Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Hart of the Matter, Local News

PHILLIPS NEWSPAPER GROUP was announced last week as the new owner of the Herald-Whig newspaper in Quincy, and the Courier-Post newspaper in Hannibal. Phillips is based in Arkansas and owns several small Missouri papers. There was initial hope the transition would be smooth and a new owner with other small papers would proceed slowly but surely with needed changes.

Monday morning, 20-plus employees at Fifth and Jersey were given their walking papers, effective at the end of the month when the new owners officially take over. It's believed the employees were given severance pay. They were told they had no choice but to take the deal.

I worked for the Herald-Whig for 16 years, but it's been 8 1/2 since I left. I don't know everybody leaving. I do know longtime Whig reporter and columnist Steve Eighinger is gone, as is fellow veteran Doug Wilson. Both photographers are gone. Three of the four copy desk staff are gone. A bunch of corporate folks are gone. I think there are maybe eight people left in a once-crowded newsroom.

I hired Stevie Dirt (Eighinger) as a part-timer in sports in the late 1990s. He became the best-known reporter there because of his columns and his love of the Quincy Raceways. He can't be replaced.

Then again, Steve and Doug are both old enough to retire, although Social Security isn't the same as working every day. But there is life after the paper, believe me. 

The Herald-Whig has been losing circulation and money for years. Ralph Oakley and the ownership decided it was time to get out while they still could, and I don't blame them a bit. Ralph has been in the newspaper business all his life and it's a grind. 

The paper isn't nearly what it used to be. But I still have friends and former colleagues there and I'm not pining for the good old days. Simply put, fewer and fewer people read the paper. They'd rather get their news from Twitter or the social media grapevine. No wonder we are so divided as a nation, when our primary sources for news are not the local paper but biased opinions from basement dwelling Web Warriors.

You might be hearing something from the new owners soon about the positive changes coming. It's a business, nothing more and nothing less. The new owners never came in and met everybody individually, got their stories, found out how much of their lives they've invested in the paper and the company.

The paper was a strong presence in the community, sponsoring many events and encouraging employees to get involved. Now Phillips Newspaper Group has alienated a large group of people and they don't even have the keys to the building. Do you think they care?

I hope the employees soon to leave bounce back and remember the good things about working for The Whig. And I wish the people remaining good luck. It's still our paper, though it doesn't feel like it at the moment.

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