The Next Round at the Cecil Whig

We’re pleased to have this guest column, which provides additional insight into what’s taking place with legacy media in the county.  We fully agree with the writer’s statment that it is sad to see what has happened to a broadsheet that was such a central part of our county.  While the executives and publishers couldn’t control the severe recession that the nation is in, they could’ve looked after what was once a proud product, making sure that it had valued content so that when tough times came along the paper was in a better condition to compete.  They certainly had some editors and writers that knew how to dig up the stories, if the management would provide the resources and get out of the way of valued content.

Guest Column:

The Next Round at the Cecil Whig

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After a significant purge of employees three weeks ago at Chesapeake Publishing’s Elkton Office comes the next step in what some believe is the slow, laborious death of a newspaper that has been part of this community for 168 years.  The Cecil Whig, once a strong, proud pillar of Cecil County, is suffering from a steady wasting away, possibly brought about by their corporate ownership’s money woes. Now, it seems, the printing plant at the N. Bridge Street office is the next to get a visit from the corporate hatchetman.

Word is that at least half of the printing plant employees will be laid off in the next two weeks. Further, all outside commercial printing work currently being done at the plant will be transferred to the Easton, MD branch in short order. Not only that, but a significant portion of the actual printing press equipment will be relocating to Easton, as well. Apparently, in a rare and impressive show of integrity, the current General Manager of Printing at the Elkton office has tendered her resignation in response to the supposed cost-saving cuts.

After the heavy round of layoffs a few weeks ago that netted two of the top Whig editors and several other long-time employees, came the bad financial news that the parent company of Chesapeake Publishing, Macquarie Southern Cross Media of Australia, is seeing a steady decline in its reputation and value due to carrying a large amount of debt, somewhere approaching $1 billion. Their recent purchase of American Consolidated Media (ACM) of Dallas, TX in particular, is weighing them down to the tune of over a $130 million debtload. ACM is Chesapeake’s immediate over-seer. Now, with this virtual gutting of the commercial printing plant in Elkton, taking even more work out of an already severely depressed job market in this county, it may be time to start questioning whether or not the Cecil Whig will live to see the Grand Old Age of 170. Or rather, will there be anything left of her if she does?

For now, it seems as though the cutbacks will continue. There is some suggestion that the Whig will soon convert to a slightly smaller size to save on paper costs, and some close to the situation believe that the retraction of the Whig from a daily, Monday through Friday paper, to a bi-weekly, Wednesday and Saturday paper may be imminent. While the decline and fall of the newspaper industry isn’t exactly a unique story anywhere in this country, it is truly sad to see an institution that has lasted the better part of two centuries become an insignificant fiscal pawn in an enormous game of corporate monopoly. Eventually, as many of us are only now learning, it’s a game where we all lose.

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5 responses to “The Next Round at the Cecil Whig

  1. Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking through some old copies of the Whig, and the difference is staggering. What used to be valuable information about local happenings is now three or four of the top stories with maybe a few paragraphs each. You can follow the same trend in any paper that’s been bought out by a national chain (and that’s most of them) where the actual local content, the very thing you buy a local paper for, has been replaced by AP articles that I can find myself, online, for free.
    The newspaper industry buried its head in the sand to deal with the internet. It integrated itself into huge conglomerates that focused more on the economics of paper production to squeeze margins instead of the content of their papers. The local paper should be a key component of both local politics and economics, but if the shots are being ultimately called by a company half the country away, that’s also dealing with thousands of other small dailies, then this is nearly impossible. Even a cursory glance online, or asking any of your neighbors about the Whig, will draw derisive comments about partisanship and quality. The world is in a transition that’s matched in magnitude to the introduction of the printing press. Information is becoming astoundingly cheap (often free) to collect, distribute, and obtain. The problem is that there’s no journalistic integrity to back most of this information up. Unfortunately there’s no stop-gap between the old system (print journalism) and the new system that the internet offers.

