By Tony Palmeri
from the July, 2005 edition of The Valley Scene
When the Gannett Corporation purchased the Green Bay News Chronicle on July 23, 2004 Media Rants called it "a day that will live in infamy in the history of northeast Wisconsin." Less than a year later, on May 26, 2005 Gannett announced the closing of the paper. The last edition was published on June 3, 2005. Gannett's Green Bay Press Gazette is now the sole daily in Titletown. That sucks.
Fans of the News Chronicle will miss the paper's lively editorial page. I will especially miss Green Bay native Curt Andersen's spirited, Fighting Bob LaFollette-like weekly columns. A four-year Navy veteran, small business owner, and vice president of the Clean Water Action Council, Curt never fails to tell it like it is. He graciously agreed to answer some questions for this column.
Media Rants: What role did the News Chronicle serve in Green Bay, especially before it was taken over by Gannett?
Andersen: The News-Chronicle's competition with the Press-Gazette was
|about keeping advertising rates low. In any
competitive market, the consumer wins because neither paper could raise
rates too much without losing business.
Also, the two papers worked harder to get real news, though the Press-Gazette dropped the ball often, especially on items dealing with the environment. The editors overruled some top-notch reporters, getting a D at best on environmental coverage, though the D was averaged from Cs and Fs. They also avoided covering local issues in depth. Public service is their charter and instead they carried water (dirty water) for the corporations that polluted the Fox River.
Finally, the creative thinking of [Green Bay News Chronicle editor] Tom Brooker brought four local columnists into fold. I was brought in to counter the Libertarian views of Warren Bluhm, then Sid Vineburg, Yvonne Metivier and Bill LuMaye were brought in. The topics covered by those columnists were often deeper than some of the reporting done at either paper.
Media Rants: Why do you think the paper was able to survive as long as it did?
Andersen: No doubt part of the paper's early survival was
because of union support. The paper was started by striking Press-Gazette workers.
My father-in-law, a union man, was furious that the Press-Gazette would not
bargain with the strikers. He bought his first subscription to the News-Chronicle
about a week before I did. The unions are nearly dead now, and member support
has slid to the Republican Party, where they will be strangled and gutted.
The paper got lots of support after the hard-hitting series called "It's Now or Never!" That referred to the Gannett takeover of little papers all over the country. Advertisers caught a whiff of things to come if there were only one paper. They feared advertising costs would increase.
Finally, the tempestuous relationship between the columnists was like overhearing gossip at the back fence. People wanted to see how this or that columnist would respond to a statement by one of the others. It was always lively and interesting.
Media Rants: One thing I liked about the News Chronicle was its editorial independence. How does Green Bay Press Gazette compare?
Andersen: The Press-Gazette editorial page is the poster child for schizophrenia. If I had a dollar for each time they Press-Gazette editorial staff berated some Republican legislator or Tommy Thompson, and then gave them their full support at election time, I would be wealthy. The Press-Gazette is so wrapped up with the sleazy corporate culture of this area that they are unable to recognize that those corporations have had a toxic affect on our environment, our economy, and our government. Since government by special interest is the definition of "fascism," that is what the Press-Gazette has wet-nursed and nurtured.
Media Rants: You recently participated in a protest outside the offices of Gannett's Green Bay Press Gazette. What was that all about?
Andersen: The Press-Gazette has been a constant ad for Rep. Mark Green, Tommy Thompson, Toby Roth, and George W. Bush. They will claim they also supported Jim Doyle over Scott McCallum, but Doyle has proved to be a bigger jerk Republican than Toxic Tommy. He just gave Georgia-Pacific a $2.4 million grant to rebuild their port facility. The state is bleeding red ink and Doyle is giving one of the most profitable corporations on Earth a grant? Doyle continues the wild spending on highways and signed the Job Creation Act, one of the most destructive things he could have done. I watched him high-five [Republican Assembly Speaker] John Gard at the paper mill where the bill was signed. I was able to keep the vomit down.
Then on June 1st, more than 40 local citizens held a rally at Congressman Green's office, asking him to start impeachment proceedings against President Bush, given the recent release of the Downing Street Memo which provided further proof that Bush lied to Congress and the people to justify going to war. The Press Gazette gave the local event no coverage. With the Press-Gazette now being the only city newspaper, its mission has changed. They used to serve 75% of the area, but now they must serve everyone. The sign I carried said, TRY BALANCED REPORTING, NOT JUST NEO-CON CRAP.
One-sided, partisan reporting makes democracy impossible. We have to demand better from Gannett.
Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.