The consolidation of Ohio’s newspaper took a massive step forward Monday with news that GateHouse Media, which owns The Columbus Dispatch, announced it was buying Gannett Media in a deal valued at about $1.4 billion.
It’s a good deal for GateHouse but bad news for local communities around Ohio, says Nicole Kraft, a journalism professor at Ohio State and a long-time Central Ohio journalist.
“The consolidation of media means less voices representing less percentages of the population. It’s not what you want to see for a flourishing democracy,” Kraft says.
The merger brings most of Ohio’s local newspapers under the same company. Besides the Dispatch, GateHouse also operates papers in Akron, Canton, Kent, and Massillon. The company also publishes ThisWeek newspapers in several Central Ohio communities.
Kraft says Gannett has long been a major player in the newspaper business.
"It became a giant because it ate other publications and other chains of publications across time," Kraft says.
In addition to USA Today, Gannett’s Ohio portfolio includes the Cincinnati Enquirer, Chillicothe Gazette, Marion Star, Newark Advocate, and Zanesville Times Recorder.
"I think we're really seeing, as we're seeing with a lot of other industries, this consolidation of voices, consolidation of thought, and I'm not sure that's good for any of us except maybe GateHouse," she says.
Kraft says based on GateHouse’s track records, layoffs at those publications could be on the horizon.
“We know from the model that we see from GateHouse is they centralize a lot of their duties, so their design elements, the way the paper is laid out, their copy editing, so things that were laid locally are now being done far from locally and being done by far less people," Kraft says.
The Dispatch has seen many editorial layoffs since GateHouse bought the paper from the Wolfe family in 2015. Earlier this year, the Dispatch announced its latest round of layoffs, which included Central Ohio mainstays like columnist Joe Blundo, Washington bureau reporer Jack Torry, and longtime Dispatch librarian Linda Deitch.
Following the closure of the Youngstown Vindicator, Kraft says it's good to see GateHouse wants to continue investing in newspapers.
"Of course, on the other side of it, if there were financial challenges with GateHouse, who's going to come along and save those papers at that point?" she asks.
Despite the latest consolidation in the newspaper industry, Kraft says her journalism student still seem eager to break into the industry.
"We can’t get stuck on the term 'newspaper.' We really have a lot of opportunities for students to flourish in the news environment," Kraft says.