During a week that saw major news outlets announce the layoffs of some 1,000 editors and reporters nationwide, including many veteran journalists, the president and publisher of Adams Publishing Group newspapers in eastern Idaho discussed the daunting challenges confronting his industry when he addressed a large crowd at a City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 24.
The Florida-based Poynter Institute, arguably the world's most influential school for journalists, called Wednesday, Jan. 23, “another brutal day for journalism” after Gannett, which owns USA Today and 109 other local media companies, began slashing jobs throughout the country. “The cuts were not minor.”
Gannett's massive cost-cutting move impacted the Arizona Republic, including Pulitzer winning cartoonist Steve Benson; the Indianapolis Star, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Tennessean, the Record in North Jersey, the Westchester Journal News, the Ventura County Star, the Citizen Times, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Fort Myers News-Press, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. and USA Today’s travel section.
(Adams Publishing Group Regional President and Publisher Travis Quast, right, converses with longtime businessman Park Price at recent City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon. photo/Mark Mendiola)
CNN reported: “This week reaffirmed just how dire things have gotten within the industry, with about 1,000 jobs in media lost as the result of layoffs announced at BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Gannett -- the nation's largest newspaper chain. BuzzFeed announced Wednesday that it would lay off 15 percent of its work force, or about 220 employees; Verizon announced it would cut 7 percent or approximately 800 jobs from its media division, which includes brands like HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo News; and Gannett slashed dozens of jobs at newspapers across the country.”
It was noted at the City Club of Idaho Falls function that the newspaper industry's annual advertising revenue has plunged from $60 billion to $20 billion since 2000.
Travis Quast was appointed the Adams Publishing Group's regional president and publisher of its East Idaho Group last April, overseeing 10 newspapers, including the Post Register in Idaho Falls, the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, the Standard Journal in Rexburg, the Teton Valley News in Driggs, the Preston Citizen, the Montpelier News-Examiner and the Herald Journal in Logan, Utah.
Prior to joining Adams, Quast served as publisher for five years at the Times-News in Twin Falls, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.
In October 2017, it was announced that the Seattle-based Pioneer News Group was selling its media division assets to the family-owned Adams Publishing Group, including 22 daily and weekly newspapers in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Utah. The transaction was finalized the following Nov. 1, making Adams Publishing a dominant media voice in eastern Idaho and elsewhere.
Based at Minneapolis, Minn., Adams Publishing at the time owned and operated 100 community newspapers in 11 states, including the acquisition of five newspaper publishing companies in 2016. It also owned radio stations, outdoor advertising companies, a wine distribution business, label printing companies and a large interest in Camping World Holdings.
Its acquisition of the Idaho Press, formerly the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, and hiring strategic seasoned journalists there is even giving the Idaho Statesman in Boise a run for its money in the Treasure Valley. The Statesman, a McClatchy newspaper, has been undergoing its own shakeup with the loss of two managing editors in recent months.
Quast told those attending the City Club of Idaho Falls meeting that media companies, including local newspapers, are for-profit businesses and require revenue to survive. Twenty percent of the Post Register's revenue comes from subscriptions and 80 percent from advertising, he said, pointing out that Adams Publishing did not exist six years ago.
Quast noted there were 20 newspaper printing presses operating between Idaho Falls and Boise 15 years ago, but now there are only four – and Adams Publishing owns three of them in Idaho Falls, Preston and Nampa. The other one is in Twin Falls.
Quast remarked that what was considered “fake news” five years ago has morphed into a label for anything with which someone disagrees. Cable news networks and social media the past 20 years have concentrated more on commentary than actual news as the nation has become more polarized, blurring the lines, he said, adding there's a danger that approach can filter into local communities.
“If I lose your trust, I lose you,” he said. “If we are not fair, we will not survive or exist.”
Hundreds of thousands of people regularly access one web site that blatantly admits its news items are totally fabricated and yet they view it religiously on a daily basis, Quast mentioned, lamenting that the more outrageous the news, the more some blogs and web sites make money.
Although the Post Register no longer prints a Monday edition, it still posts breaking news on its web site 24/7, he said, noting the Post Register no longer requires payments to view its content online. “The Internet is actually helping us to grow.” Marketing data can be accessed almost instantaneously. “It's scary what the Worldwide Web knows about you,” he remarked.
There must be a balance between competing with electronic news media and maintaining fairness and accuracy, he stressed. “We're not telling people what to think, but to think,” Quast said. “Democracy is at risk when people become complacent. Local journalism makes a difference.”
Adams Publishing's acquisition of groups of newspapers in Idaho and elsewhere allows it to consolidate operations and run more efficiently, reducing costs, Quast said, defending the use of an automated central call center. “We're trying to be all things to all people.” The company's newspapers only endorse political candidates directly interviewed and never presidential candidates, he said.
The Post Register is one of the few newspapers with a dedicated editorial writer – Bryan Clark, who serves on its editorial board with Quast and Managing Editor Monte LaOrange. Quast said he strongly advocates that governments be transparent and accountable, allowing unfettered access to public documents. It's a “slippery slope” when elected officials regularly conceal vital information. “It gets to the point they operate in secrecy,” Quast said.