Unusual deal keeps a shrinking city’s newspaper going
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — When readers pick up Sunday’s edition of The Vindicator, the newspaper will be emblazoned with its familiar masthead, but it won’t be the Vindicator that has published news from Youngstown, Mahoning County and beyond for the past 150 years.
The paper will be published and produced by The Tribune Chronicle in neighboring Trumbull County as part of a deal finalized this month by the Ogden Newspapers chain to buy the name, subscriber list and news website from the family-owned “Vindy” in Youngstown, where the presses will go silent early Saturday.
The agreement appears to save the essence of a hometown newspaper whose demise represents yet another body blow to a community pummeled for decades by job losses, poverty and a shrinking population.
Vindicator owners Betty Jagnow and her son, Mark Brown, announced June 29 The Vindicator would cease publication because of financial losses. Following the announcement, The Tribune Chronicle said it would print a Mahoning County edition and began soliciting subscribers. The new deal means current Vindicator customers will continue receiving the paper and can renew subscriptions when they expire.
“We think we’re going to provide a very reasonable replacement for The Vindicator,” Tribune Chronicle publisher Charles Jarvis said last week. “We’re not replacing a 150-year-old newspaper. We’re stepping up to replace part of the void that’s left behind.”
The acquisition of newspapers by large chains has become the norm in the challenging environment of print publications fighting to remain relevant and profitable. Jarvis said the deal with The Vindicator is unique in that it is purchasing just the name and subscriber list, not the entire operation.
“If someone has ever done this before, I’d like to talk to them,” he said.
Mark Brown said he had considered several offers as he planned The Vindicator’s closing. The one from the Wheeling, West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers made the most sense, he said.
“It’s a bittersweet moment because you feel like your family has been in the business for 132 years, that you’re selling your identity,” Brown said. “But it’s the best thing for the community, our carriers and our subscribers.”
Jarvis would not disclose the deal’s price.
Relief has been the overwhelming reaction of longtime Vindicator subscribers to the agreement knowing they will receive a daily newspaper focused on Mahoning County, Brown said.
“It’s a good thing for the community, subscribers and carriers,” Brown said. “Whenever the name is going to be seen and we’re not part of it, we’re going to feel bad. But that’s our problem.”
Other organizations, meanwhile, have made commitments to provide Youngstown news. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, said in July that it was opening a spot in its local reporting network to cover accountability issues in the city, a manufacturing hub once home to over 170,000 people but now just 65,000. The Compass Experiment , funded by Google and the McClatchy newspaper chain, plans to launch its first local news website this fall.
The Tribune Chronicle will be adding full-time news and sports reporters to cover Mahoning County but wouldn’t say how many or whether any of the new hires will come from The Vindicator, Jarvis said.
Brown said he has heard that a few members of The Vindicator news staff have been offered positions at The Tribune Chronicle. Still, most of the newspaper’s 144 employees will lose their jobs this week. The Vindicator’s 175 carriers, who are independent contractors, will continue delivering the revamped paper.
The potential addition of 22,000 Vindicator customers during the week and as many as 31,000 on both Saturdays and Sundays, numbers that include home delivery and single copy buyers, will substantially boost The Tribune Chronicle’s distribution of 18,000 papers Monday through Saturday and 23,500 on Sundays.
The Tribune Chronicle’s Vindicator will include features familiar to Vindicator readers, including daily comics, Mahoning County obituaries, and coverage of local government and high school sports.
The Vindicator had a rich history of covering the news of corruption, mob wars and economic decline that in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley were bountiful.
One of the paper’s biggest newsmakers was native son Jim Traficant, a star quarterback who represented himself on federal charges of taking money from both sides of a mob feud while sheriff and persuaded a jury to acquit him.
Traficant got himself elected to Congress and became just the second member to be expelled when a jury convicted him in 2002 of more corruption charges.