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2009 media flashbacks

The newspaper industry has been in a constant state of flux, perhaps more than usual as papers change hands, reduce print frequency and lay off staff. All the activity is reminiscent of 2009, when chaos ensued and the industry bled newsprint. But these events are not mere flashbacks from a darker time, they’re happening now, although not quite to the extreme of three years ago.

Let’s examine the evidence. Freedom Communications sold off their flagship paper, the OC Register, as well as The Gazette of Colorado Springs, The Sun of Yuma, The Desert Dispatch, The Porterville recorder, The Victorville, Daily Press and the Appeal-Democrat, to 2100 Trust LLC. Not long after, Freedom then sold off the remainder of its papers in North Carolina and Florida, roughly 19, to Halifax Media.

Much like the New York Times did in 2009, the Boston Globe, which is owned by the New York Times Company, has closed its remaining suburban bureaus. And we must not forget Gannett, which offered buyouts for up to 665 staff in February. But the real shocker was when Advance Publications announced it would cut The Times-Picayune’s frequency from a daily to three times a week, making New Orleans the largest city in the country without a daily print paper. The same deal will also happen at the Birmingham News, the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., and the Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala. Advance is also cutting 600 jobs from the four papers.

“In 2010 we said we thought that major newspapers had cut as much staff as we thought they could,” said David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group. “However, that was under the assumption that they were going to continue to ‘print’ daily. Now those Advance Publication newspapers in Alabama and Louisiana are going to ‘print’ just three days a week which means you can maintain that with 50 percent less staff.”

But while there’s been plenty of turmoil, other changes have been less disheartening. While Advance may be dropping publications days, it is focusing on its digital future. Meanwhile, The Tribune Company is emerging from bankruptcy and is expected to reveal new changes within its structure, including selling off its community papers. Maine-based Village Net Media announced in March it would be closing its papers, which included The Village Soup Gazette in Rockland, the Village Soup Journal in Belfast, the Bar Harbor Times in Bar Harbor, the Capital Weekly in Augusta and its entertainment publication, The Scene. But Reade Brower, founder and president of The Free Press in Rockland, Maine, stepped forward to purchase the papers, with only the Bar Harbor Times and Capital Weekly not being revived. Warren Buffet also made big news when he decided to buy 63 Media General newspapers because he believes in the power of the newspaper. He reportedly would like to buy more.

According to Earl J. Wilkinson of Inma.org, none of these developments have really been bad. Instead, he wrote that it is the “excruciating transition of the newspaper industry to the newsmedia industry.” It’s not quite 2009 revisited again, but it has made for an eventful 2012.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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