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Yesterday, news broke that two of the nation’s largest media companies are planning to join forces.
Ownership of USA Today owner Gannett and GateHouse Media are reportedly very close to finalizing a deal wherein GateHouse parent company—New Media Investment Group—would acquire Gannett. Together, the two would control 265 dailies nationwide with a combined print circulation of 8.7 million, “creating a newspaper megachain like the U.S. has never seen,” Neiman Lab reports.
The consolidation is reportedly a stopgap measure to buy time—two or three years—until the newly emerged entity can figure out how to monetize digital.
The revelation caused a surge in Gannett’s stocks, which have lost 30 percent of their value since January, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Far less enthusiastic than shareholders and Gannett executives, who some believe will receive generous golden parachutes in the deal, were current and former employees of both chains.
GateHouse is notorious for acquiring media companies, even profitable ones, and stripping them of assets and staff. In May, the company laid off at least 159 employees nationwide in a series of cuts that the CEO referred to as “not material.” Gannett has also experienced waves of layoffs and buyouts, most recently in January.
Many viewed the consolidation as another development that will benefit ownership and the C-suite at the expense of rank-and-file staff and the communities they serve.
“This is bad for journalists & journalism in the U.S. Only bankers & corporate executives w/ golden parachutes have benefited from media consolidation. Communities suffer as mega news corps who care only about money slash local journalists, creating news deserts,” Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Carson tweeted.
There were many calls for individual outlets to unionize as quickly as possible in an effort to minimize the fallout. “Two media companies known for death by a thousand cuts are talking about joining forces. If your Gannett or GateHouse newsroom isn’t unionized, think about it. We’re happy to help,” tweeted the L.A. Times Guild.
This is terrifying news for citizens across the country. These are the two largest newspaper companies in America, and GateHouse’s model is cutting to boost its dividends. If you’re at a GateHouse or Gannett paper, the time to unionize is now. My DMs are open. https://t.co/Kg88Wve1FM— Andrew Pantazi 🐘 (@apantazi) July 18, 2019
Reactions throughout the media primarily centered on horror and outrage. Lou Dobbs referred to it as “a very bad idea and even worse reality.”
The Gatehouse/Gannett news dropping in the fever of CATS twitter is all the proof we need that we are in the dystopia— Alex Scoville (@AlexScoville) July 18, 2019
"The silver lining for the top remaining Gannett executives, some of whom will see this as an excellent time to depart? Change-of-control provisions in their contracts will provide some very silky golden parachutes after a sale is completed." <screams>— annacado toast (@annamccachren) July 19, 2019
My experience at GateHouse working 70 hours per week for $27K/yr salary as the only reporter covering a city of over 80K people outside Boston was nothing short of magical— Danielle McLean (@DanielleBMcLean) July 19, 2019
Print isn’t dead (yet), but if two of the biggest companies can’t make it on their own, it’s hard to imagine a bright future for the industry.
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Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.