Sunday, July 28, 2019
A month ago, we announced the planned closing of The Vindicator.
We have one month left before that Aug. 31 date.
The reality of what a city is like without a daily newspaper is setting in differently for people.
Elderly people who read the obituaries and the class reunions. Working folks who read the police news. Active folks who watch for the nightlife events. Parents who want the school and sports accolades for their children. And on and on.
Three events immediately after our announcement foreshadow that we’re only beginning to feel the impact of no daily newspaper.
The city of Youngstown is cracking down on people not paying parking tickets. I get the passion for this issue. I just hope there’s as much passion for business retention and creation.
Amid the debate, a city official wanting more aggressive ticketing pursuits (more than $1 million is owed to the city) offered this:
“If it goes in The Vindicator that you’ll get a barnacle or boot [on your car] after 10 tickets, people would think they need to take care of [their tickets].”
That was said just five days after our closing announcement.
Clearly, the city had better hurry if they need that sort of Vindicator effect on $1 million in unpaid traffic fines.
Another event that was striking was the sentencing of a Youngstown man for murder.
His was the sentencing that was violently interrupted by sons of the victim. The two sons jumped the tables of the courtroom, briefly overwhelmed deputies to get a few punches in at the victim.
The footage of the event played nationally. It looked dramatic in our photos. It looked even more dramatic in TV news video.
When the sentencing was reset for the following Monday morning, more than 10 deputies were in the room, as were more court personnel, too. And there was The Vindicator journalist joined by some TV camera staff.
The quirky part of that mix was that when live TV news at noon was fired up, the reporter delivering the sentencing story from the courthouse steps was not the journalist who was in the courtroom despite appearances.
Similarly, at a meeting in Boardman about the complicated flooding issues there, a TV reporter was reading work of The Vindicator to get up to speed.
Neither of these events are illicit or unethical. On our side of the media business, we catch up on news in other ways.
But each of the three events illustrates just how immersed our local news ecosystem is in a daily newspaper.
It’s not a knock to anyone. It’s just the reality.
In the weeks since our closure announcement, our media peers have announced plans to fill in components of the void that our closing will create.
Even Google and a renowned national newspaper group, McClatchy, want to be part of our fix.
The reality of these expansion ideas, combined with the first incidents mentioned above, is that content costs. Period.
It is expensive to create what you are reading right now.
It is expensive for the TV reporter who was not in the courtroom to still stand on the steps and tell you about the news in the courtroom they weren’t in.
All of this news – going back darn near to Ben Franklin and his publishing days – has never been specifically funded by readers and viewers of important community content. What we’ve enjoyed about The Vindicator, WFMJ, WKBN, the Tribune Chronicle and more, has always been funded on the whims of advertising.
Car sales, help wanted, homes for sale or rent, CD rates, grocery stores, $1 ice -cream-cone days, men’s shirts, ladies dresses, cell- phone plans, etc.
That advertising is what has paid for watchdog journalism, for Boardman flooding coverage, for Youngstown State University news, for high-school football and more.
And it’s all, essentially, gone. It’s floating somewhere in digital – mainly in Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google or your email.
I sat with a great local business owner this spring who was questioning the reduction of The Vindicator in size and reporting.
When I explained our revenue model, he was stunned to learn how much of what local media does is tied to advertising.
“Well, what next?” is what many people have asked in the past month.
Something will come up. It always does.
I tease: “Eight years ago, if I told you there is a billion-dollar business to be made by strangers renting their homes and bedrooms to other strangers, would you believe me?”
Something will come up.
But whatever it is, it won’t be the completeness, cohesion and community of a daily newspaper.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.