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Rural Blog: GateHouse, Gannett merger would create major concentration of newspaper control

Gannett and GateHouse Media, the largest newspaper publishers in the U.S., are considering a merger, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If the deal goes through, “about 1 of every 6 daily newspapers in the United States would be owned by a single company. Totaled up, 267 dailies would fall under a single ownership and management,” Ken Doctor reports for Nieman Lab at Harvard University. “That’s an unprecedented concentration of control in the history of the American press.”

Both companies have been struggling: Gannett, which has the largest audience by circulation, laid off around 400 journalists in late January, the latest in a series of staff reductions.

And GateHouse, which owns the most newspapers, just made its second round of major layoffs this year.

Merging could save the companies millions by consolidating distribution, printing and ad sales into regional hubs. That kind of “regionalization” is a continuing trend as publishers try to spend less on print and more on digital, Doctor reports.

There’s more to it than just money, though, Doctor writes: “This move — like the other consolidations batted around so far this year — is financially strategic. It is not journalistically strategic. Both these companies have been executing various editorial strategies — some patchwork, some earnest, some with real community-serving potential — and both are severely hobbled by declining editorial budgets. This kind of consolidation would buy some time. How that time, and the money saved, gets reinvested into a longer-term solution to local journalism’s woes remains a hanging question. Still required: More capital and a better vision.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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