USA Today (Op-Ed): The Dayton Daily News is about to shrink. The FCC shouldn’t have allowed it: Dayton mayor
USA Today (Op-Ed): The Dayton Daily News is about to shrink. The FCC shouldn't have allowed it: Dayton mayor
“Dawn of destruction: Tornadoes hit Dayton area, leaving widespread devastation.” — Dayton Daily News, May 28, 2019
“9 dead, 26 injured in Oregon District: Suspect killed 9 before being shot dead by police.” — Dayton Daily News, Aug. 4, 2019
“Feds promised more corruption arrests; why haven’t they done so?” — Dayton Daily News, Aug. 25, 2019
“A community grieves: Thousands honor fallen police officer” — Dayton Daily News, Nov. 12, 2019
2019 was a hard year in Dayton, Ohio. A trying, difficult year. Dayton has been tested again and again by nearly every imaginable type of crisis. Through it all, Daytonians have looked to the local newspaper, the Dayton Daily News, to keep the community informed.
Imagine if none of those headlines had been written the following day. No striking documentation of the devastation of tornadoes. No heart-wrenching stories of a community wrapping its head around a mass shooting. No coverage of the tragic murder of a 30-year veteran of the Dayton Police Department. To say nothing of stories following a local corruption scandal, the demolition of a local hospital or the burgeoning redevelopment of Dayton’s downtown.
The reduction of Dayton’s trusted local resource
That could soon be the reality facing Dayton. In November, the Federal Communications Commission approved the acquisition of Cox Media, the owner of the Dayton Daily News, by Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm.
Apollo’s first move? Cut the 121-year-old Dayton Daily News and two other newspapers to three days a week.
Federal rules prohibit a company from owning a daily newspaper and a TV station in the same market. In addition to the Dayton Daily, Cox Media also owned the region’s largest TV station and several radio stations. Cox Media had been grandfathered in, but the FCC allowed Apollo to skirt the rules: With circulation reduced to three days a week, the Dayton Daily is technically no longer a daily newspaper, so the sale could move forward.
As the mayor of Dayton and a former FCC commissioner, we are coming together to share our concern about this unprecedented action. The FCC’s deal with Apollo allows the private equity firm to own a significant amount of media. History has shown that the quality of news and information has greatly diminished under private equity control. These firms implement cost-cutting strategies that bleed newspapers and media outlets dry, leading to reporter layoffs and consolidated newsrooms. A region of nearly 1 million people will bear the brunt of these devastating cuts to its primary news source.
Dayton is far from alone in this. Approximately half of America’s newsroom employees have been eliminated since the early 2000s. A group of 25 companies control nearly a third of all the papers in the United States. Thousands of TV and radio stations have been gobbled up by a few media conglomerates like Sinclair and Nexstar. Reports indicate that Apollo hopes to build a local TV empire to rival these other media conglomerates, and the FCC’s approval of its merger puts the private equity firm on track to do so.
What could the FCC be thinking?
The FCC is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public interest when it comes to the media marketplace. This means promoting policies that advance localism, competition and diversity in broadcasting. But rather than uphold these principles, this FCC has placed the interest of a private equity firm ahead of everyday people.
Following the mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District, the national media descended upon the city. A week later, they left. But Dayton’s crisis had not ended.
There were still more stories to be told — and every day, the Dayton Daily News told those stories.
As the tragic events of this year faded in the national memory, the Dayton Daily News dug deep into their ongoing impacts. Its reporters and staff are a part of the community, dealing with the same grief and pain as their readers. They highlighted the community’s extraordinary willingness to help neighbors in times of trouble. They tracked denials by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for tornado damage reimbursements. They explored post-traumatic stress in people present during the Oregon District shooting. But now this vital coverage — to say nothing of every other issue in a region of nearly a million people — will be gutted.
Local journalists play a critical role in holding elected officials accountable and helping the public make informed decisions about our government. Quality journalism is vital for a functioning democracy. This is especially true at the local level, where the decisions that most directly affect peoples’ lives are made.
Local newspapers provide a public good that far outweighs their financial value. And the FCC is supposed to ensure that public good is maintained. The approval of this merger with its explicit endorsement of profit over the public interest demonstrates that the FCC has lost its way.
Nan Whaley is the mayor of Dayton, Ohio. Michael Copps is a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Follow them on Twitter: @nanwhaley and @coppsm