September begins today and we’ll move on from last month’s primary elections.
With only competitive school board and mosquito control board races remaining, political junkies can come together to argue about state and federal races that have a less divisive impact than the intensely personal nature local races can have. The search for the next administrator might actually be the sole remaining point of contention among the county commission level.
Another competition is in full swing, however, in local media. I used to think more media outlets were a good thing. Competition breeds innovation. My thought was that the more voices that join the conversation would inevitably help advance the quality of the media landscape.
I was wrong.
Before we get into exactly what I was wrong about, it’s important to understand why we’re seeing a sudden increase in media outreach from a number of different sources. Some of it is undoubtedly frustration with the Chronicle though much of that anger comes from a place of misunderstanding.
This isn’t meant to sound condescending since the Concurrent itself was originally born out of frustration with the Chronicle, but to dismiss the paper as politically biased is to miss the problem that exists.
Citrus County is a better place when the Chronicle is a strong voice. There’s simply no other local entity with the amount of resources to facilitate news collection the way the Chronicle can. With 80 employees and 45 contractors, the Chronicle has the manpower and the corporate backing (new-ish owner Paxton Media Group is among the largest newspaper companies in the nation) to be able to both produce a quality product and be profitable.
We truly don’t understand how fortunate we are to still have a daily newspaper. Media conglomerate Gannett is in the midst of a massive layoff effort following dismal earnings. Earlier this week the Washington Post announced that it would likely cut 10% of its staff as subscriber and ad revenue continued to shrink. The Tampa Bay Times publishes a daily “digital replica” of a newspaper but only prints editions on Wednesday and Sunday. This move is still considered temporary until daily circulation resumes but began on April 6, 2020 and has yet to show any signs of improving.
It’s not hard to see why this is happening. As is the case with the WaPo, a loss in subscribers means less value in the advertising which equates to either a reduction of price or in the number of businesses willing to advertise which means less revenue to pay people to put out a quality product, which in turn loses subscribers. It’s a vicious cycle.
How does a newspaper break it? The Chronicle appears to be sticking with the strategy that has preserved their title as the oldest business in Citrus County - keep it local. Throughout the most recent election cycle, this focus on local meant embracing the principles of community journalism that is often mistaken for liberal bias. This is shooting itself in the foot. It angers the pop up competitors who don't play by the same rules.
Small online startups are guilty of plagiarizing or using copyrighted content rebranded with their own logo, using sole anonymous sources to report the news or flat out making up lies to fit the narratives that they think their audience, usually comprised mostly of borrowed email lists rather than opted-in subscribers, wants to hear.
Sometimes, like the Concurrent has admittedly in the past, they just get stories wrong because that’s more likely to happen without editors or resources.
I may disagree with the Chronicle over their philosophical approach to journalism, but the print publication still adheres to better standards than what the native online community enforces.
Instead of bemoaning the problems, it’s better to look at solutions where local news has worked well. Enter Axios.
The news company started by the same people who founded Politico recently sold to Cox Media for about $525 million to increase their attention on local news. Axios has a strong multimedia presence from podcasts to a recently wrapped up partnership producing content on HBO.
Their primary belief has been, “smarter, more efficient coverage of the topics shaping the fast-changing world.” The Chronicle has done some of this with an updated digital browser and some social live feeds. More is needed.
Nothing poses an outright challenge to the Chronicle, but as audiences get chipped away from outlets with at best a casual relationship to quality, the newspaper will have to evolve beyond a community-first philosophy if it is to keep providing us with a daily publication we so badly need.