Good News For A Change

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly convinced that the death of traditional newspapers is at the root of much–if not most–of America’s polarization and anger. It isn’t just the dearth of local news, damaging as that is. The deeper problem is fragmentation.

As I used to tell students in my Media and Public Policy classes, “back in the day,” when large majorities of city residents got their news from the same newspapers (and from the local television newscasts that largely got theirs from local newspaper reporters), they occupied a similar civic reality.Even if they bought the paper for the grocery coupons or the sports scores, and merely glanced at the headlines, they shared a common information environment.

That shared environment is the loss that has most deeply cut into local civic cohesion and civic participation. So–although I have cheered the recent entry of new local media sources–I realize that those new resources don’t solve the fragmentation problem, even assuming that people who don’t currently get much local news learn about and access them. (I do worry that the availability of these resources won’t penetrate the consciousness of those who don’t share the nerdy preoccupations of people like me.)

All this is by way of explaining why I was thrilled to read the following:

A nonprofit group dedicated to rescuing local newspapers from either collapse or private equity pillaging is buying 22 local papers in Maine. The National Trust for Local News, founded just two years ago, will purchase five of the state’s six dailies and 17 weeklies from a private company called Masthead Maine owned by Reade Brower, who made his money in direct mail. (How one guy managed to get control of all the important newspapers in a state is a story for another day.)

As we all know, daily newspapers became less profitable with the rise of the Internet. That loss of profitability led private equity operators to swoop in and buy thousands of local newspapers. They saw a way to profit by “paring staff and news coverage to the bone.” Since then, the venerable (and rapacious) Gannett chain was bought by GateHouse, “one of the most predatory of the private equity outfits, which took over the Gannett name.”

The result has been the aptly-named “ghost” newspaper. (The Indianapolis Star is an excellent example.)

Local dailies and weeklies could actually turn a profit with well-staffed newsrooms if owners could be satisfied by returns in the 5 to 10 percent range rather than the 15 to 20 percent that was typical in the pre-internet era and that is demanded by private equity players. Despite the internet, local merchants still rely heavily on display ads, which are profit centers. And well-run local papers attract more display ads.

Since then, there has been a slowly growing movement to save the local press by returning it to community or nonprofit ownership. My friend and co-author Ed Miller has gone on to found an exemplary weekly, The Provincetown Independent, which has thrived at the expense of the GateHouse-owned Provincetown Banner, which has lost most of its staff and circulation. Between 2017 and July 2022, over 135 nonprofit newsrooms were launched, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Another hopeful sign is that even by laying off staff and reducing coverage, private equity companies are not making the money they hoped for, so some of these papers are on the auction block and can be saved. Maine is not a typical case, since Reade Brower is a relatively benign monopolist and was willing to work with the National Trust for Local News.

According to the linked report, the Trust–which does not have a lot of its own money– employs a variety of ownership models and draws funding from a number of sources:

Its first major deal was in Colorado, where it now owns 24 local newspapers in that state in collaboration with The Colorado Sun. It has funders that include the Gates Family Foundation, the Google News Initiative, and the Knight Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation also recently announced a major initiative to save local news.

This is the beginning of a very hopeful trend to save priceless civic assets from predatory capitalism at its worst.

I never understood why those “predatory capitalists” didn’t understand that their approach ensured a death spiral. Newspapers sell a product: content. Did the Gatehouses and Gannetts not understand that consumers would respond to cuts in staffing, reflected in dramatic reductions of useful content, by discontinuing their subscriptions?

We need local news. And we need a shared source of local news. The National Trust for Local News seems to understand that saving local newspapers is the most efficient way to rebuild shared information resources.

That is very good news.


  1. (How one guy managed to get control of all the important newspapers in a state is a story for another day.)
    I am glad that in THIS case the one guy was a GOOD guy and not a Rupert Murdoch. It seems this could go either way in other states.

  2. The real trick will be getting people to subscribe to and read the newspapers. I know several seemingly intelligent people who didn’t read newspapers even before the Pandora’s box of the internet was opened—news was too boring. Also, just like the internet sites, if a paper doesn’t spout the information they want to support their beliefs, they won’t heed what’s on and in those pages. While your blog today is good news for (verifiable) information buffs like us, I fear the rescue of local papers will be too little, too late.

