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Paxton Media Group (PMG) will officially assume control of the Citrus County Chronicle this Tuesday after a deal to purchase Chronicle parent company Landmark Community Newspapers in its entirety was finalized about two weeks ago.
PMG is headquartered in Paducha, Ky., a town of roughly 25,000 residents located in the western part of the state near the Illinois border. This is the geographic area PMG targeted as the company more than doubled its Kentucky-based newspapers from 17 to 37 publications and now has a total of 120 publications across 14 states with the addition of Landmark’s papers.
It’s impossible to know what this means for the Chronicle moving forward. Today’s column, though, will analyze a lengthy piece written about the changes that took place at a North Carolina newspaper one year after PMG had bought them.
But first, it’s important to establish what the Concurrent is in comparison to the Chronicle because that will help categorize some content.
The Concurrent is a multimedia editorial publication, not a newspaper, although we have a print edition. Our product is to contextualize the news rather than report it.
Our mission is to create a community that believes in the ability to have respectful discussions in disagreement without ever losing sight of the shared intentionality among us to make Citrus an even better place.
Our vision is to do so through connecting people to free news analysis in the most accessible forms possible, mainly on an audio or video mobile platform.
This differs from a newspaper in many ways. A newspaper like the Chronicle is a complicated publication but one at least in part run by editors and journalists who are bound by certain professional obligations.
Many national news outlets from chain newspapers to cable networks are now (often rightly, sometimes unfairly) criticized for blending their content. What used to be distinctly different sections of news and opinion is now becoming harder to distinguish at all levels of media.
A columnist for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville admitted that she gets the most amount of hate mail when editors decide to run her opinion columns within the news section, which is understandably confusing to readers. She noted that the opinion writing staff of newspapers and the news desk where reporters work are often not only physically separated by a wall in newsrooms but are four full floors apart in her building.
The Chronicle often demonstrates a slightly different problem. Rather than opinion being mixed with news, the paper has a tendency to report feature stories as if it was news. Think of the former pushing agenda-driven content as propaganda while the latter is light-hearted public relations.
While I personally prefer the Chronicle’s approach if it has to be one or the other, the problem with a paper that looks more like PR than journalism is that PR can direct attention away from serious stories that need to be investigated as well as brush over difficult topics worthy of discussion.
PMG is likely going to not only continue this trend, but exacerbate it to a potentially troublesome degree. Within one year, PMG had fired 80 of the 350 employees including its beloved executive editor at the Sun-Herald in Durham, N.C. after it assumed control in 2005 - still the heyday of print journalism profitability.
The paper was the largest PMG’s portfolio with over 42,000 subscribers but those numbers plummeted 15% in the first year as quality crumbled.
The content became, “something more akin to the small-town newspaper coverage of garden clubs, high school football and gala fund-raiser who's-who. Some readers really like that kind of coverage; the boosterism has certainly helped mend fences with some who were put off by the mass firings. But how can a newspaper maintain its role as watchdog when it's fired its most experienced reporters and devoted itself to community cheerleading?”
TV news covered footage of subscribers literally throwing their copies of the Herald-Sun back at the offices in anger. The reporters who had been retained soon left unable to practice their journalism skill beyond the feature, PR-style of prose.
This is truly a worst case scenario yet I don’t think the Chronicle’s current culture differs much from what PMG will likely insist on being implemented as based on this example.
The moral courage to recognize the possibility of bad by questioning the good, however, especially with the harder push toward PR-style content from our newspaper will become increasingly important to our community as this transition takes place.