It's not hard to remember the days when the Louisville Courier-Journal was owned by people who actually lived in Louisville. Since 1986, it has been owned by Gannett, the offices of which are in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Although the paper has been owned by outsiders, it has still largely been run by people who at least had an association with the city. When Gannett bought it in 1986, George Gill was appointed president and publisher. Gill was a CJ veteran who had spent two decades working for the Binghams, the family that ran the paper for most of the 20th century.
It was announced today that Gannett has appointed Arnold Garson as the new president and publisher. Garson is from Sioux City, SD. So now even those who run the paper are beginning to be replaced by those who have little investment in the community--or, should we say, who have only an investment in the paper. It is clearly a decision, like all such decisions now, that is dictated not by good journalism, but by the bottom line.
I was talking to a friend of mine from Louisville, who pointed out that the CJ is taking away all his reasons for getting the paper: stock quotes, information on television programming, etc. Oh, and whatever happened to book reviews (Okay, I admit, they're probably more important to me that most other people). I'm told they moved them a few years back, but I still can't find them.
And when was the last time you witnessed any good investigative journalism from the CJ? Have they cut reporter's expense budgets so they are no longer allowed out of the office? When you are being scooped on good investigative stories by television reporters (I'm thinking particularly of Mark Hebert here) and blogs, you know something is wrong.
Then, of course, there is the issue of the liberal slant that has plagued the paper for years and which just simply doesn't speak to many Louisville readers, some of whom have just simply given up and stopped taking a paper.
These are the death throes of a media institution, an institution that is part of a larger industry that is dying a slow death brought on not just by economic factors, but by a loss of purpose and commitment--and a rise in others who are doing the newspaper's job for it. This isn't the first time the newspaper has faced competition. In fact, there was more than one paper in town until 1868, when the Courier and the Journal merged. But when a newspaper becomes the only one in town, as the CJ has been now for quite some time, it can't help but become fat and lazy.
Now, with the rise of the new media, mostly the Internet (not to mention rising paper costs), all of a sudden it realizes it can't do things the way it has been doing them. That's what happens when monopolies suddenly aren't monopolies anymore, but back in the world of accountability. The question is, will the paper realize that the way back to journalistic success is through better journalism, not better accounting.
And one wonders whether, with the arrival of Garner, the Courier-Journal, which is the only paper in town, is in the process of becoming something other than the town paper. What other reason than economics would the paper bring in someone from Sioux City, South Dakota?
Garner must know how to keep papers alive, otherwise Gannett wouldn't have brought him in. Let's hope he's not just a businessman working in journalism, but a journalist who happens to be a businessman too.