Citing lack of readership and negative effect on revenue, Gannett walks away from editorial content

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Gannett is drastically reducing and reinventing its editorial sections, reducing political endorsements, letters to the editor, syndicated columns and editorial cartoons because they believe its opinion pages are “alienating readers and becoming stale”. The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The Post cited an internal document they obtained from a presentation on the future of the editorial pages made in April by a committee of editors.

“They don’t believe we have the expertise to tell anyone what to think about most issues,” the committee said. “They perceive us as having a biased agenda.”

The report notes that Gannett thinks “editorials, guest commentary columns, op-eds and letters to the editor have lost relevance in a time when opinions are spilling over onto social media.”

Randy Bergmann, who was the editorial page editor of Asbury Park Press until his post was axed in 2020, said in a Facebook post that newspapers have an obligation to provide readers with an “opinion leader”.

“From my early days as a journalist, I believed that thought leadership was an essential ingredient of a newspaper’s mission,” Bergmann said. “Today, I believe in it more than ever. It’s the only place people can go – or at least could go – to find a mix of informed views on important topics – informed being the key word. .

Randy Bergmann, former editorial page editor at Asbury Park Press. (Photo: Randy Bergman).

The Gannett panel said editorials and opinion content were “among our least-read content” and that a “common” reason readers unsubscribed was the newspaper’s opinion pages, reported. the post.

Bergmann called it “journalistic malpractice”.

“Gannett began to scale back editorials, commentaries, and letters to the editor largely for two reasons: they weren’t generating enough page views, and, in this highly polarized climate, strong opinions were sure to alienate the half of their readership or more,” Bergmann said. . “So much for thought leadership and editorial courage.”

He acknowledged that editorials and op-eds produce fewer pageviews than other articles, but noted that “they are viewed in disproportionate numbers by officials and policymakers.”

According to Bergmann, the move by the Gannett chain, which owns nine daily newspapers in New Jersey, “contributed to political polarization and uninformed views on issues” and “diminished the watchdog function of newspapers.”

“Editors and editors are an important part of journalism’s oversight responsibility, often going beyond story reporting and providing context that is sometimes missing from important news,” Bergmann said. “For weeklies and small-to-medium dailies, editorials on local topics can have a significant impact.”

The recommendations made by Gannett’s editorial board are not binding at this time, according to the report.

The (Bergen) Record, one of Gannett’s properties, appears to have already implemented the plan. Their editorial and opinion page now only appears in print editions on Sundays, and their website shows only one editorial from New Jersey so far this year.

Six editorials appearing online since May 2021 include endorsements for Governor Phil Murphy and a random endorsement of two Teaneck ballot initiatives, and two editorials in support of themselves: a case for federal legislation that would limit the role tech companies and social media platforms distributing their stories without compensation; and a second that asks the New Jersey congressional delegation to vote for this bill.

Most of their editorials only appear in their digital edition and not in print. That’s probably not a big deal, since Gannett’s own management admits that most people don’t read them.

The Record and NorthJersey.com editor Dan Sforza did not immediately respond to a 9:21 a.m. request for comment.

“Good editorials and editorial pages have an impact,” Bergmann noted. “In our digital age, where misinformation is a pandemic, the obligation for newspapers to provide thought leadership is greater than ever.”

The editorial and opinion page of (Bergen) Record on Sunday, June 5, 2022. (Screen capture: The Record).
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