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Let’s Talk Tronc

Let’s Talk Tronc

I know what y’all are expecting. My thoughts - maybe a rant - about the sale of my former newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, to Tronc, a newspaper publishing chain out of Chicago.

Sorry to disappoint, but I have nothing particularly profound to say. 

Other than this: I am profoundly sad to see another independent local newspaper sold to a national chain. And this isn't just any paper. It's mine.

On the other hand, it’s a relief for the sale to be finalized after a decade of uncertainty.

For the past 10 years, Pilot employees knew they could wake up one morning and suddenly find themselves working for a new boss. 

That happened yesterday. At least now they know.  

I started my career at a family-owned paper - The Washington Post - and I ended it at another, The Pilot. I can tell you, there’s something special about being part of a family business. For one thing, there’s an affection for the owners that simply doesn’t exist with the mega-chains. There's also an intimate connection to the community that out-of-town owners will never have.

But most family-owned papers are fighting to stay profitable and looking for ways to make money in a digital age. Media conglomerates are grabbing them.  

Sometimes, when a newspaper is sold, it stabilizes. Other times it’s cannibalized by the new owners.

The very worst that can happen is that a hedge fund snaps up a struggling paper and grows fat as the newspaper starves.

The horror that’s unfolding at The Denver Post is a cautionary tale for the industry.

I’m relieved Pilot Media didn’t wind up in the hands of a similarly rapacious corporation.

Despite its silly name, Tronc owns quality newspapers. Yet there are red flags. For instance, two of its biggest publications - the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune - have recently seen a resuscitation of newsroom unions. I’m not anti union. Just saying that employees organize when they’re unhappy. That’s worth watching. 

I hope - and so should you - that the Pilot not only survives this new ownership but grows under it. We need an energetic local paper. Even folks who don't subscribe benefit from a newspaper that keeps the local potentates honest.

We all know the shenanigans our local officials have engaged in even with a vigilant newspaper in town. Imagine what they’d be up to if the paper weren't here.

For 34 years I proudly worked for the feisty Pilot, the largest newspaper in Virginia. I made dear friends at the paper. Worked with some of the most talented journalists I’d ever known. 

Pilot reporting - about 150 years of it - made a difference in Virginia. Newspaper stories put some people in jail and busted others out. The paper was there when terrible crimes were committed and when those accused stood trial. Pilot reporters interviewed convicts and cancer patients and families searching for lost loved ones. We covered plane crashes and wars and homecomings with great Pilot photo essays on Navy families reuniting on the docks after lonely deployments. 

Our reporters gave readers stories of joy and heartache and of valor and cowardice of important people and everyday folks, military and civilian, who make this corner of Virginia feel like home to so many of us who weren’t born here. Our photographers and artists added a dazzling dimension to those tales.

We all need a healthy Virginian-Pilot. We need smart reporters to be our eyes and ears at tedious public meetings and to dig for the deeper stories. We need them to continue to ferret out corruption and waste. We need them to tell the stories that would never be told without a daily in town.

What I’m saying is we want the new owners to handle our beloved newspaper with care.


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