When I was a young reporter with the New Castle News, there was a reporter lurking about by the name of Robert Jackson.
Bob Jackson was older and way more experienced, and he scooped up stories like Bill Mazeroski scooped up grounders. “If you want to know what’s happening in New Castle, you have to read Bob Jackson,” it was said.
The only problem - and it was a big problem - Jackson didn’t pound a typewriter at the News. He worked for another paper. His paper was the nearby Ohio daily, the Youngstown Vindicator.
The Vindicator was our main competition in New Castle. Youngstown was big and bad. (A Mafia stronghold, headline writers regularly labelled it the nation’s “murder capital.” As recently as 2007, The New Republic called Youngstown “the city that fell in love with the mob.”)
For reporters at the News, however, the man who made us quake was Bob Jackson. He covered Lawrence County like a blanket - a steel blanket.
Yet, I liked Youngstown. The city made a valiant effort, in the early days of the suburban mall craze, to reclaim shoppers for downtown by blocking off streets to car traffic, with the hope of attracting pedestrian shoppers. Besides, we had friends in Youngstown.
As a result of all of this, it was a shock to learn that the Vindicator was going out of business at the end of August. The paper’s owners, Mark Brown and his mother Betty, 88, announced their decision shortly after the paper celebrated 150 years of continuous publication.
Come Sept. 1, Youngstown, Ohio, will become the largest city in the country without a daily paper. The Browns won’t even be offering a digital version of the Vindicator. The entire Mahoning Valley, with a population of more than 500,000, will be without a rag to call its own.
Amidst a flurry of newspaper closings, this may be the worse yet. Certainly, nothing for me personally has been so unsettling.
The Vindicator gone: it’s hard to fathom. It’s literally unbelievable.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted, “The Brown family called the decision ‘gut-wrenching’ in a report by local radio station WFMJ (also owned by the Brown family) ... not least because 144 employees and roughly 250 newspaper carriers will lose their jobs.
“This is an enormous blow to the Mahoning Valley, especially after the closure of the Lordstown GM plant earlier this year.”
As resident Carole Stanford told WFMJ, “I never thought Youngstown would be without a paper.”
And no one from the perspective of 1970, which is when I joined the News, could have imagined it would come to this. Outside of the Big Three - The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal — hardly anyone is doing well.
In 1970, circulation at the News was around 20,000. Today, it is 9,000 and some change.
Nationwide, daily newspaper circulation, both print and digital, stood at 28.5 million last year. In 1970, it was 62.1 million, according to Pew Research.
Folks (as Joe Biden might put it), that’s a difference of 33.6 million!
Newspaper advertising revenue in 1970 was a paltry $6 billion. Adjusted for inflation, however, paltry becomes robust, at $41 billion. Today’s ad revenue is $14.3 billion.
In 2018, newspaper subscriptions brought in $14.3 billion, Pew says. Accounting for inflation, the 1970 figure was $18.5 billion.
Curiously, seven in 10 Americans today believe local media is rolling in dough. At the same time, only 14% told Pew they spent any money at all in 2018 for news.
A friend from high school recently told me, about newspapers, “I’m old school.” He meant he didn’t cotton to extraneous coverage, to stories about people and towns just over the horizon.
Well, I have news for my friend. In the “old days,” people paid for what they read.
They didn’t plumb the internet for free news.
In many ways, the national news landscape has never been more robust. News and opinion are growing like wildflowers, or weeds, depending on your point of view.
Local news coverage is the problem. Who, beginning in September, will keep the good people of Youngstown informed about their schools and government, their sports and church socials? How will they know who died and who was arrested?
Youngstown, New Castle - for that matter, all of us - could use a man like Robert Jackson again. Those were the days.
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.