[Column] The Lebanon Daily News is just barely a local newspaper

4 min read2,932 views and 163 shares Posted January 6, 2020

This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

The Lebanon Daily News (LDN) contains very little local content, and its local contributor content is about to get even more meager. I’ll explain, but, first, some background.

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The American newspaper industry is in general decline. Clearly, some of its problems are self-inflicted.

Ten or eleven years ago, the Daily News, founded in 1882, numbered more than twenty people in its newsroom writing/editing local content. Its daily editions were printed in Lebanon. Five or six years ago, the newsroom headcount was still roughly a dozen.

In 2015, the LDN, along with three other South Central Pennsylvania newspapers including the York Daily Record, the Chambersburg Public Opinion and the Hanover Evening Sun, was sold to Gannett Corporation, a nationwide newspaper syndicate whose flagship outlet is USA Today.

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Management oversight of the Daily News, along with Chambersburg and Hanover, was assigned to the York Daily Record.

Since then, the Daily News’ Lebanon headquarters building has been sold and repurposed, but its newsroom, now confined to the northeast corner of the building, is large enough to hold a sizeable staff. Nonetheless, today, its newsroom contains only three people, one of whom is responsible for sports, and the printing plant is in York. Dozens of good Lebanon County jobs have been lost.

Online records indicate that the newsroom staffs of the Chambersburg and Hanover newspapers number three and four, respectively. Both employed far more people ten, even five years ago. Although the York Daily Record’s staff may have shrunk somewhat, too, its website still lists twenty staff reporters and editors.

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Former LDN employees make a compelling argument that when Gannett, the parent company, issued system-wide instructions to reduce headcount, York management sacrificed jobs in Lebanon (and Chambersburg and Hanover) to preserve jobs in York.

Online sources report that “The content of Lebanon Daily News is essentially split up into seven different subjects: news, opinion, sports, business, lifestyles, obituaries, and entertainment.” Three people cannot do all that, so the paper borrows content from sources elsewhere in the Gannett network, much of which is noticeably only-marginally relevant or totally irrelevant to Daily News readers. Even so, the daily print edition seldom has enough weight for carriers to throw it through a light breeze. Fortunately – for carriers, at least – there are far fewer copies to porch deliver.

As the LDN newsroom headcount dropped, readers noticed how poorly they and their communities were being served, and subscribers began cancelling. Current circulation figures aren’t easily available, but it wouldn’t be surprising if, on Sundays, from an historic peak in excess of 20,000, the LDN issued only 8,000 or fewer print copies, perhaps far fewer.

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In August, 2019, USA Today announced, “New Media Investment Group said Monday that it reached a deal to acquire Gannett, which owns USA TODAY and more than 100 other daily publications…” including, of course, the Lebanon Daily News. Although it’s difficult to imagine what can be done to Lebanon, all 100+ will be squeezed to preserve profits for the new owners.

Even before Gannett’s latest merger/acquisition, the York Daily Record’s management indifference to the Lebanon Daily News was obvious to those who either worked at or contributed to the Daily News. There is a clear sense of impatience among YDR management for the imposition of having to oversee newspapers other than their own. Their decimation of the LDN’s newsroom leads one to suspect that York management would simply prefer that the Daily News (and Chambersburg and Hanover) just went away. The LDN parent company’s failure to invest and its York management’s neglect will eventually make that outcome self-fulfilling.

I began submitting occasional opinion pieces to the LDN in 2010 and, in recent years, have appeared there weekly.

Despite its decline, I continued to submit to the Daily News (via York beginning January, 2019) because I grew up in Lebanon County, remained somewhat sentimental about the newspaper of my childhood, and doing so has permitted thousands of appearances at the websites of USA Today and affiliated Gannett newspapers nationwide.

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But, on Thursday, January 2, 2020, my York editor informed me that, because he 1) is somehow overburdened and 2) would like more “diversity” on the LDN’s once-a-week Sunday-only opinion page, the LDN would no longer publish my columns. Excuse #2 would be a bit more persuasive if the 500 words to which I limit myself filled an entire print page. Apparently, York’s vision of “diversity” needs it all. In any case, there’s no room for a local voice in a newspaper that already contains very little local content.

Frankly, it’s somewhat amusing to have been “fired” from a multi-year volunteer job which never paid a dime. But, why should I – or anyone – take the Daily News more seriously than its absentee managers do?

Readers have other options. If they haven’t already, disaffected LDN readers should consider contributing or subscribing to other local outlets such as LebTown online or, in the western part of the county, the Hummelstown Sun. Helping LebTown grow has the chance, at least, to provide more local news over time than the Daily News is likely to deliver. Indeed, free weeklies occasionally contain more local information than the Daily News

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Effective immediately, I have stopped submitting columns to York for appearance in the Lebanon Daily News, but will continue to publish weekly in the Pottstown Mercury (where my archive is approaching 250 entries) and some/many weeks in Philadelphia collar county newspapers such as the Delaware County Daily Times, West Chester’s Daily Local News, Phoenixville’s The Phoenix, the King of Prussia Courier and Mainline Media News, among others, including, more recently, the Reading Eagle.

Interested current and former Lebanon Daily News subscribers can read and share my weekly opinion columns at/from the Pottstown Mercury’s website.

Contact columnist Jerry Shenk at jshenk2010@gmail.com.

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