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Bye-bye GannettBlog
The best source on America’s largest publisher reflects on Wisconsin’s role in the future of the company.

Much to my disappointment, Jim Hopkins decided to hang it up last month.


Who, you ask?


For years Hopkins maintained the Gannet Blog, which kept an eye on the Gannett newspaper chain as it struggled through the implosion of the mainstream news industry over the last decade. Hopkins, a former Gannett employee, was a sort of highly specialized Romenesko, covering just one news organization – albeit one with outlets all over the country, including 10 daily papers in Wisconsin.


I haven’t found a data point yet, but it’s my sense that a huge number of working journalists have time at a Gannett property somewhere in their job history. (Two, including one that’s now a former Gannett paper, are on my resumé.) That, along with the company’s status as the largest publisher of newspapers in the country – topped by its ownership of the national paper USA Today – has made the company an essential part of any media beat.


Of course, “newspapers” is becoming a bit of a linguistic anachronism. When the AP moves stories picked up from Gannett publications, it now attributes them to “[insert publication name here] Media” to reflect the company’s increasingly digital orientation.


Despite its huge presence in the country, Gannett has been awfully uninformative about its repeated downsizings. So for keeping up on the ups and downs – almost always downs – of the corporation, Hopkins’ blog has been indispensable. I told him as much in an email message in which I expressed regret at his decision to shut down.


In his farewell post, Hopkins explains that Gannett’s latest move – acquiring the 20-TV-station Belo Corp. – has turned the company from a newspaper chain owning TV stations into


a TV giant with a side interest in newspapers, its mainstay business since 1906, when Frank Gannett founded the company with a single daily in Elmira, N.Y.


And that, he indicates, was the most immediate impetus for deciding it was time to call it a day and move on to something else. But before doing so, Hopkins served up as well a look back at Gannett’s last decade, in a long feature story (primarily sourced from clips and his blog) in the manner of one of those classic front-page features the Wall Street Journal used to run and gave up on after being acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. – or perhaps those section-front cover stories at USA Today, where Hopkins worked before leaving in one of Gannett’s many downsizings.


I asked Hopkins to reflect from his vantage point on the Dairy State in particular as part of the company’s long-term future.


“Wisconsin is a good candidate for a Gannett newspaper strategy that’s only beginning to unfold across the company's 81 community dailies,” Hopkins wrote back.


“The company is moving toward a regional news-gathering and publishing structure where a single editor is responsible for several dailies. That means even more shared content than some readers are already seeing. Wisconsin is a good candidate because the company owns 10 newspapers in the state.


“Eventually, I can imagine them being merged together into one or two big regional papers with 10 individual websites where there were once free-standing papers. The cost-savings will be too hard for the company to resist.


Other states with Gannett papers where this is already happening include Louisiana, New York, New Jersey plus North and South Carolina.”


I was also curious what his thoughts were on the possibility we could see Gannett acquire some other key Wisconsin newspaper properties – specifically, the Lee Enterprises chain (which owns papers in LaCrosse, Racine, and other cities as well as part of the company that publishes the Wisconsin State Journal), or perhaps even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (Understand, no one, nowhere, has suggested that any such deals are even on anyone’s radar screen.)

“I can't imagine Gannett buying any more newspapers, no matter the price,” Hopkins said. “It probably would consider buying more TV stations, however.”

Whether that will really help Gannett as it continues to struggle, however, is an open question. The latest financials don’t look good. Or in the words of Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum, “if you’re going to charge people for journalism, you have to invest in journalism.”

Well, at least they won’t have Hopkins to kick them around anymore. More’s the pity.


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