Friday, August 23, 2019

Owner of a leading rural weekly worries about GateHouse-Gannett merger leaving vacuum for agenda-driven 'news'

Peter Wagner (Nevada Press Association photo)
Peter Wagner, publisher of the N'West Iowa Review, one of America's most successful weeklies, is a longtime student of the newspaper business. In an essay for newspaper associations, he says he hears rumors that the merger of GateHouse Media and Gannett Co. will lead to the sale or closure "of many of their small, less-profitable, weekly publications."

Wagner sees that as a chance for renewed local ownership by people "interested in investing in and upholding the local hometown newspaper. There is a need for locally managed community newspapers. But operating a small, local, weekly paper has become financially difficult. Many local communities no longer have a retail base large enough to support a local paper." As The Rural Blog noted recently, some rural weeklies have closed because their owners couldn't find buyers.

"The national Democratic Party appears to be responding to this cultural change in a way that could be dangerous to the future of local and national media," writes Wagner, a Republican. He notes that Priorities USA, a Democratic group, "plans to spend $100 million messages in key swing states that have lost numerous local newspapers," Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin.

As The Rural Blog noted in reporting that plan, it could resemble Yellowhammer News, a partisan news outlet in Alabama owned by Republican operatives, as well as other pro-Republican outlets like The Maine Examiner. Priorities says its effort is a reaction to Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting and other information sources friendly to President Donald Trump.

"News generated and reported by any source with an agenda is not a good thing for our nation or our individual rights and freedom," Wagner writes. "It is important that local community papers survive if we are going to keep balance and consensus in our communities and across our nation."

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