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Welcome back, everyone. And a special hello to the newest members of the Alliance, including Tom, Shannon, Lanie, Kelly, Lee, Erin, Jonas, John and Stephen. We're happy to have you here!

The news this week of Alden Global Capital's purchase of Tribune Publishing means more metro newspapers have been swallowed by a hedge fund.

So it goes.

I don't use that phrase, made famous by Kurt Vonnegut in his book "Slaughterhouse-Five," in the way most people think Vonnegut meant it -- as a shrug of the shoulders and an "oh well, that's life."  I care tremendously about those papers and hate to see what is to become of them. 

Vonnegut's "so it goes" was more about death and free will (or the lack thereof) -- in his case through the lens of World War II. 

In fact, one passage of the book is a conversation between Vonnegut and a filmmaker, who asked him if he was writing an anti-war book. Vonnegut pondered this and then said yes, he supposed it was, indeed, an anti-war book.
“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’”

"What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.”
Are the hedge fund acquisitions of major metro newspapers across the country like wars and glaciers -- unstoppable?

Perhaps. Some will point to the fact that the Baltimore Sun was spared in this round of acquisitions. But for how long? That's yet to be seen.

Are we, as an industry, fighting an unstoppable force? And should we be taking a different approach to ensuring the future of local news? These larger chain newspapers are, in many cases, riddled with debt. And it is as hard to change their business models as it is to turn an ocean liner that's on a collision course with ... a glacier.

In the case of the Tribune properties, especially the Chicago Tribune, many inside and outside of the newsrooms pleaded for someone, anyone -- from local and national foundations to wealthy individuals -- to step forward and purchase their publications to make them locally owned and operated.  Heck, the Chicago Tribune was apparently even turning a 13 percent profit(!), albeit after a number of recent cuts.

Yet despite all of the pleas for acquisition, no one (outside of Baltimore) stepped up to the plate. As NPR's David Folkenflik quoted Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Colin McMahon, simply hoping a wealthy benefactor steps in is just "dreams and hope."

So it goes.

Are we putting our efforts into saving major metro newspapers at the detriment of others who also really need help, and could actually survive and thrive? I'm referring to the kinds of publications  -- rural community weekly publications that have no debt, a loyal audience, small staffs and profitability -- and the lean digital startups like those served by LION Publications that aren't tied to print and are able to adjust to market forces more easily than the giant chains.

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our priorities in the media ecosystem, and focus on the ones that have the best chances of survival. In the case of existing rural print publications, they can be had for a reasonable sale price, opening up more options for local, independent owners (and first-time buyers) who are willing to transform the business to continue sustainability well into the future through a diversification of revenue. And in the case of digital startups, those outlets may have a solid business model from the start; all they need is help acquiring an audience. 

I don't want us to write off the major metro publications. Far from it.  But I also wonder if more good can come from spreading out across the country and helping those who want it, and those who can be impacted greatly by providing them more attention, training and guidance. 

Let's get past the "dreams and hope," and let's take action.

How can we give them the shot they deserve?  An influx of new, highly trained local owners is a start. That means seeking out diverse, entrepreneurial minds in our industry, providing them with the business/publisher knowledge base needed to succeed, and making connections with current owners who want to see their publications continue with local ownership for many years to come. Access to favorable financing options is another must-have. Local and national foundations purchasing and holding publications until local, independent owners can be found and trained also would be beneficial. In addition, national journalism organizations should be coordinating with each other to make all of this happen as fast and seamless as possible.

And while we're at it, all of us in the industry can help shift the narrative and public awareness of local news from "rescue/save" language to language that is about investing in communities and acknowledging where legitimate economic opportunities do exist across the country. It seems that message is consistently obscured by talk of perpetual distress, which furthers the cycle of people unwilling to step forward to purchase publications, no matter much profit they bring in.

These things can be done, and truth be told they're happening, but it seems to be a piecemeal approach. 

So it goes? No. Let's go big, and let's make it happen for these small publications -- right now.

NewStart Update

While our fellowship/scholarship search committee is working diligently to select our cohort for Year 2, I wanted to fill you in on a few updates with the program.

First, if you didn't apply for a fellowship/scholarship yet are interested in enrolling in the online master's degree program and earning a degree in Media Solutions and Innovation, the application period is now open to everyone! We have a limited number of slots, and they are already starting to be filled.

You can find out more about the program at this link, and then you can apply by clicking/tapping on the button below and following the instructions:
Apply Now
Second, we bit the bullet and started a Facebook page for the NewStart program. So if you a part of that upstart social media network, you can like our page to check out some interesting links and thoughts each and every week and join in on the discussion.
Join Us On Facebook

Chaos in Australia

No, this has nothing to do with local news in the United States. But what is playing out in Australia may be a precursor to what could happen here before long.

