Big Changes Coming To Cincinnati, Hamilton, Dayton And Columbus Newspapers

Jan 6, 2020

Big changes are coming to the area's longtime newspapers.

The Cincinnati Enquirer returns to its large "broadsheet" format on Tuesday, Jan. 7, after five years as a smaller tabloid.

The Enquirer switched to the compact format in March 2013 in a cost-cutting move.  The Gannett-owned daily reduced paper and personnel expenses when it shut down its 1978 West End printing plant and went to the smaller "compact" format produced on Columbus Dispatch presses.

The Dispatch today announced it was also dropping its tabloid format, closing its printing plant in March, and moving printing to the Indianapolis Star, a sister Gannett paper.

Meanwhile, new owners of the Dayton Daily News, the Hamilton-Middletown Journal-News and the Springfield News-Sun "are prepared to change the publication frequency" of the dailies to "only publish three times a week," according to Broadcasting + Cable.

Enquirer printing moves this week to Gannett's Louisville Courier-Journal, a broadsheet paper. Eliminating the smaller tabloid format should streamline costs at Gannett's regional design centers because the Enquirer was one of a few – if not the only Gannett paper – not printed as a broadsheet. Story layouts and headlines had to be done specifically for the Enquirer, not allowing some national, international, sports and entertainment  stories to appear with the same design in multiple papers.

The larger format also means smaller papers for Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky readers.

"Because of the bigger page size, you may see fewer pages in some editions," explained executive editor Beryl Love in an Enquirer story. "But we are not reducing the number of stories. In fact, we're excited to bring you more news on the front page."

The Dayton/Hamilton/Springfield newspaper changes could come as a result of Apollo Global Management's Terrier Media paying $3.1-billion in December for Atlanta-based Cox Media Group, which includes WHIO-TV, Dayton's top-rated TV station; news radio WHIO-AM; WHKO-FM; WZLR-FM; the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun, the Hamilton-Middletown Journal-News; and Dayton.com.

The federal government prohibits a company from owning a TV station and daily newspaper in the same market. The 1975 "cross ownership" ban, which dates back to when daily newspapers dominated news and advertising, was upheld in September by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, by overturning a 2017 vote by the Federal Communications Commission to end the ban. The prohibition was not in effect when Cox Media Group agreed last February to sell its Ohio media conglomerate, and all of its other TV stations, to Terrier.

With the ban restored, the FCC's Media Bureau approved the sale in November after Terrier said it was prepared to change the publication frequency of the three Ohio Cox newspaper so they would no longer be daily papers.

In the Dayton Daily News story announcing the sale on Nov. 28,  the paper noted that "the FCC approval prohibits Terrier from owning daily print newspapers and broadcast properties in the same market," but repeated the company's goal to maintain seven-day publication for all three papers.

"Cox Media Group leadership continues to explore options to keep all of our Ohio newspapers from publishing seven days. This sale has created an unprecedented situation when the FCC's media ownership rule was reinstated during the approval process of the transaction," the company said in the Nov. 28 statement.

Separating the 121-year-old Dayton Daily News from the WHIO TV/radio news operation would be very problematic – and expensive – for Terrier. Print, broadcast and online journalists work in the same newsroom at 1611 Main St., near the University of Dayton, and share their reporting on the various platforms.

"Our goal is to meet the requirements of the regulation, and at the same time continue to provide excellent service and support to the Dayton region, our employees and our customers," the statement said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former FCC commissioner Michael Copps blasted the FCC in a USA Today column Jan. 2:

"Cox Media had been grandfathered in, but the FCC allowed Apollo to skirt the rules: With circulation reduced to three days a week, the Dayton Daily is technically no longer a daily newspaper, so the sale could move forward…

"The FCC's deal with Apollo allows the private equity firm to own a significant amount of media. History has shown that the quality of news and information has greatly diminished under private equity control. These firms implement cost-cutting strategies that bleed newspapers and media outlets dry, leading to reporter layoffs and consolidated newsrooms. A region of nearly 1 million people will bear the brunt of these devastating cuts to its primary news source…

"The FCC is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public interest when it comes to the media marketplace. This means promoting policies that advance localism, competition and diversity in broadcasting. But rather than uphold these principles, this FCC has placed the interest of a private equity firm ahead of everyday people."

Last August, GateHouse Media, which owns the Columbus Dispatch, bought the Gannett Co. for $1.4 billion.  GateHouse, which was renamed Gannett, owns more than 260 daily papers in the U.S., including the Dispatch, Enquirer, Chillicothe Gazette, Coshocton Tribune, Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Loudonville Times, Mansfield News-Journal, Marion Star, Newark Advocate, Port Clinton News Herald and Zanesville Times Recorder in Ohio.

On Monday, the Dispatch told 188 full- and part-employees at  its 30-year-old production plant near Georgesville Road and I-270 that it will close in 60 days.  The notice to affected employees said the company will work to connect them with local resources to assist with seeking new employment.

With the merger of GateHouse Media, which bought the Dispatch in 2015, and Gannett, the Columbus presses were the oldest among the four large Midwest operations, which include Indianapolis, Detroit and Louisville, according to Alan D. Miller, executive editor and interim general manager of the Dispatch Media Group.

"Moving to a printing facility nearly three hours from Columbus will require earlier deadlines… for the Dispatch," the paper also announced Monday.

Only one printing facility in the world has equipment that allows for printing and folding the "compact" format used by the Dispatch since 2013. It was an experiment that Dispatch leaders at the time thought could become a trend in the industry, but that didn’t happen, Miller said.

“The move to a traditional broadsheet will give us a bigger canvas on which to display photos and stories, and it will allow maximum flexibility in printing on virtually any press if the need arises,” Miller said in the Dispatch story.