This is very complicated and, without my going to Youngstown and Warren, Ohio, and interviewing people, it’s not possible to be completely accurate, but, from here, it appears that comics may have delayed, perhaps even prevented, the destruction of a local paper.
The Vindicator, Youngstown’s hometown newspaper, recently announced its death, leaving a significant city without a daily paper.
That’s one helluva blow, even in an area Wikipedia calls “the geographic center of the Rust Belt.”
However, devastating as that development is, the neighboring Warren, Ohio, Tribune Chronicle has announced plans to absorb and, to an extent, continue the Vindicator.
Fortunately, neither paper was owned by a Wall Street stock-swapping cartel, which means there is some potential for intelligent analysis and planning which does not revolve entirely around the counting of beans.
But every business decision must involve beans, and it may well be — this is the part where I wish I could go talk to the people involved — that the paper in Warren coveted the audience in Youngstown, as part of the Mahoning Valley.
I’ve played that game, where we looked at a neighboring market in which the current paper was perhaps not doing all they could, and we wondered if dropping in a regional office — not just news coverage but ad sales — might not be worthwhile.
But I was never in a place where the under-performing paper in that neighboring market simply bailed out and shut down.
Which sounds like ringing the dinner bell, but it’s not that simple, for at least two reasons:
One is that you can’t simply write a few features about the place from time to time. You have to make a serious commitment to covering them on a regular basis.
The other is that, however half-assed the established paper may have become, they are still the traditional “local” paper and the people who subscribe to a print edition are extremely loyal.
So here’s the deal: The Tribune Chronicle has obtained the Vindicator’s subscription list and will publish a paper with the Vindicator’s plate on the top.
However, as I read it, it will really be what we call a “zoned edition” of the Trib: A large portion of the paper will be the same thing subscribers of the Trib will see, but the “local” coverage will be Youngstown.
That seems to require hiring some established Vindicator reporters to provide meaningful coverage of local news. I guess we’ll see.
But here’s what the Trib is promising: The comics page and local obituaries will remain intact, as part of maintaining the feel and identity of the old Vindicator.
As an old newspaper person, I’m going to watch this with great curiosity. And leave us not bullshit one another: A lot of it depends on how much smoke the Trib will try to blow up the asses of Vindicator subscribers in order to keep expenses within reason.
But maintaining the comics page intact is delightful, because it’s an indication that they know and respect the fact that the flavor of the paper matters, that people subscribe because they feel a bond and affection for their local paper.
As a former reporter and editor, I hope the Trib maintains a solid news bureau in Youngstown, so that their coverage will be comprehensive and responsible.
But bless them for recognizing the value of the comics page in building local loyalty.
Comics matter. They are part of a newspaper’s critical identity.