There has been plenty written about this in the past few days, including this by Benedict Evans and this amazing Twitter thread by Jeff Jarvis.

I also wanted to point out the commentary provided by Alan Soon of Splice Media. He looks at the deal via all angles and provides a list of losers (spoiler alert: there are many), winners (spoiler alert: there is but one) and ends with the line, "Sorry Australia, you’re getting the media you deserve."

Powerful stuff that is worth your time.

Quick Hits

Here is a lot of news from around the world of local journalism. Enjoy! 

Learn: “Nobody wants to look back on the work we’ve done and say, ‘God, we were really clueless 50 years ago.’ We want to start every day thinking that we’re as in touch with the community as we possibly can be and reflect their interests and values.” "The Inquirer’s efforts and experiences offer insights that may have value for other newsrooms striving to reflect the diversity of their communities." "During the biggest public health crisis in a century, local news reporters are on the front lines giving communities vital information — and funders have stepped up to help." "The weekly check-ins were inspired by the Agile sprint framework, said Evan Mackinder, the Hub’s vice president of member development. 'First, we have our organizations fill out a product design worksheet to determine everything from vision to resource capacity and goals. Then, they will fill out a timetable that chunks out each to-do on a weekly basis—that’s the sprint, or really, a series of weekly sprints,' Mackinder explained."  "Currently, the staff includes four reporters, two editors and a database editor (all volunteers and retired seasoned media veterans.) The newsroom covers local government, institutions, issues and people with a focus on investigative journalism. Reporting is available at no cost to the local publications in the area. Kestin explained they don’t view themselves as 'a competitor to any of the local media.' Instead, they want to supplement what is already out there." "this is the most important change to open web publishers/creators that no one is talking about: publishers haven't been equipped to compete technically with platforms. they also don't collaborate well internally. this is a test of both of those things." "What does ‘engaged’ journalism mean for you, your audience…and your bottom line?" "Disrupting traditional, old and obsolete business models is how many new entrepreneurs and startups gain success. Although they are often synonymous with Silicon Valley and other tech centers, disruptive entrepreneurs can also be found in places like Fishers, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis." CJR spoke to Amanda Richardson, executive director of the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media, about the process of establishing a partnership, the nonprofit business model, and hopes for the future. "In a new white paper, Swedish tech company United Robots details how news organisations can use automation to generate large volumes of fast, accurate, and reliable content." "In the Chicago suburbs, the Record North Shore, a nonprofit newsroom, rose from the ashes left behind by the closure of 22nd Century Media’s fifteen for-profit newspapers in March. The company attributed the shuttering of the papers and at least 40 job losses to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, three former 22nd Century Media employees [created] the Record, an outlet covering hyperlocal government, schools, and businesses in the Chicago suburbs. A Kickstarter campaign raised close to $60,000, and the Record officially began publishing in October."

Deals: “My two sisters, Susan and Madelon, and myself felt it was important to transfer ownership of the business to a company that shared many of the same goals and operating principles as ours. Paxton Media Group, currently run by that family’s fifth generation, fulfills that desire.”

This An' 'At: "The stakes are high. Corruption could surge as so-called news deserts expand and federal and state prosecutors back off. Without scrutiny, we simply won’t know what our local leaders are doing, especially when it comes to those islands of government that have long operated in darkness." "We’re living in a remarkable time when reporters no longer have to win an editor’s approval to publish a story, reach an audience, and get paid. In fact, anyone can technically do it, which is why the distinction between professional journalists (people employed by news organizations) and creators (individuals producing journalistic content online) no longer exists." "Mary Huber and David Pugh are a testament to a long-running slogan among the staff at the Archbold (Ohio) Buckeye: 'When you start working at the Buckeye, you never leave.' " “I wrote in, ‘Look, I’m a reporter, and was reporting on what a state senator was saying, I think this is pretty relevant…’ And my appeal was denied right away.” "Upon learning of our draft complaint, which we shared with the county and planned on filing in court, the county decided to jump the gun and filed a 'reverse' Colorado Open Records Act lawsuit against me, the requester of the documents." "At a time when public trust in the media has declined and many local newspapers have closed or contracted, journalism is not close to dead."


That's all for this week. 

You can follow NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino.

Be like the fine folks at the Knight Foundation and the Benedum Foundation! Fund a NewStart fellowship position or a scholarship in Year 2! I'd be happy to talk! Seriously, I would love to offer more fellowships and scholarships, and you can help!

And don't forget, you can find NewStart online at

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