Media Outlets Prepare for Post-Vindicator Landscape
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The disclosure Friday that The Vindicator would cease publication Aug. 31 has left area media outlets pondering their plans to respond to the voids left by the 150-year-old newspaper’s departure from the Mahoning Valley media landscape.
That includes The Business Journal, which is preparing to expand its coverage of key areas to help fill those voids, the twice-monthly newspaper is announcing Tuesday.
“With 35 years of journalistic excellence and institutional knowledge of the Mahoning Valley, The Business Journal is stepping forward to fill much of the void,” says Andrea Wood, publisher.
“We have been at the forefront of integrating digital technology with traditional print media, creating a cohesive multiplatform approach in an effort to reach all audiences where they are,” she says. “We will develop these efforts even further as we grow into our expanded role.”
As part of an initiative being developed over the coming months, The Business Journal will expand coverage of local government; local politics; lifestyle, entertainment and culture; automotive and real estate. The business publication also will provide information on real estate transactions and open houses, obituaries, listings of events and public meetings, and legal filings.
A letter to readers and advertisers will be sent this morning, Wood adds.
As a community meeting takes place this evening to discuss the future media landscape, The Business Journal and other media outlets in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys are evaluating how to reposition themselves once the Vindicator ceases publication, including its sister television station, WFMJ-TV.
Charles Jarvis, publisher of the Tribune Chronicle in Warren and regional publisher of Ogden Newspapers in Wheeling, W.Va., says his organization is in the early stages of planning for a post-Vindicator future for the Mahoning Valley.
The Tribune Chronicle already is being delivered to houses in most areas of Mahoning County, where it also has a news footprint with the Town Crier newspapers published in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Poland. Additionally, Ogden owns the Morning Journal in Lisbon, Salem News in Salem and The Review in East Liverpool.
The Tribune is getting phone calls from “people who really want a printed newspaper to read every day, so we’re trying to figure out how we can meet the needs in coverage in Youngstown,” Jarvis says. Determining that over the next few weeks is “absolutely on our front burner right now.
“It’s actually just the first business day” since the news was released that The Vindicator was closing, he says.
The publisher “was as surprised as anyone,” he says. He had been aware that the newspaper was up for sale but “never thought it would come to this abrupt kind of an end.
“There is no other timeline than urgency before us,” he says.
Planning is also underway at The Herald in Sharon, Pa. “First, we’re obviously very sad to hear that they’re closing,” says Sharon Sorg, publisher. “To see a newspaper close its doors is heartbreaking for all of us.”
People need to remember that media is a business, not community service, and “any business needs to be supported in order to survive,” she says.
Sorg is group publisher for CHNI LLC, an Alabama-based publisher whose properties in the region include the New Castle News in New Castle, Pa., and The Star Beacon in Ashtabula.
Planning for how to respond is very much in the initial stages, Sorg says. Circulation of The Herald already goes as far as Hubbard and the paper sells advertising in the Youngstown market. The New Castle market is closer to the Boardman area “and we’ll look.from that perspective obviously,” she says.
It’s “scary” for the community to not have the “voice” or have someone watch out for it as The Vindicator has done for so many years, she adds.
“All we care about is that the community has a voice.”
Additionally, CHNI LLC delivers the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today in its markets, which carriers employed by The Vindicator deliver in its coverage area. “So that will be something that we look at,” she says.
Sorg says her organization also would reach out to Vindicator staff to inform them of any openings at papers within her organization.
Although declining to give specific details, citing competitive reasons, Jack Grdic, station manager at WFMJ-TV, is looking at expansion. Several projects the station has worked on go back six months. WFMJ is owned by the same family, the Browns, that owns The Vindicator.
“Given the news over the weekend, we do have some things we will be fast-tracking to help fill the voids that will be left in the market,” Grdic says. “We will be promoting those things both on the air and online when the time comes.”
David Coy, president and general manager of television stations WKBN, WYTV and WYFX, says his news organization has been enhancing its on-air and digital staff for the past couple of years. He plans to continue the path that was in place before the news broke of The Vindicator’s closing, he says.
Mitch Davis, news director of the stations, says he could not discuss “strategic or practical plans” for how the stations might expand coverage and staff but continues its commitment to serving their viewers and web users, or “viewsers,” as he calls them.
“Our mission continues to focus on reporting important information from where our viewers live — their neighborhoods,” he says.
The station group’s “dedicated digital staff” produces “a lot of content that doesn’t even make television,” Coy says. It has been running online obituaries for several years and posts of community events such as fireworks listings and Trick-or-Treat hours have grown tremendously. Streaming of sporting events and coverage of severe weather also is common.
Page views for WKBN reach 10 million to 11 million monthly, Coy says.
“That’s the one thing. Online you’re able to see immediate results, so you have a little bit of a barometer on whether you’re serving the market or not,” he says.
Joel Kaplan, associate dean and professor of magazine, news and digital journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, lamented that the closing of The Vindicator “won’t be the last” resulting from economic distress and industry consolidation.
“What this means is that no one in that community will be covering, on a regular basis, school board meetings, city council meetings, the cops and the courts. Democracy, as we know it, is about to die in Youngstown,” he warned in an email.
Counters The Business Journal’s Wood, “We’re not going to let that happen, and neither will other news organizations that serve the Mahoning Valley.
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.