Gannett-Gatehouse merger news produces yawns

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Good afternoon,

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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