Monday, May 17, 2021

CNHI's first purchase in 14 years brings fresh attention to its recent contractions; news VP Ketter says it's stronger now

Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. made "its first acquisition of a newspaper in 14 years . . . after a dramatic contraction that included the closure or merger of 16 of the company’s papers since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,"  Dan DeWitt reports for the Brevard NewsBeat in western North Carolina. DeWitt competes online with The Transylvania Times of Brevard, the paper CHNI bought this month.

Transylvania County, N.C. (Wikipedia map)
"Some academic media experts see the shutterings as a troubling willingness to slash coverage by a company that previously had a strong track record of supporting local journalism," DeWitt writes. He quotes Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky (publisher of The Rural Blog) as saying that CNHI's reputation as a steward of its news outlets "has gone from good to questionable" because of the recent closures; the ones in Kentucky he called a "permanent solution to a temporary problem."

CNHI is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which has caused it to be lumped in with other investment groups, but Cross told DeWitt that it differs from hedge funds and the like, because it has always been a newspaper company and is journalistically driven, as witnessed by its continued employment of Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Bill Ketter as senior vice president for news. "I believe that CNHI believes, as I do, that there is no future for newspapers that don’t have quality," Cross said. "They’ve got to provide journalism that people want and journalism that people need."

University of North Carolina journalism professor Penny Abernathy, who studies news deserts and coined the phrase, has grouped CNHI with other investment-driven chains, but she told DeWitt that the company is less likely to "flip" papers and more likely to keep them to generate long-term income.

Ketter "said the contraction bolstered the company’s finances and allowed it to seek potentially profitable news outlets in attractive markets such as Transylvania County," DeWitt reports. He didn't disclose the terms of the deal but said the Transylvania Times, which has a circulation of more than 7,500, is a "strong, viable and healthy community paper" with a "very integral role in the community," and said the company feels it can do "an enormous amount of good for the paper to assure its long-term future."


Ken Hedler said...

I notice Dan DeWitt publishes on Substack, basically a blog. Disclosure: I post on Substack as well. I don't know much about CNHI, but a colleague who worked on the desk at an East Texas daily did not have nice things to say about the company.

Ken Hedler said...

I notice Dan DeWitt publishes on Substack, as I do as well. I know little about CNHI, but I recall a colleague who worked on the copy desk at an East Texas daily did not have nice things to say about CNHI.