In my Knight Ridder days, I was lucky to get a national tour of some interesting places -- Knight Ridder places -- that otherwise I would never have visited. Aberdeen, South Dakota. Charlotte, North Carolina. Akron, Ohio.
Akron was once a rubber capital, when rubber meant money as Americans embraced the foreign road and before foreign competition changed the industry. By the time I visited in the '90s, it was just another surprisingly leafy Midwestern city, a place that had seen better economic days.
The paper though still had a sense of the strutting journalism it once represented. It seems like almost all newspaper conference rooms are windowless, yellow or yellowed. So was the Akron Beacon Journal's. On the walls though, you could see the pride fairly bursting. The Beacon Journal had been the flagship paper of the Knights before they merged their proud editorial holdings with the Ridders in 1974. Plaques, front pages, awards -- the works filled walls.
In that room, you wouldn't know that the paper was suffering in its competition with the bigger paper to the north, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, or that a succession of publishers and editors were continually trying to fend off budget pressures. In that room, you felt the out-sized pride of trying to serve a community well with reporters and newsprint.
By the time Knight Ridder collapsed and offered itself up to the market last year, Akron was the one paper that almost no one wanted. It was definitively not a high-growth market high on McClatchy's list. Finally, Black Press, Ltd of Canada bought the paper, presumably at fire-sale rates. It was Black's biggest paper. Tonight the news came across the Web that it is getting a lot smaller -- soon. Black is taking out fully 25% of the newsroom staff -- 40 positions overall.
The Akron Beacon-Journal is on its way to becoming a suburban paper. While management had done its own cutting over the past five years, a cut of 40 will take the heart of the operation. The bloodletting is heartbreaking. If it were isolated, not to be repeated in other newsrooms to come, we could cry for Akron.
As it stands as a harbinger of things to come more widely, we can cry for a way of journalism that is rapidly becoming obsolescent. Yes, blog-powered community and citizen journalism is a wonder to behold; it can potentially add much to our community lives. But without solid professional reporting, much of what we know about how communities, power and the abuse of power in those communities works, will be lost.
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