Many in Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince Georges counties are still reeling from the shocking news over the weekend that the Washington Post has chosen to terminate the two weekly Gazette weekly newspapers it has owned for more than a decade which have served those areas for 55 years.
The Post claims it could not find buyers for the papers, both of which have a rich history of comprehensive coverage of those jurisdictions, but from what we’ve learned it may be otherwise. While no one can know for sure what went into the Post management’s final decision to suddenly shut down those publications this week, it is plausible to suggest that the Post decision was more out of concern that a sale might give rise to unwanted competition against itself.
After all, it was generally recognized that the Post decision to acquire those weeklies in 1993, to begin with, was in order to own, and thereby eliminate, competition. The papers had been highly successful under previous owners, and it is surmised the Post felt that they would prefer to be the beneficiaries of the robust advertising revenues they were raking in because, among other things, it would not have to compete for them otherwise.
However, rather than nurture those newspapers to enhance their effectiveness, the Post displayed a regrettable neglect, caring little for their large readership bases as the quality of news coverage declined over time.
Therefore, when the recession of 2007 hit, and newspapers faced a double whammy of that on top of a growing perception that they were becoming irrelevant in the face of the Internet, the Maryland Gazettes, like many other papers including our own, saw their revenue numbers drop sharply.
But in the case of the Gazettes, observers noted, the drop was due to a third factor: the decline in their quality and depth of coverage of local news.
That’s why it would be no surprise that there were interested parties seeking to acquire them. With just a little TLC, they could rebound to profitability and growth.
It’s in times like these that comparisons between a good local newspaper and the Internet are seen in a much different light. There is simply no way that anything limited to being online can measure up to the impact that a good local newspaper with comprehensive coverage and distribution to a community can provide.
The callous business decision to shut down those newspapers is indicative of the losing model of the Post, as a newspaper, itself. The Post has been abandoning its local coverage for many years, and now it is evident that its new owner is continuing that trend, as financial advisers tell them that reporters and newsrooms are expendable because they don’t generate revenue.
We mourn the demise of any good newspaper and remember when those Maryland Gazettes both were. But news is taking a backseat to the almighty dollar in an America that will come to really regret it.