  3. For today’s blog I drug out my carefully maintained (since 1990) budget books; I ended my decades long subscription to the Indianapolis Star in November 2018. My parents and grandparents subscribed to the Indianapolis Star, News and Times when I was a child. I still miss my morning newspaper but do not miss the Star which had become primarily a source of the weekly TV channel listings, the daily crossword puzzles and keeping up with the obituaries containing more and more names of family and friends I had lost. The news was sketchy at best other than the seasonal front page articles about the Colts’ games, their game report in the Sports Section and the full, separate Colts section. Becoming more disabled, it became more difficult, and less worth the effort, for me to get up and down stairs to retrieve my plastic sleeved Star somewhere in the flowerbed or front yard rather than on my porch (as requested) due to the Gannett change to “somewhere on the property” requirement. For years I watched my neighbor’s Star deliveries on the city sidewalk, sometimes in the street and on occasion in the wrong driveway or yard. It has been about 2 years since I have seen a plastic sleeved Star anywhere in my neighborhood; including all of the Trump supporter’s yards who had subscribed daily delivery for years, evidently they didn’t believe it was worth the effort to hunt for daily with right favored news.

    The quality of news content was unacceptable but tolerated long before the lack of quality of Gannett service caused the end of subscribing. I still wonder about the survival of the Indianapolis Star as the anchor of Circle Centre Mall downtown. And what happens to those piles of unpurchased copies of the Star in stores; what is the current circulation of our long lost news source, however right leaning it has always been?

    “We need local news. And we need a shared source of local news. The National Trust for Local News seems to understand that saving local newspapers is the most efficient way to rebuild shared information resources.”

    Is Indianapolis too far gone to be revived…and what is the true Circle Centre Mall situation with a newspaper factory as their anchor store (their published reason for that location choice)? There is more than quality news at stake here with Simon Malls sliding downhill with no sign of salvation. The symptoms of the spreading disease of lies in the media is a culture shock adding to the separation of family, friends and neighbors and has politicized everything in our daily lives with no “shared information resources” in sight.

  4. The local story embellished by the gift of a star journalist over a fresh ground cup of coffee. A cherished memory to remember.

  5. Unfortunately newspapers have gone the way of the dinosaur.

    I remember going to the corner drug store and picking up the newspapers for my grandmother. That actually got me reading newspapers. The Chicago Sun, the Chicago times, The Daily news, the Chicago Tribune.

    Those newspapers would be 3 in thick on Sunday. Every day those newspapers would have well over 100 pages. That will never be seen again.

    The younger generations get their news off of their phones. And they gravitate towards news that revolves around their specific beliefs or interest. Lack of cohesion is baked in, so is clandestine or not so clandestine manipulation!

    Today everyone lives in a cocoon, and no one is really interested in venturing outside of it. Folks will choose what type of reality they want to live in, whether that reality is actually real or not is another thread I would imagine.

  6. Re your comments about the consequences of eviscerating news departments while expecting readers to stay, isn’t this part of the divide and conquer strategy of the far right? Similar strategies seem to operate in the lack of concern of the effects on customers of poisoning the air and water, etc., Makes no sense to not strive for harmony and protection of a planet that supports life. Money and power won’t protect anyone.

  7. Affordable supercomputers have changed the way we consume news. Instantaneous news has made the world more accessible through various channels. Cable TV news and phones have surpassed newspapers. Live video feeds of government meetings should be provided. We still need someone to delve deeper into what happens behind the scenes. It’s unclear whether foundations can be our truth-seeking apparatus seeing that many are the corruptors of our government.

    It seems a big chunk of the news consumer enjoys being read the news by a blonde female vs. reading a newspaper. I remember reading the comments on the IndyStar clamoring about it being a liberal paper. The country was getting more polarized long before the daily newspaper started fading into the sunset.

    p.s. Gatehouse was acquired by Softbank, a Japanese hedge fund in 2017. Gannett is just a brand name now. (

  8. I had often wondered how this big venture capitalists like Gannet expected to make money, but I’ve seen this pattern before.

    Our local Marsh supermarket chain was a victim to this form of capitalism. The venture capital company has no real interest in the core business. They buy a business. Sell off the assets, like the buildings and real estate. Leasing drives up the costs, so they slash staff and services. They eventually get to the point where they’re losing money, sell off the last of the assets, as in this case the pharmacy business, declare bankruptcy and shut down everything.

    Gannet has followed the same pattern. The Indy Star headquarters (on the site where Sheila now lives) was sold to developers. The staff and services have been cut to the bone. I think the huge printing facility up in the Park 100 area was just shut down or sold off this year. Gannet has made this process last longer than I expected, so I am not sure when they will get to the end stage and there are no more assets left and they’re operating at a loss and they declare bankruptcy.

