Newspaper giant Gannett is about to kill local news coverage in northern New Jersey, following its "standard operating procedure" that has decimated local news coverage in many other areas where they've consolidated groups of local papers that they've bought.
According to Gannett's news release on NorthJersey.com today, "North Jersey Media Group announced Wednesday an ambitious restructuring designed to make its newsroom and sales department more responsive to the growing digital demands of readers and advertisers."
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but from what I've seen Gannett do in other areas it does not bode well for the communities in northern New Jersey who've relied on their local papers to keep up on local happenings.
When Gannett bought the chain of about 10 local dailies in New York's suburban Westchester, where I live, they vowed that their coverage of local news would remain strong. Their slogan at the time, if I remember correctly, was "We are local."
In truth, it turned out to be anything but local. They did some good investigative pieces of county-wide interest, but truly local news all but disappeared. These days, coverage of local government and school boards is virtually non-existant except sometimes when there's a scandal. But had there been ongoing local coverage, scandals, reckless spending and chronyism might have been caught earlier by good reporting and subsequent public outcry. Now, elected officials are too often free top do what they want because the public is often in the dark due to lack of news coverage.
When I was more active in local school affairs years ago, I remember calling the education reporter at Gannett Westchester, who I'd known from when he actually attended most school board meetings in my hometown of Mount Vernon. I asked how the paper could have possibly missed reporting on some major issue that was causing a rift in the community. He apologized and explained that the schools reporter was now responsible for covering schools in all of southern Westchester -- school boards in more than a dozen communities, with a student population of probably more than 50,000. The result of staffing cutbacks just as Gannett was saying "We are local."
So readers in northern New Jersey will soon likely need to look for other ways to keep up on local news -- Patch, if it's still around, and other local news sites which are well-intentioned but not always of the highest journalistic calibre.
I know the newspaper business is tough, but Gannett is in it just for the money. Laying off newsroom staffers in order to maximize profits and pay high salaries and huge bonuses to top execs doesn't seem to be the best way to provide readers the product they are paying for when they subscribe --local news. And as those readers give up, so too will advertisers who want to reach them.