Just last week, The Vindicator newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio celebrated its 150th birthday. There will not be a 151st. The paper announced on Friday that the final edition will be Aug. 31.
While it might seem like no big deal — just a small paper in a little community — this news is, as Ohio Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Tim Ryan tweeted, “heartbreaking.”
The Vindicator reaches 100,000 readers a day online and in print. It serves a community twice that size. Soon there will be a void, and we’re left to ask: Who will cover possible corruption in city hall? Who will make sure the school board is treating teachers and students well? Who will be the watchdog keeping an eye on the police, district attorneys and other government agencies?
Who will be the voice of a community?
The story is a familiar one. The paper wrote that “great financial hardships” led it to look for a buyer, but, “That search has been unsuccessful.”
The newspaper has been in the Maag-Brown family since William F. Maag Sr. acquired the paper in 1887. In a letter signed by publisher Betty Brown Jagnow and general manager Mark Brown, the announcement concluded with: “It is with broken hearts that we say goodbye and a final thank you.”
TV station WFMJ (also owned by the same family that owns The Vindicator) reported that 144 employees and about 250 carriers will lose their jobs.
Reporter Kalea Hall told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I can’t explain how difficult it is to see this happen, but I understand given the conditions of the newspaper industry. I beg people to support local journalism. It’s essential to democracy. I only hope that someone, somewhere picks up the slack and continues to ask the hard questions like The Vindicator reporters did for years and get the news out there that people need to know.”
Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Ryan said, “It builds culture. That’s what you lose when you lose the local newspaper. You lose that culture that really pulls you together and at this moment in history and our country’s history, it’s really a big body blow to lose that local newspaper because so much is pulling us apart and those local papers pulled us together.”
Ryan said The Vindicator has occasionally written stories about him that he didn’t like, but he added, “What’s the alternative? Having a state-run paper like in China? Or like in Russia? That’s not good, at the end of the day. So even though there’s that criticism that sometimes people on my side of the camera don’t always like, it’s essential to our democracy.”