The news that Gannett, owners of USA Today, is offering to buy Tribune Publishing should not come off as a surprise. Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune among other assets, had been clinging to life in the new digital world.
You don’t need me to tell you how difficult newspapers have found it staying relevant when instant news comes over our social media apps and fewer people actually have a subscription to a newspaper.
Newsrooms nationwide are smaller, with half the news staff or smaller than they had years ago. Reporters are generally younger because they are cheaper. We’ve seen newspapers shut down, consolidate with another media group or become online only. A newspaper that a colleague of mine once wrote for downsized so much that it rented out most of its building and moved the newsroom into the cafeteria. True story.
It’s the way of today’s world.
Gannett has survived while others have not.
Gannett has been one of the few that have survived, primarily on the back of USA Today. It has firmly established itself a position, as the newspaper that gives you national headlines (just like social media does) that targets those who are away from home. You can’t go to any hotel in America and not find a USA Today.
Tribune, meanwhile, has seen half of its value decline in the last nine months, while Gannett has gained 16% in value over that same time. (It also owns newspapers in Phoenix, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, among many others.) It has also been one of the few media giants to understand how to have a strong online presence. It has a brand.
What makes this offer so compelling is that Tribune stated it has no interest in discussing the offer. I can understand the reluctance. Before the newspaper crash hit, those who worked in the industry thought of Gannett as superficial in terms of reporting news. If it bought your paper, it meant that investigative reporting was a thing of the past. Editors and reporters scoffed at the Gannett model.
Sadly, that’s where we are when it comes to the media today, as I’ve stated before. There are very few places that truly dig into issues, and they tend to come from the e-magazine side or from a giant like The New York Times.
It’s a good and honorable battle Tribune is fighting but Gannett is counting on Tribune making the realization that it can only survive and be relevant if it adopts some of the Gannett strategies and tactics.
As disappointing as it may be to those old ink-stained reporters, Gannett is probably right.