Politics After the Gazette, Part I

The following post is by Adam Pagnucco:

Quick.  Name a key difference among the following local congressional races.  Connie Morella vs Stewart Bainum.  Chris Van Hollen vs Mark Shriver.  Connie Morella vs Chris Van Hollen.  Al Wynn vs Donna Edwards.  And the current races in Congressional Districts 4 and 8.

The latter two are the only ones not covered by the Gazette, because the Gazette no longer exists.

The Gazette has been gone since the Washington Post, its parent company, killed it in June 2015.  It’s worth remembering what it was in its heyday.  The Post’s 2001 annual report summarizes how extensive its operation was in the time of Josh Kurtz, its statehouse bureau and its paid spin-off, the Gazette of Politics and Business.

The Company’s Gazette Newspapers, Inc. subsidiary publishes one paid-circulation and 35 controlled-circulation weekly community newspapers (collectively known as The Gazette Newspapers) in Montgomery and Frederick Counties and parts of Prince George’s, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland. During 2000 The Gazette Newspapers had an aggregate average weekly circulation of approximately 554,000 copies. This subsidiary also produces 11 military newspapers (most of which are weekly) under agreements where editorial material is supplied by local military bases; in 2000 these newspapers had a combined average circulation of over 200,000 copies. The Gazette Newspapers have approximately 125 editors, reporters and photographers on their combined staffs. The Gazette Newspapers, Inc. also operates a commercial printing business in Montgomery County, Maryland.

That same year, the Post bought eight community newspapers in Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties and consolidated them into Southern Maryland Newspapers.  Those papers added 40 employees and tens of thousands of copies to the Post’s local media empire.

But a decade ago, financial pressures led the Post to start trimming the Gazette.  The newspaper endured several rounds of layoffs.  It withdrew from Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel and Frederick.  It ended its paid Gazette of Politics and Business, consolidated local editions, dropped most of its statehouse coverage and dismissed its political columnists.  By the time the paper finally shut down, it was down to just twelve reporters and two photographers.

Twenty years ago, the Gazette was one component of a large, official local media.  Montgomery County had its own daily newspaper (the Journal).  The statehouse was jammed with four full-time reporters from the Sun, three full-time reporters from the Post and countless more reporters from local papers.  The Montgomery County Council building had a press bullpen in which legendary Doug Duncan operative Jerry Pasternak would trade tips with reporters over games of darts.  Print drove television and radio coverage.  Reporters had a career path leading from small local outlets to medium newspapers to the big guys, the Sun and the Post.  An official network of veteran reporters and long-time editors would judge what was newsworthy, and stories that didn’t pass muster went unreported.  There was no other way for them to get out.  But those that did were circulated to hundreds of thousands of readers, viewers – and voters.

Almost all of that is now gone.  The Gazette was one of the last vestiges of the old world.

What is left?  And how does that affect local politics and government?  We’ll have more in Part Two.