  9. Indpls now has how many “local” news sources? Mostly they cover the State House. The same stories appear about 80% of the time. (This figure needs verification.) We have vitually no state news. I subscribe to a Colorado newsfeed just to find out what’s happening in a different place. The Star is a much better paper than its critics will admit. The IBJ is a very fine, if highly slanted, newspaper. Because the world is not what we recall, does not mean the present is unsatisfactory. I fear too many of the readers of this blog have intellecutal cataracts.

  10. Morton, The Indy Star has very little original coverage. If it’s not a “newertainment” piece, it came from the AP, IBJ, or The Capital Chronicle. The IBJ’s slant is not political, it’s business oriented, but they do have real reporters that verify sources and it is factual.

    Using local TV stations to or their web sites is painful. Almost anything that airs in video is done in part for emotional impact. Text and details are scant. Advertisements flash in all of the margins and the pages jump and you have to constantly close pop-overs to even read the text. It’s like visiting your insane emotionally dramatic sister-in-law. Just a few minutes, you come away exhausted being certain of less than you went in.

    Shiela is spot on. With the fall of the local papers, you have to work hard to get a cohesive picture of local news. Indy is better off than most of the state because of the IBJ, The Capital Chronicle, and the local TV stations. The Star doesn’t add much beyond the Brew and Sports beat.

  11. My guess about whether or not the Gate-House/Gannet folks realized the potential for a
    “death spiral” is that they were myopically focused on nothing but the expected quarterly report.
    Ironically, it seems their venal process has led to a possible resurgence of local papers despite
    the presence of the internet.
    Good news has been a rare item of late, so thanks for this.

  12. I picked a copy of the fargo-forum the other day, mmmm seems they have their own
    bitch sheet now. the opinion page/s was littered by swipes and gripes at each other for
    trivial,mmmm.. instead of comprehensive views and opinions it was more like local warfare
    between each other.(thats the same ones who waste space everyday)
    keeping it close to home is fine,but,i find some of these local opinionites off the deep
    end of just taking up space. it could be the new news of today, from nowhere NoDak.
    if they had a mindset and spent time reading what mattered,they may have a paper
    worth buying. ill take the Times/Post. at least its a educated guess of todays issues
    that matter,eh?

  13. Like the “little” good news…Here in NC, I have watched the News & Observer shrivel up. Now everyday is mostly: sports news, “fake Consumers Reports reviews” from Men’s Journal and the like and a few shared news items from AP, Washington Post, etc.. It also features, instead of evaluations by film critics and restaurant reviewers, the results of polling for local favorites – everything from tacos, to tattoo shops, to hot dogs, etc..- “best of”. Fortunately, they do about one investigative report a month with their few staff and they do a decent job of calling out our RED legislature and their hijinks…wonder when that will drift away….

  14. Sheila, I would love to read some of your writings in my local paper, Brown County Democrat. In recent years, I have seen our guest writers change from fact based to right wing nut opinion pieces. Everytime I read one of these ill-informed hateful rhetoric articles, I think “Sheila would certainly correct this dude in a very diplomatic manner. “

  15. Adapt or die! That includes newspapers. I still take the local Gannett rag, but I subscribe online to WaPo and The New Yorker, among others, which supply most of what I need. I also subscribe to Consumer Report. I’m sure I cover nearly everything I need.

    There has always been a large contingent of the voluntarily uninformed. Today anyone can find a ton of information on anything they want. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Because some of that ton is total BS. If social media were required to label the BS as BS, fewer people would be spouting nonsense.

  16. Per Harry Frankfort via The Guardian (I hate the language, but I am an arch-curmudgeon)

    “The task Frankfurt sets himself is to define bullshit. What it is not, he argues, is lying. Both misrepresent the truth, but with entirely different intentions. The liar is “someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood”. He or she knows the truth or could lay hands on it – but they certainly aren’t giving it to you. The bullshitter, on the other hand, “does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” Bullshitters couldn’t give two hoots about the truth. They just want a story.”

  17. My concern with reading on the internet has been this “the invention of the paywall”. Now anytime I try to dig deeper into a current subject I’m asked to subscribe and blocked from reading the article. I was shocked to learn in college that there are whole places like JSTOR full of information that can only be accessed with a subscription as well. I don’t like the idea of vast swaths of information only accessible by payment and through the internet. Having a physical copy is a great way to protect information from being merely “deleted” or made inaccessible to the poor. Having a physical copy allows you to share it with your friend or your neighbor.

