem Publishing, which also publishes the Phelps County Focus.
The Rolla Daily News is merged with the Focuswhich will be the name of the surviving publication.
“They just kept cutting, cutting, cutting at Rolla Daily News until they wrenched themselves out of existence,” said Donald Dodd, owner of Salem Publishing Company.
Founded four years ago to compete with the Rolla Daily News, the Focus is one of three newspapers that recently gained press association membership after surviving the first three years of its existence.
The others are the Maries County Advocate and the South Cass Tribune of Harrisonville.
“You need to have local news and support the local community or your days are numbered,” Dodd said.
The other newspapers sold by Gannett are Aurora Advertiser and Neosho Daily News, bought by Küster media groupwho also publishes the Newton News Dispatch and the River Hills Traveler. The news dispatch will be merged with the Daily News.
The overall economy of newspapers do not indicate a healthy industry.
In 2020, subscription revenues exceeded advertising revenues for the first time, which declined 26 percent over the year, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even before the pandemic, revenues were declining and from 2008 to 2019 the newspapers responded with it Reducing jobs in the editorial office by 28 percent.
The profitability of a community newspaper is based on a different calculation than that of the daily newspapers in metropolitan areas.
A publisher can expect income from legal advertising for foreclosures, legal proceedings, and election notices. Local business owners can advertise to a local audience drawn to news they cannot find anywhere else.
Tim Schmidt, who recently took ownership of a newspaper, said his dreams of becoming a publisher began when he was going through the paper’s grades after school. Then he became a sports reporter.
“I was able to report on games and got paid for it and thought about it,” said Schmidt. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
After many years in the Washington Missourian, Schmidt bought the Montgomery Standard in 2018. Soon he added the Warren County Record and last year he bought the Mexico Ledger from Gannett.
This summer the Moberly Monitor Index was included bought from his Westplex Media Group.
“Our whole thing is that we want to work with everyone,” said Schmidt. “We want people to think of the newspaper when they think of our community.”
The new local owners aren’t the only publishers trying to invest in more reporters and bigger newspapers in order to win back readers.
The Kansas City star, owned by California-based McClatchy, 16 pages added per week in August, adding a dozen reporters to fill it up.
The new local property, based on a sustainable business model, should be good for their communities, Smith said.
“It couldn’t be better than having someone come and hopefully bring these publications to life,” he said.
After difficult years, new investments are welcome, said Maassen.
“I’m optimistic about Missouri newspapers,” he said, “especially about the community papers.”