ONE OF the most consequential local news developments of recent times, in terms of long-term impact, just happened.
And it is literally a news development, as in it will affect how and where Savannah gets much of its news.
Unless you’ve been vacationing in North Korea for the past week, you probably already heard that the Savannah Morning News will be sold to a huge multinational conglomerate.
Long story short, the local daily paper — which had been family-owned and Georgia-based under one banner or another since 1850 — will be an asset owned by a company based far away from Savannah itself: GateHouse Media.
GateHouse is headquartered in New York state. It emerged from bankruptcy as recently as 2013.
Post-bankruptcy, GateHouse itself is managed by the Fortress investment firm, based on Wall Street. Fortress has over $70 billion in assets, its management of GateHouse being a tiny, almost microscopic component of that portfolio.
But wait, there’s more.
Fortress itself is owned by the SoftBank Group, which is based in..... Tokyo.
So very soon, the daily paper of record in Savannah not only won’t be locally owned, or Georgia-owned — it will arguably not even be American-owned.
That said, some disclaimers:
Despite persistent misinformation in some quarters, Connect Savannah does not nor has it ever been affiliated in any way with the Savannah Morning News.
Our ownership has always been different, and we have always been in direct competition with the company which has owned the Morning News.
We’ve also always been Savannah-based.
There is no catch, no loophole, no “but.”
We have as little to do with the sale of the Morning News as we do with a new Cracker Barrel opening in Ohio, or a used bookstore changing hands in Portland.
That said, make no mistake: The sale of the Morning News will have an impact on everyone who lives, works, and votes in Savannah, and certainly for everyone who works in local media, one way or another.
This is a paradigm shift of major proportion. And contrary to what you might assume, I’m not necessarily as thrilled about it as you might think.
An independent alternative weekly paper like Connect Savannah thrives on having the foil of a daily paper to push against.
I have always maintained that people in Savannah should read all local newspapers. Connect is confident enough in our product that we feel our work will be even further enhanced when people know what is being written elsewhere.
We welcome the presence of a robust daily paper, because a robust daily paper is good for any community.
That tide lifts all boats, information-wise, and also helps us maintain our own branding as something identifiably different from the mainstream.
While I’m certainly flattered to hear it when some people say they “get all their news” from Connect Savannah — something I do hear a lot — the truth is you’d be better off availing yourself of as many options as possible.
We prefer as well-informed a citizenry and readership as possible, and that can only happen when people are avid readers and consumers of news from a wide variety of sources.
If, as some evidence indicates might be the case, GateHouse guts the Morning News staff even further and begins outsourcing content outside of the market, that might indeed be a short-term advantage for Connect Savannah, both in terms of attracting more readers and in attracting more advertisers.
It will, however, be a net negative for Savannah itself. And that’s nothing to celebrate.
(An intriguing aside about content generation: One of the specialties of the SoftBank Group is.... robotics.)
On a personal level, the sale of the Morning News also marks the sad passing of an era.
While I have been in competition with the Savannah Morning News most of my professional career, I paid my dues at the paper on more than one occasion.
My first journalism job out of college was as a copy editor at the Morning News, when they were still based on Bay Street. It was an invaluable starting point for learning the basics of the craft in a high-pressure environment.
Years later, I was a freelancer at the Morning News when I was urged to apply to be the new editor of Creative Loafing Savannah, which eventually merged with Connect into the form you know it today.
I took a year’s hiatus from alternative weeklies in 1998, when I managed the nightside at the Morning News, and learned quite a bit in a short amount of time about management, news judgment, and design.
You could almost say I grew up at the Savannah Morning News. My mother worked nightside in the ad composing department there when I was a little boy.
I’d sometimes hang out at work with her after school, exploring the nooks and crannies of that sprawling, quirky old building on Bay, like a scene out of a Harry Potter movie.
That’s what they mean when they say printer’s ink is in your blood. And it’s certainly in mine.
Of course, the Savannah Morning News moved out to Chatham Parkway some years ago. Their former building on Bay was converted into condos for people who move to downtown Savannah and then complain about the noise.
And the Morning News stopped being Savannah-owned longer ago than that.
Connect Savannah is proud to say the word “Savannah” in our name really means something — and is really our home base, and our home.
But it’s also important to recognize the full implications of the dramatic paradigm shift in local media now happening with the pending sale of our competition.