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Many wondering: What will happen once The Vindicator closes

By David Skolnick, Samantha Phillips, Graig Graziosi

Sunday, August 25, 2019





Even with a daily newspaper published in Mahoning County, public corruption has run rampant for decades.

So what will happen when The Vindicator goes out of business Saturday?

While the Tribune Chronicle purchased The Vindicator masthead, web domain address and subscription list and will increase its presence in Mahoning County, most of the 144 employees at the 150-year-old Youngstown newspaper will have to find work elsewhere.

Will there be a so-called “news desert” in the wake of the closing?

According to the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, news deserts aren’t simply areas without news; they are areas “either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grass-roots level.”

“We don’t know if there will be a void,” said William Binning, retired Youngstown State University political science department chairman and a longtime local political expert.

“We hope not, with the Tribune Chronicle. It certainly seems to be a step forward. Hopefully, they’re going to attract the talent to succeed and provide us with local news. We need local news. We need to know what the school board is doing and what’s going on in the mayor’s office. I’m hopeful they’ll succeed in filling the void The Vindicator is leaving.”

Binning added: “I don’t think TV news can provide the news that print journalism can provide. TV news does virtually no investigative journalism except what they copy off of print.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said, “It’s critically important to have a local newspaper engaged in keeping an eye on local elected officials. Power corrupts. There’s been an infiltration of corruption for many, many years. From my vantage points, one of the biggest tragedies of losing The Vindicator is it’s kept its eye on local government. I haven’t always agreed with The Vindicator, but it’s been a really important part of the area.”

He also said: “Without someone looking over your shoulder, it’s not just corruption we’ll see, but bad public policy. Increases in government spending happen without a local newspaper to provide scrutiny. There’s going to be a void. You need local reporters on the ground to keep people in check. This is a loss for local people and the community.”


Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said he’s pleased the Tribune Chronicle will publish a version of The Vindicator, but he still has some concerns.

“I’m excited about the opportunity for someone to pick up the baton and do a daily newspaper,” he said. “The people need to be informed, and the community needs a voice. Some people rely on social media to get their news, and you can’t do that because you don’t know how reliable it is.”

But Brown said he’s concerned “about what is going to be done with the building and the employees who are being displaced. Those are my two biggest concerns. We’re losing that presence downtown.”

The city wants to see The Vindicator building redeveloped.

“It’s in a prime location with the amphitheater,” he said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for a developer to do something downtown.”

While Youngstown will have a number of talented journalists still operating in the region among the television news stations, Google’s startup, a ProPublica reporter, the Tribune Chronicle’s expansion and The Business Journal, a void in coverage likely will remain.

Consistent coverage of council meetings in communities such as Campbell, Struthers, Canfield and Poland is unlikely, simply due to a lack of available reporters.

As Policy Matters Ohio points out, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Financial Economics shows when a newspaper is no longer watching over local government, municipal borrowing costs increase. The study linked closures to negative effects on revenue-generating projects in local communities and more government inefficiencies. It suggested taxes go up and county deficits grow when a newspaper closes.

With Youngstown’s looming financial difficulties, this could spell trouble.


According to the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, Ohio has 32 percent fewer newspapers today than it did in 2004, and total circulation fell by 47 percent from 5.5 million to 2.9 million. Between 2004 and 2018, the United States lost nearly 1,800 papers, with 100 in Ohio.

A 2011 report by the Federal Communications Commission found that local newspapers are the best medium to provide the sort of public-service journalism that helps guide decision-making in society and gives residents the information they need to solve their problems. As the website puts it: “The fate of communities and the vitality of local news are intrinsically linked.”


In Denver, the closure of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009 left the city to be solely covered by the Denver Post. The Post, like many other newspapers around the country, was itself dealing with layoffs and service reductions. Despite the city still having a news source, the available bodies left to report and produce news was reduced, leaving unavoidable gaps in coverage throughout the city.

A study led by a Portland University professor assessed levels of civic engagement in Denver after the closure of the Rocky Mountain News and found that civic engagement dropped significantly in comparison to cities that didn’t lose a newspaper.

Another study by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation found that those who read local news are more likely to be engaged in their communities and vote.

The loss of news sources isn’t just a city problem, either.

Seventy percent of newspapers that have closed or merged were in metropolitan areas – such as The Vindicator – which results in the surrounding suburbs and urban neighborhoods losing major sources of their news coverage.

As news sources dry up, critical pieces of a region’s news landscape are lost, and those losses often disproportionately impact the poor and the vulnerable.


According to the University of North Carolina, the general population in news deserts tend to be poorer, older and less educated than average Americans. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that, on average, the poverty rate in news deserts is 18 percent, while the average poverty rate across the country is 13 percent. The average median income for those living in a news desert is $45,000, notably lower than the national median of $59,000.

It’s obvious that losing a newspaper will have adverse effects on the community.

So what comes next?

Mitch McKenney, an associate professor at the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said others must step up to fill the gap left by a daily newspaper folding, whether it’s a nonprofit, a grant-funded journalism entity or others.

When The Vindicator deal was announced, Charles Jarvis, publisher of the Tribune Chronicle, said: “We look forward to delivering approximately 30,000 of the new The Vindicator editions to the people who have supported The Vindicator through the years and have developed a printed newspaper reading habit.” He said the Tribune Chronicle has been planning increased coverage of Mahoning County and has added considerable resources to get that done.

The Vindicator edition will be the area’s best source for Mahoning Valley news and will offer a strong advertising medium to support the businesses that drive the region’s economy.”

Citing the Tribune Chronicle’s coverage expansion, the Project Compass digital news experiment and the one-year ProPublica grant awarded to a local journalist, McKenney explained, “I think in Youngstown’s case, we are seeing all of those saying that they will help cover the city. The question is how long will that last, and how effective that will be. Covering a community takes a lot of resources. It takes people, it takes sitting through meetings, asking questions, devoting people’s time to asking those questions and getting those answers.

“That can be hard to do well if it’s not your main thing. That’s long been the hometown newspaper’s role – to care and be involved,” he added.


Though Youngstown was poised to become the largest city in the U.S. without a daily newspaper, it won’t exactly be considered a news desert – for now. Only time will tell the outcome of these local and out-of-town journalism efforts.

“Two years from now, we will know a lot more about how Youngstown will function without The Vindicator as we have known it, and the important thing is that serious-minded journalists do the hard work of covering that town and informing that community,” McKenney said.

During a forum on The Vindicator closing shortly after the announcement, there were inquiries by the audience about citizen journalism, and whether community members could take the task of covering meetings.

“Citizens can take up that mantle; they can go to those meetings and ask those questions, but you have a difference in their motives and how they reach people,” McKenney said. “So for example, why is a blogger writing about a certain government organization? Is this a person who had a problem with this organization? There could be a conflict of interest but a lot of passion. So that person’s input is useful and important, but if the only thing [that] publishes is that person’s website, or blog or tweets, it’s not the whole picture.”

Citizens and organizations can help fill the gap left by a newspaper folding by providing organized and continuous news coverage.

But the challenge is maintaining credibility and avoiding conflict of interests, as well as figuring out a funding model to keep coverage sustainable. Some citizen journalists even volunteer because they feel the work is so important.

Ultimately, “The question isn’t who covers Youngstown, as long as someone does,” McKenney said.