It used to be that the local newspaper publisher or editor was a fixture in the community—someone you would see at Rotary or church on Sunday.
This visibility built trust and confidence for the newspaper in the community.
But as the newspaper industry undergoes a wrenching transformation from print to a more online presence, many local papers have out-of-town publishers and executive editors.
Initially the industry did not recognize the threat to its business from online advertising and news, according to many industry analysts.
As online competitors cannibalized market share, newspapers have had to shift more product online and cut costs in their print operations by among other things consolidating positions.
This is the case in Hanford and Visalia. Davis Taylor, Sentinel publisher, who used to live in Hanford, now lives in Napa, where he is also publisher of the Napa Register.
Taylor left the Sentinel for Napa late last year, said Chris Aguirre, content editor of the Sentinel.
Aguirre said he didn’t think having a publisher who lives out of town is a problem.
“I am always in contact” with Taylor. “He comes down here and reads our paper. He is very receptive,” said Aguirre.
Jenny McGill, formerly general manager/managing editor, has since left the Sentinel, Aguirre said.
In addition to Aguirre, on the news side the Sentinel has three reporters,
Parker Bowen, features editor, Julissa Zavala, news reporter and Noe Garcia, sports editor, said Aguirre.
The Visalia Times-Delta has a similar situation to Hanford where executive editor Silas Lyons oversees the Times-Delta, Redding Searchlight Record and the Salinas Californian.
Lyons did not respond to a request for comment on the situation where one editor supervises two out-of-town newspapers. Lyons lives in Redding.
In Hanford, Bob Ramos, who is active in city affairs, said he doesn’t see any difference in the Sentinel between when Taylor lived here and when he didn’t.
The problem with the Sentinel, Ramos said, is there is a lot of crime activity that it doesn’t report. For instance, he said, there was an incident in Hanford where a man walked into the police department with a gun and it wasn’t reported.
And it’s not just crime news that isn’t reported. What used to be routine news stories in daily newspapers are no longer covered.
When the Sentinel was advised that the list of campaign contributors to city council candidates in the recent election was available at the city clerk’s office, the paper never reported the story.
Instead, the Sentinel puts soft feature stories on its front page. The page one headline across the top of the March 15 Sentinel read:
“Learning all things ag” about students participating in a local farm day.
Another headline on page one read: “Battle of the Badges returns.” This was about law enforcement conducting a UFC fight with first responders to raise money for charity.
Unfortunately, there were no local news stories on the front page that day and frequently aren’t.
Years ago local stories such as those mentioned above would have been deep inside the paper, not on page one.
Also typical for the Sentinel are stories provided by the Associated Press and not local news.
Both the Sentinel and the Times-Delta are old newspapers.
The Sentinel was founded in 1886 and the Times-Delta even earlier in 1859, nine years after California became a state.
The Times-Delta is now owned by Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the United States in terms of paid circulation. It has 109 local media properties and more than 200 newspapers in the United Kingdom.
The Sentinel is owned by Lee Newspapers based in Davenport, Iowa.
Lee is the fourth largest newspaper chain in the United States, according to the company’s website. Lee has 46 daily newspapers and 300 weeklies.
While the Sentinel and the Times-Delta are owned by large corporations they have been subject to the degradation of their advertising base from online competition.
This has resulted in the need for cost cutting such as consolidating positions. The financials for both corporations show what has happened.
Both the Sentinel and the Times-Delta have strong online presences. In the fourth quarter of 2018 digital ad revenue increased at Lee properties 10.79%, according to the company’s website. Revenue for print ad accounts was down 2.69 % during the period, according to Lee.
While Lee’s stock is doing well, profitability was down in the fourth quarter of 2018. Lee earned $10.7 million compared to $35.3 million in the same period a year ago, according to Lee and CNBC.
At Gannett, earnings in the fourth quarter of 2018 were down. Operating revenue was $751.4 million, down 12% from the same period a year ago, according to Gannett.
Print ad revenue fell by 19.6% in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year ago, according to Gannett. The company said it had a net loss of $14.2 million in the fourth quarter. This disappointed Wall Street, which had predicted a $61 million profit.
Digital ad revenue is about 36% of the company’s sales or $272.3 million, according to Gannett. Gannett said its efforts to boost online advertising are paying off.
Newspapers face stiff competition from Google, Amazon and Facebook for advertising dollars. Many young people exclusively get their news from Facebook.
Google had more ad revenue in 2018 than the entire U.S. newspaper industry, according to statistica.com.