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Daily Record Parent's Bankruptcy Again Raises Concern For Local News

Here we go again.

It seems like every time you power up your computer, a print news organization in Baltimore is sold or reorganized.

The Daily Record reported Thursday that its parent company, The Dolan Company, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Daily Record has been a local source for political and business news in the city and state for more than 100 years. (Full disclosure: WYPR's Fraser Smith writes weekly columns for TDR).

Last month came the news that Baltimore’s alternative newsweekly, City Paper was sold for an undisclosed amount to Baltimore Sun Media Group. City Paper tried to reassure readers, but also wrote in plain terms what is likely to happen:

Step 1 is the announcement that one company is buying out a rival but that independence will be maintained. Step 2 is consolidation of all back-office functions, starting with circulation, then to layout and design, then advertising sales and finally—sometimes after a decent interval—editorial. In plans and on paper, Step 3 is “profits.”

Of course, the fate of Baltimore’s flagship paper, The Baltimore Sun, is still up in the air. After emerging from bankruptcy in 2013, the paper’s owner, Tribune Co., said it was planning to spin off its newspapers as a separate entity, which could then be sold without incurring a tax bill for Tribune. These kinds of financial transactions are complicated. Ken Doctor at Niemanlab, a journalism web site,  provides a thorough (albeit dense) write up on the impact of media companies “spinning off” their print news outlets.

Tumult in the print media climate is nothing new. Ryan Chittum, from the Columbia Journalism Review, followed Advance Publication’s 2012 acquisition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a process that resulted in cutting the paper’s print distribution to three days and laying off hundreds of employees.

There have been some notable recent national news start-ups, including a re-launch and expansion of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. Local news needs start-ups too, but the outlook is grim. Investment holding company Hale Global announced in January that it would take over majority ownership of the hyperlocal news outfit Patch from AOL. Kevin Rector of The Baltimore Sun had this interview with Jennifer Donatelli, a former editor of the Elkridge and Catonsville Patches, after she was laid off. January’s news came just months after an estimated 42% of Patch reporters were laid off by AOL due to faltering ad sales.

Some former Patch employees have launched their own hyperlocal sites. Karen Goff, a former Patch editor, created in October 2013. Her following has grown to about three-fourths the size of her former Patch audience.

If local news is what people want, someone is going to try to give it to them. Christopher Mims from The Atlantic covered Google’s testing of a local news notification system through its mobile personal assistant, Google Now. It’s the kind of thing internet junkies love, but it may not stick around. As Mims writes, “profiting from local news is the one nut that no web or media company has been able to crack.”