The announcement of Cox Media Group’s expected sale to private equity firm Apollo Global Management and it’s holding company, Terrier Communications, has some local lawmakers, community advocates and media analysts concerned about a decline in local and regional journalism.
Among those concerned is Richard Campbell, Professor Emeritus with the Department of Media, Journalism & Film at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In this conversation with WYSO’s Jerry Kenney, Campbell talks about the loss of local news, including his thoughts on the pending sale of Cox Media Group and its effect on the Dayton Daily News and other Cox Media outlets.
*WYSO has reached out to Cox Media Group for comment on the pending sale and have been told they have no comment at this time. However, a DDN report previously stated the company's goal is "to maintain 7-day publication for the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun, and Journal-News."
Jerry Kenney (JK): Richard, thanks for speaking with us. It’s because of your background as a teacher and analyst of the media that we wanted to get your take on the pending sale of Cox Media Group to Apollo Global, and the effects it will have on the Dayton Daily News and their other news outlet, specifically here in Ohio.
Richard Campbell (RC): This sale is forcing Dayton to become a non-daily. They're invoking an old media-ownership rule from the 1970s where newspaper can't own TV station or broadcast station in the same market. I mean, this is a 1970s rule when newspapers had kind of a monopoly on classified advertising so, the idea was to try to spread the ownership around, spread the wealth around.
We're living in a time now where Facebook and Google are getting 75 percent of all digital advertising. So this quite doesn't make sense to force the Dayton Daily News to become a three day a week paper. Given the behavior of equity companies in buying newspapers, they usually strip them and fire a bunch of people and try to make them profitable. And if they're not, they just shut them down, and my sense is that Terrier Communication, this is fine with them. I mean, this this would allow them to reduce staff. If you're only running a newspaper three days a week and not seven days a week, you can cut a lot of staff, a lot of reporters. This is a bad. This is a bad deal for news in the Dayton area.
JK: And, this is actually something you've been concerned with for a long time, the loss of local and regional journalism.
RC: Absolutely. I mean, if you look at what's happening, you know, in a recent Brookings Institution study and in stuff that Neiman does and stuff that the University of North Carolina has been studying, there are 200 counties in the United States now that don't have any newspaper, any kind of news coverage. There are 1300 news deserts now where communities don't have local news. You know, I think that this is a national problem, but nobody's covering it as a national problem. This is all being handled locally. And on top of this, this is not something that journalism usually covers - they don't cover themselves.
This problem, by the way, is so significant, you know, it's a much bigger problem than the impeachment thing going on right now. I mean, that's distracting and that's totally commanded the national media's attention, while the crisis in local journalism and regional journalism is just it's just not on anybody's radar at the national level. You know, we've lost 2000 weekly and daily newspapers in the last 15 years. That's about 20 percent of all newspapers and just daily news reporters, in [the] early 2000s, we had 56,000 reporters working at daily newspapers. Today, it's 27000. There are more TV reporters now than there are daily newspaper reporters. That started happening in 2017.
JK: Going back to the Cox Media sale, could you bullet point, what would need to happen for this trend to change?
RC: I think, one, the national news has to start covering this as a really serious problem. You know, the only business that was identified by our founders in the Constitution is the press. There was a reason for that. A good democracy needs good journalism. No other business is mentioned in the constitution. So, this to me is a national crisis and in these kinds of problems get solved when good journalism is directed at that. So, I think that has to happen. I think we have... Google and Facebook are doing some initiatives to try to help local journalism, they're small at this point, but I think a lot more money has to be put into this if we're going to have the kind of journalism we need to have a good democracy. And, I think that places that have journalism programs and universities and colleges have to figure out how to use student journalists more effectively. So, that's something that I think could happen as well.
JK: Richard Campbell is professor emeritus with the Department of Media Journalism and Film at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Richard, thanks so much for your time today.
RC: Thank you.