The long-rumored announcement that newspaper giants Gatehouse and Gannett will merge drew yawns and shrugs.
At our website, the merger announcement garnered far fewer page views than the Chapter 11 filing of Perkins restaurants or the Monday visit by Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to Wilmington.
Gannett and Gatehouse papers have become increasingly irrelevant to the daily lives of Delawareans.
Over the decades, Gannett’s chain ownership was never fully accepted in Delaware, despite a number of talented reporters and editors.
For natives it may have been a side effect of the sometimes benevolent and largely hands-off leadership of the previous owner, the DuPont family.
A left-of-center editorial page that according to some critics bled into an anti-business stance on the reporting side was another negative. High advertising rates and the lack of TV competition also produced complacancy.
Meanwhile Gatehouse in Delaware became a shadow of its former self after the Flood family sold its newspaper holdings.
Since 2000, we have continued to hear that a glorious digital day was coming with staff cuts merely a way to get to that elusive goal
The failure of countless strategies and flavors of the month turnaround plans led a proud, USA Today-focused Gannett opted for a merger with Gatehouse, a chain with a less than stellar reputation.
The announcement came with the normal assurances that investments will be made in the newsroom. If that is the case, it would mark a dramatic change from the long-running wave of cuts that stripped out much of street level reporting knowledge at Gannett and Gatehouse.
None of this is good news for taxpayers. With statehouse staffing in Dover at a minimal level, far too much of what happened in the General Assembly this year goes unreported. Other outlets, Delaware Public Media, Associated Press and WDEL have worked to fill the gap, but have limited resources.
The decline in watchdog coverage often means that spending will increase as city council members and legislators look around and don’t see anyone asking questions or roaming the halls.
The good news is that focused digital-only enterprises could help to fill the void. A site with minimal resources and laser-like focus can do the work of several people. Print simply takes up too much time and energy and drains the energy out of bare-bones staffs.
For now, we can only wait and see if this merger comes anywhere close to living up to the hype. If history is any guide, don’t expect much.
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