A former coworker shared the story of his hometown and the sense of loss it experienced and the after-effects it caused. Within no more than a handful of years, the one bustling business district had become a series of empty storefronts.
Furniture shoppers had to go out of town for a new couch or dining set. The windows of offices had that odd amber hue of baked-in dust. Not only were few souls on the street, but the soul of the economy had also become a specter.
The small-town newspaper’s demise became the fuse that lit the implosion of its small-business community.
Youngstown, Ohio, is far from a small town. It serves a metropolitan area of more than 560,000 residents in the northeast corner of the Buckeye State. Its once-thriving automotive plants became husks of antiquated technology and burdensome union contracts, with the massive Lordstown plant on the city’s outskirts the latest to shutter.
General Motors in the past had resuscitated the facility, moving model production there and downsizing instead of closing it. There is no rescue coming for the plant this time. The same is true of its 150-year-old newspaper, the Vindicator.
The family-owned company announced last month it would cease publication — both print and online — at the end of this month. It had tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer and ran out of people and expenses to cut and remain viable.
One of the people on whom I model how to manage a newsroom has been the editor of the Vindicator for more than a dozen years. He not only is a passionate journalist, but a passionate advocate for the community where he works. He strikes up conversations in diners and hardware stores and relishes telling people’s stories. They are shared in a way and with more frequency and heart than television news could ever muster.
It is not a roll of newsprint the Youngstown region will miss when the Vindicator stops showing up on their doorsteps, but the embrace it provides its community, delivered in well-crafted language and portraits by people with a passion to tell stories from the forgotten corners of the world they call home.
Last week, the Vindicator announced it would sell the two most valuable assets it had remaining — its subscriber list and its name — to the competing Warren Tribune-Chronicle. The Warren newspaper promised it would deliver a Vindicator-branded product to Youngstown, much like someone bought the Circuit City name after it went bankrupt to sell electronics in the dead company’s name.
While the name will live on, however, the people who have put out the Vindicator will become unemployed 10 days from now through no fault of their own. Some of them have gone without raises for a decade or more in an effort to help the paper cut its expenses. In the end, it wasn’t enough.
To those who will point to national politics and the “liberal press” for its inability to sustain itself, the understanding among those of us in the print journalism business is that those issues are unfairly applied to us. And anyone in the Youngstown region who thinks that today will have a short-lived celebration when they realize hundreds of other places remain to restock their venom.
Those places do not have ads for the local furniture store. They won’t tell people about their local high school’s volleyball results. They won’t say a word about their local city council wanting to raise taxes or spend millions on a sweet deal for campaign contributors.
When we posted a link on Facebook to a story about the new Makerspace lab at the Angleton Library, a reader commented, “Would have been cool to go to the grand opening for this. … Why was there not an article or any info passed around before? At least I never saw anything. … I also don’t get this newspaper so I can’t read all the article.”
It seems she answered her own question.
Community news matters. Too many people won’t realize that until, like the people of Youngstown, they don’t have a reliable provider for it.