  2. Anon:

    Thanks so much for a thoughtful, clearly stated post about media. Your point about local comments concerning the Whig are what is so sad, though I recognize the factual basis of your observation. There was a time when that newspaper was such a central proud part of the county and most people waited with great anticipation for its weekly arrival. When it came, it was crammed full of local content and people spent an hour or more reading the paper. With such face time on the broadsheet, you can bet it created a value proposition for the business enterprise and advertisers. But as well compensated publishers and executives (back in the regional days) decided content wasn’t that important and started providing the commodity copy provided by the AP wire, they slowly lost readers. Couple that with some subjects simply being put off limits for a range of reasons and it was all a downward spiral, ever so slowly at first. Of course these highly paid stewards of a fine old Maryland paper with a loyal readership and a great tradition, weren’t used to competition in the news cycle in Cecil county. So what comes along but the Internet and they never recognized the challenges and potential with the new technology.

    Tings finally hit the wall when the economy tanked and the value of the corporation was over leveraged by the national corporation, which had ambled along not too long before that. It’s been a long slow deacdes long decline. I think the Whig had more editorial staff as a weekly than it did once it became a daily back in the ’80s. But without competition, management was more interested in returning those 30%-s0mething returns on investment to the stockholders.

    On your point about the transition to the new world, some sort of content delivery system with emerge out of this change. Several people are talking about estabishing online virtual products for the county. We’ll see, but perhaps the competition will serve as the normalizing force that keeps all of them alert to the best and also makes sure they don’t go too far.

    We’ll see. Thanks for your thoughtful piece.

  3. This is not about a company who wishes to increase local coverage, its about a company in Texas which is owned by an investment bank in Australia, a bank who has listed ACM as a goodwill investment:
    (Answers.com)
    “Goodwill is a type of intangible business asset. It is defined as the difference between the fair market value of a company’s assets (less its liabilities) and the market price or asking price for the overall company. In other words, goodwill is the amount in excess of the company’s book value that a purchaser would be willing to pay to acquire it”

    The goodwill investment is appox 127 million dollars.

    This following article is about ACM before they were brought by an investment bank:
    http://www.hcn.org/issues/331/16571
    (For full article)
    Feature story – From the October 02, 2006 issue of High Country News by M. John Fayhee
    It turns out that, while the details may have been embellished, the main storyline holds. The staff (the three people sitting before me, along with Edward Stern and Tiffany Wardman) was indeed frustrated with the Chronicle, which was owned by American Consolidated Media, a Dallas-based chain that owns 40 papers, mainly in Texas and Oklahoma. The Chronicle had burned through two editors in less than two years, and the corporate suits had become increasingly intrusive……..
    The corporation was also putting profit over community — the biggest sin of all in the world of people who are blessed (or cursed) with whatever wild gene it is that makes otherwise sane individuals start small-town newspapers.
    The chain was pushing for more national and international wire news at the expense of local stories. “It was increasingly apparent that they were looking at the Chronicle less as an important part of our community than they were as a source of revenue-generation,” Acuff says. “Words to them amounted to filler space between ads.”
    There was even talk of moving the Chronicle’s design and production to the corporation’s centralized facility back East. “Half our staff, all of whom were friends and members of the community, would have lost their jobs,” says Hickey, a young mother of two who owned her own design and production company before signing on with the Chronicle. “It just seemed wrong for a community paper to have its production taking place on the other side of the country.”

    You are already seeing articles and editorials from the Star-Democrat (Easton local paper) finding its way into the Cecil Whig. The Whig news staff has not increased in size.
    How many articles can the few they have fill a daily newspaper?
    As production/printing staff is cut in half, more printing is being moved to Easton, and there is not any guarantee this is the end.
    Cecil Whig controlled by Easton, directed by Texas, handled by Australia.
    We will end up getting our local news from USA Today.

  4. I walked into the Cecil Whig Officer and handed them documentation with witnesses names that proved Corruption within the Sheriff Janney administration.The Cecil Whig did not care! An editor only claimed the papers support for Sheriff Janney. Looks like this type of support for dishonesty has caught up with the Whig. The Lord works in mysterious ways!

  5. Sad times indeed

    Just found this blog entry and couldn’t believe it’s almost three years old. Now, in March 2012, ACM has continued its process of slash-and-burn to the tune of 20 layoffs in Easton and continuing cuts in Cecil and in Chestertown. Running centuries-old institutions into the ground to the point where the few who remain are heaped with twice the workload (and no more pay), and after being so afraid for so long of getting laid off, the backlash has led to numerous voluntary departures, too. Sad, sad times.

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