While sitting in the Statehouse for the Hsiao report presentation yesterday, I had a strange realization that my grandfather may have sat in the same seat in 1936 as he reported for the first time on the legislature. I was using a laptop computer; the reporters around me were tweeting and blogging and recording. Video cameras were live-streaming over the Internet. But the seats are the same, and back then the legislature was moving to debate something that may have been just as ground-shaking: the Green Mountain Parkway, which would have created a highway along the ridge of the Green Mountains.
In Vermont media news, the CEO of MediaNews, which owns the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal in Southern Vermont, Dean Singleton, has announced that he will be stepping down. That won't probably have much affect on the Vermont papers, but it comes in the context of rumors that MediaNews might merge with Freedom Communications, another media chain, and perhaps a few others. Both MediaNews and Freedom just emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which Singleton told the Colorado blog Westword puts him in a good position for expansion.
"After our restructuring, we have a very good balance sheet for expansion," Singleton maintains. "And expansion, if you do it geographically, lets you consolidate a lot of overhead, which makes the businesses more efficient -- and that gives the core business a lot more value. But it also gives you more critical mass to create new media platforms. In terms of developing new media strategies, interactive and mobile and social media, the size of the platform does matter, and having a larger platform does offer some opportunity." - From the Westword interview
Expansion, and going into debt to leverage that expansion, is one reason the major newspaper companies got into serious trouble over the last few years. A further merger would put the majority of newspapers nationally in the hands of just a few giant chains - MediaNews/Freedom, Gannett, McClatchy, and a few others. That leads to less diversity of coverage, more intense focus on profits and less responsiveness to the communities we serve.