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Newspaper readers show they care through rallies and protests

If anyone is under the impression that people don’t care about their newspaper anymore, they obviously haven’t paid attention to the latest protests, rallies and groups trying very desperately to save their newspaper.

The industry was hit especially hard in 2009 when hundreds of newspapers closed. Plenty went online-only, while others dropped publication frequency. Journalists and readers suffered. Then the economy slowly got a little better and publishers started to experiment with new models, while forging ahead into the dominantly digital landscape. But layoffs, sales and model changes are still the norm of the ever-changing industry, and some readers aren’t taking cutbacks lying down anymore.

Most recently, Chicago Sun-Times photographers, along with supporters, picketed the newspaper last week in protest after the Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff, drawing the ire of locals, as well as journalists nationwide.

Activists and labor unions have also been protesting the sale of the Tribune papers, which includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun. The target of the protests are conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch, who haven’t yet expressed any specific interest in buying the Tribune papers. Despite this, an organization called the Other 98% has led the charge against their possible ownership, which inVocus reported on last week.

With dismal results, hundreds of readers and locals in the New Orleans area  gathered in protest last year when the Times-Picayune announced it would reduce its print frequency to three days a week. “Save the Times-Picayune” petitions were circled with requests that parent publication Advance Publications sell the paper, rather than take their daily away. But Advance didn’t heed their readers’ pleas. The paper’s recent announcement that it launched a supplemental tabloid hasn’t seemed to woo readers. Instead, the paper now has to compete with The Advocate, which launched a daily paper in New Orleans to replace the Picayune, and recently announced it’s adding 500 subscribers a week.

While no one probably expects the Sun-Times to rehire its photography staff based on local opposition, it does beg the question whether protests against the Koch brothers’ ownership would have any impact on the sale. Analysts such as Rick Edmonds have noted that a sale to the billionaires would alienate the readership. Perhaps it’s possible Tribune may have learned from watching what has happened in New Orleans, where the community’s entreaty went unheeded. After all, a newspaper is nothing without its readers.

Although recent examples haven’t been uplifting, communities have had success before. One only needs look back to 2009, when the dwindling of the newspaper was at its greatest, and remember the Birmingham Eccentric. The Gannett-owned paper had been slated for closure, but its readers rallied, with several figureheads of the protest traveling to Gannett headquarters and appealing the closure. Given guidelines to get more subscribers, the community bonded together and has kept the paper running to this day.

If only Michigan’s Birmingham community was the precedent. But while all would seem decided at the Sun-Times and Times-Picayune, it’s still up in the air where the Tribune papers are concerned. According to OCRegister.com, other alleged interested buyers have been named for the Tribune papers, including Rupert Murdoch and Freedom Communications CEO Aaron Kushner, so the Koch brothers aren’t the only alternative. Regardless of community wrath, Owen Van Essen, president of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, a newspaper merger and acquisition firm in New Mexico, told the Register that the Tribune Company will sell the paper for as much as they can get.

Whether community trumps dollar sign will remain to be seen in the coming year.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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