Wednesday was a bloodbath for journalists. BuzzFeed said it would lay off 15 percent of its employees, and Verizon Media announced it would cut 7 percent from its newsrooms at HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo. Worst of all, a wave of layoffs tore through Gannett newsrooms across the country that day, hitting staffs that had already been thinned by years of nearly annual cuts. In December, Gannett’s USA Today Network president, Maribel Wadsworth, told her employees that the nation’s largest-circulation newspaper chain “will be a smaller company” in the future and, well, the future is now. Wadsworth is facing a lot of pressures: Print revenue is down, digital and mobile revenue aren’t nearly enough, and now a hedge fund promising even deeper cuts wants to acquire the company. If the future of corporate news operations looks bleak, that’s because it is.
In Tennessee, we’ve been watching the slow-motion destruction of our news institutions under Gannett for a few decades now, and the idea that things are about to get even worse is appalling. As badly as the country needs strong coverage of national news these days, the local news landscape is important, too. And what happened here mirrors what’s already happened in city after city.
The Nashville I grew up in was a two-newspaper town, home to a daily slugfest between the scrappy afternoon Nashville Banner and the larger morning Tennessean. For 91 years, the papers dueled with talented staffs that featured heavyweights like John Seigenthaler, Fred Russell and David Halberstam, and owners who loved sending those reporters to brawl over their favorite politicians and causes.