The announcements coming out of Gannett Company in recent weeks were dispiriting, but hardly surprising to those who track media business. Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country with over 450 titles, released a statement from its media division executive Maribel Perez Wadsworth: “In the coming days, we will be making necessary but painful reductions to staffing, eliminating some open positions and roles that will impact valued colleagues.” Locally, those cuts hit at the Salinas Californian where half of the editorial team was let go – the team had been two people and is now just one.
These sorts of announcements have a sad, but familiar ring to them. Pew Research Center reported last year that from 2008 to 2020, newspaper newsroom jobs had declined by a whopping 57 percent, from 71,000 jobs to about 31,000.
The Monterey Herald has so utterly gutted its staff that it no longer has a local publisher. The Herald is owned by the much vilified private hedge fund Alden Capital – known as the vulture capitalist enterprise intent on strip mining local journalism – which happens to also be the second largest newspaper publisher in the country.
And the hits just keep on coming. A new report from the Medill Local News Initiative at Northwestern University documents the state of local news in this country, post-Covid. In the executive summary Penny Abernathy writes, “The loss of local journalism has been accompanied by the malignant spread of misinformation and disinformation, political polarization, eroding trust in media, and a yawning digital and economic divide among citizens.”
She continues, “In communities without a credible source of local news, voter participation declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout. This is a crisis for our democracy and our society.”
At the Weekly, we are fighting back.
Monterey County Weekly is not immune to increases that daily papers face in the cost of labor, nor the inflationary impacts on all goods and services – in fact, our print costs have gone up 29 percent since January – but ours is a fundamentally different business model. We have never adopted a strategy of cutting our way to prosperity. At the Weekly, good journalism is good business.
Today, the company’s editorial team – which produces the news for the paper, along with the website and daily newsletter, Monterey County NOW – has more full-time employees (nine, and still growing) than at any time in our history.
Monterey County Weekly is invested in producing quality local journalism that we believe our readers and our advertisers will support. We strive to take care of our employees and deliver results for our advertisers. Sustainability for this company depends on a blend of three main revenue streams: advertising in the print edition, enhancing and monetizing our digital products and reader revenue.
This past month we hired a contractor to conduct data analysis to help us better understand where readers engage most with our digital products and how we can improve both the journalism and the user experience. One of the first tasks we undertook at her direction was a survey sent to the subscribers of Monterey County NOW. The results were both humbling and challenging.
There are 38,000 subscribers to Monterey County NOW, and an impressive 789 took the time to answer the survey – double the industry average. In response to a question about which areas of the coverage they most value, local news was selected by 88 percent of respondents, followed by arts and culture reporting at 55 percent. All of that data was very affirming. It suggests you like what we do.
More challenging was the data about our ability to convert readers to Weekly Insiders – those people who voluntarily support our journalism with a financial contribution. From our newsletter platform we know we are signing up about 150 people per month as new subscribers, yet the number of Insiders remains less than 10 percent of our audience.
If you want to lend some help to ensure newsroom cuts don’t come to the Weekly, I’d invite you to do two things. One: share the newsletter with other folks you think might appreciate it, and two: consider making a monthly contribution, which you can do at mcweekly.com/insider.