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Moving the Chains

You may have seen the news this week that Gannett sold off three newspapers in Oklahoma

The three papers — the Miami News-Record, the Grove Grand Lake News, and The Delaware County Journal — were purchased by a family-owned newspaper company called Reid Newspapers, which already owns seven other papers and operates two printing operations.

News of a Gannett or other large corporate chain selling off a paper doesn’t come up very often. But expect to hear more about these types of deals in the future.

Sara April, who works for the media M&A firm Dirks, Van Essen & April (which represented Gannett in this deal), discussed this with our NewStart class late last year.

“One thing we’re seeing is some of the larger companies, whether it is a Gannett or a mid-size group, they’re really working on refining their strategies around digital, around publishing cycles,” April told our students. “And some of them are finding that strategy really lends itself better to certain circulation categories.  So maybe they’re really focused on their larger papers. So they’re looking to sell their smaller papers where the digital strategy just doesn’t translate as well.” 

April added that that certainly rang true for Gannett.

“That’s really a clear strategy change for them,” she said. “The smaller papers don’t fit in with the strategies they’re moving forward with.”

And sure enough, if you look at the three papers sold in this deal, the papers’ digital strategy is, well … pretty much nonexistent. Only two of the three have websites, and there isn’t a consistent social media strategy among the three.

Hopefully putting the three former Gannett properties in local hands will help those publications and the communities they serve.

At the same time, however, this pushes the family-owned newspaper company from seven properties to 10. Which begs the question: when is a newspaper company too big? 

Yes, there are efficiencies that can be implemented across all of the properties to streamline operations. But at what point does streamlining get in the way of providing individual communities with the information they need and want? And what happens when the current owners want to sell? If sold together, the price is steep, and that leaves a lot of potential buyers locked out. And that can lead to larger corporations swooping in and getting even bigger. And the cycle continues. I think you see where I’m going here…

Sadly, I don’t have good answers to the questions posed above. If anyone else can point me in the direction of some research on this topic, or if anyone has an opinion on this, I’d love to hear it.

An Experiment Ends

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the news that McClatchy has ended the Compass Experiment.

The company created two hyperlocal news outlets — one in Youngstown, Ohio, and the other in Longmont, Colorado, to see if independent local news websites could become self-sustaining. 

They had small editorial teams and small business development departments, and shared resources for strategy, sales, events and more.

A third site was supposed to be added to the mix, but that never materialized. 

Mahoning Matters and the Longmont Leader won’t disappear entirely. McClatchy’s news division will run Mahoning and Village Media will take over Longmont. So not everything is lost.

Upon announcing the news, Mandy Jenkins mentioned a very interesting point: “One of the hardest lessons we have learned so far is how difficult it is to efficiently operate local news sites without the benefits of a network. We built our sites to loosely emulate the playbook of our partners at Village Media. We found it challenging to replicate their output, growth, and revenue options without the resources made available through their shared central team and network of websites.”

So what is the right mix of ownership? And what are the right expectations of a media company in today’s day and age? Many questions to ponder this week…

NewStart Update

When Miles Layton, a NewStart fellow and editor of the Chowan (N.C.) Herald, heard about a neighboring weekly paper closing -- placing another U.S. community in a news desert, he put what he has been learning at WVU to work.

After successfully pitching upper management on the idea, Layton this week launched a new section in the Herald called "Across the Sound," which will provide some much-needed coverage for the folks who were formerly served by the Scuppernog Reminder (which, by the way, may have been the best name of a publication in the country). 

"Chowan Herald is growing by expanding its reach across the region, so our advertisers will get more bang for their buck because our newspaper will be circulated on both sides of the Albemarle Sound, not just in one corner of God’s country," Layton told his readers about the expansion. "Chowan Herald seeks to provide a regional approach while maintaining a personal touch with readers whether they live in Tyner or Columbia – that’s what makes us unique. We care about the life and times of eastern North Carolina."

The move has been praised by people on both ends of the three-mile-long Albemarle Sound Bridge that separates the two communities.

Here’s a sampling from the Facebook community:
Of course, the goal is to add more subscribers to list for the Herald. But the idea of providing coverage to a deserving community is even better.

HD vs. Social Giants

You probably heard the news last week about West Virginia's own HD Media and its federal antitrust lawsuit against Google and Facebook.

I’ll have more on this soon, but you can read a Q&A with those involved on HD Media’s side in Editor & Publisher. Margaret Sullivan has some more information the Washington Post. And there have been plenty of Twitter takes on the subject, including Joshua Benton from Nieman Lab.

And then there is this going on in Canada…
There is a lot more to this thread, so make sure you click through to read all of it.

Quick Hits

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

NewStart in the News: So this is not specifically NewStart related, but if you want to hear me ramble on about journalist safety during these turbulent times, check out the Reed Talk podcast I recorded with the wonderful Whitney Godwin.

Learn: Yes, I listed this article in last week's newsletter, but apparently it struck a nerve on Twitter yesterday, with the likes of Jeff Jarvis providing some perspective. Someone even brought up Everyblock! Ahh, good times. Good times. NewStart fellow Becky Pallack also mentioned Wick Communications building its own Nextdoor-like site. "The record number of newsroom closures in 2020 offers unsettling proof that quality content cannot be the only draw. Organizations need to combine content and experience in new ways that decrease friction, increase satisfaction, and adapt to how consumers want to interact and where they are in the journey." Remember how we called out the CDT last week for customer service issues? Here's some more news about them this week: "All Penn State University Park students now have free access to the digital version of the Centre Daily Times. This addition comes as part of an expansion of the university’s Student News Readership Program, which already includes free digital access to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Print copies of the Centre Daily Times were previously available at stations around campus before they were removed in August." "Jarrod and I go DEEP on newsletters, Substack (duh), how journalists are the new rock stars and how THAT makes newspapers the new record labels. We also talk about the media landscape in 2021 and beyond, why all journalists should learn the business side of media..." "If Nate Gartrell doesn’t report on police misconduct in his county, who will?" "It has taken decades for newspapers to adjust to the digital transformation and some are still struggling. Those that have embraced it have figured out their place in the marketing funnel and determined they have a new path. They have evolved from a marketing channel to a marketing partner." "6AM will double in size, starting with the launch of NASHtoday (Nashville, TN) in March, to join 7 existing southeastern markets and 300,000+ subscribers." “We’re 20, 21 months into Tortoise, we’re not yet into two years, and we feel like we’ve got some momentum and our business model is no advertising, so critical for us is growing that membership base and having business partners that we work with to provide Thinkins for them. That’s also grown really significantly."

This An' 'At "We don’t go looking to cause trouble. We’re not setting out to pick on leaders. But we do report what they do that seems worth sharing with readers. This isn’t easy. Public officials often are popular – that’s why they get elected. Public officials have their own ways to scream “fake news” or otherwise attack the credibility of the press. In truth, it’d be easier for our staff to just look the other way, as other media outlets too often do. But then we aren’t performing as many of you expect." "Take some of the people who are only in Washington and send them to Salt Lake City or Kansas City, or St. Louis for that matter."


That's all for this week. 

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

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