  18. I suppose I can talk to this directly since I fled Indiana for Portland Maine in 2015. I also am a newspaper publisher (and former employer of Sheila no less) and I can say Maine is rare and where I live in Portland even more so. Every morning I get four daily newspapers delivered to my door and only one (the NY Times) is a national paper. One is the Portland Press-Herald, which is well written, well edited and includes things most cities with just 66,000 population wish their newspaper had like a book page on Sundays, a food section Thursdays and full arts reviews, along with lots of local news. I also get the Bangor Daily News… the family owned newspaper in Maine that is not part of this massive group Sheila writes about. I love their coverage of the “rest” of this very rural state. It’s where I see how the search is going for an 18-year-old lobsterman lost at sea or how the fair is doing or the Yarmouth Clam Fest. And to top it off, I get the Daily Boston Globe. It, too, is family owned, still has the features (including a glossy Sunday magazine) I grew up with and is worth paying for.
    I feel for Indianapolis and also my birth city of Louisville, where the former great Courier-Journal has been “Gannett-ized” and is a shell of its former self with all the funds going to hedge funds somewhere. Meanwhile up here Reade Brower (who is the guy selling his papers to the non-profit) has done a great job as a steward for the past half dozen years. He bought a place with a run-down press, rented offices and more. Now they print many of the region’s newspapers on their modern presses, they have a great location for their HQ and their staff is properly funded. I can only hope the new non-profit can maintain and expand on this coverage, and keep all those dailies at my door and on the shelf at my local supermarket as well. When I came here folks said “welcome to 1964 because life up here is like what we had then…” and in the case of newspapers, they were, and would still, happily, be correct. Try getting four dailies, three local or regional, delivered to your door most places and you will see what I mean. Oh, and if you want to see what I own and do these days, check out for our online edition, but if you ever get up here, we print 6,000 real newspapers each issue as well. Is it any wonder Maine’s slogan is Maine: the way life should be?

  19. We need a National Trust for Local News in Indiana. We still subscribe to the Muncie Star because every month or so a local government issue finds its way into it. Otherwise, it consists of the cookie-cutter coverage of national news (and yes, with right-leaning editorial selection and commentary), the local obituaries, and reports of local murders, assaults, and molestations. I guess that’s all we’re supposed to be interested in.

  20. Ted’s report on the newspaper situation in Maine shows just how different some states can be from each other. Occasionally the Star has a decent, in-depth story (because well-educated reporters will still try to fulfill their civic and professional responsibilities). On FB or my Google Chrome feed I sometimes get an interesting story from the Ft. Wayne or South Bend papers. WFYI radio does its best to cover some local news. Sometimes we get better coverage of an Indiana news story from the NY Times, Washington Post, or NPR when it has national implications. Whether local journalism has ever been totally reliable is debatable, but again, there have been dedicated reporters and writers and photographers who did their best despite the sometimes less than honorable motives of the newspaper owners. Things are probably not as terrible as they seem, but they are as terrible as they always have been!

  21. What used to be a daily ritual is no more. It’s rare that I watch the national news on broadcast TV or the news on local channels. Instead, I subscribe online to The NY Times, LA Times, Indy Star (at $2 monthly) through their apps. Also, I have free apps of BBC, Reuters and El Jazeera. For sports coverage I read The Athletic as part of my NYT subscription plus 2-3 journalists who report via Substack. A plug for Scott Agness, who is now on Substack and provides terrific coverage of the Pacers.

    Technology, broadcasting supplanted by narrow-casting, convenience. Users are responsible for figuring it out. We don’t have a Cronkite or Pulliam to do it for us.

  22. It seems to me that the solution is really to design a future system to move facts about governance continuously from reality and separate them from entertainment/advertising/propaganda/screen centric communications. Or, to distinguish signal, the facts, from the noise. Signal to noise ratio is a standard data transfer problem. No matter what, it strikes me to have to start with news reporting organizations funded by government. Making the reporting available to individuals is standard Internet technology. Getting enough people to rely on it maybe a challenge but if news was kept separate from commercial contaminants physically by government funding, it would certainly be a start and our tax money well spent.

  23. Pete,

    Have no idea what might be available on a state level, but on a national level, you can see how each Senator/Rep voted on each bill every day at This was the vote on the aviation reform bill – actually hilarious, about the same number of DEMs and GOPers voted against it, mostly the Freedom Caucus and The Squad.

    A great place to learn about politicians/votes on most levels is Imagine if places like this were taught in school…HA

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