Today is the last day Pittsburgh will have two print newspapers.
But don’t expect daily news here to change much more than it already has, media experts say.
It’s a future that’s been looming since Sept. 28, when parent company Trib Total Media announced its last Pittsburgh edition would print at the end of November, before the newspaper becomes a free, digital publication. The change also comes with more than 100 layoffs. Those employees’ last day is today.
A city with two printed daily newspapers was already rare. Losing a print edition for something solely digital isn’t going to have the same impact of a newspaper closing 20 or 30 years ago, media experts said.
What really makes a difference is the number of working journalists in a city.
The loss of reporters means readers aren’t going to see their work and the stories they wanted to do, said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. Benton said what he wants as a consumer is “more journalists doing important work.”
Trib Total Media had already trimmed its staff. As of July 2015, the company employed 1,100 workers across all departments. Between then and the late September announcement, more than half had resigned, been laid off or accepted buyouts.
The 106 layoffs associated with the transition to digital in Pittsburgh included 75 in production, 20 from newsrooms and the rest from other departments, Trib Total Media President and CEO Jennifer Bertetto previously told The Incline.
It’s critical for the Tribune-Review to retain enough reporters in order to continue getting scoops for readers in Pittsburgh, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
Benton added that the presidential election emphasized “a hollowing out of media from the middle of the country.” So while Pittsburgh isn’t *really* the middle of the country, he said, it still has fewer journalists than the large media hubs on the coast.
“It is more important than ever to have strong journalistic voices,” Benton said.
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Editor Luis Fábregas declined to say how many staffers would be based in the city after the change, but did say a full staff list would be in today’s print edition. The newsroom will remain in its location in the D. L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St, a space that the Pittsburgh Trib shares with some staffers from Upgruv, a millennial-focused website launched in April by 535 Media, a TTM “affiliate.”
“There’s a strong group of journalists that remain in the company,” Fábregas said, adding that the staff is deeply committed. “We’re not changing the way that we produce original reporting and content.”
He stressed the publication will “continue to be extremely aggressive and competitive” in watchdog journalism and local news. But Fábregas said it may be more selective in what it covers since there is no print edition to fill.
That website will help readers who want the familiar layout of the print edition and PDF e-edition as they transition to a digital platform, Boren said. The new website is also “more of a simple newspaper format, not a website with all the bells and whistles,” he said, adding that it will eventually become the app. The site will feature Pittsburgh coverage, as well as regional news that would be of interest in the city just like the print paper, Fábregas said.
Triblive.com will continue to be the home of all Trib Total Media publications. Some Pittsburgh content will still be published in the company’s daily papers: the Valley News Dispatch and the Tribune-Review based in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. Upgruv, however, will remain a separate company with its own content, Boren said. (Fábregas said there is a guide to the new online experience in today’s newspaper to help readers.)
Boren and Fábregas agreed that more people want online news in real time, so readers will stick with the brand. Plus, Boren said, there is more flexibility online, which readers will see through an added emphasis on video and social media.
For many print readers, it’s a decades-long habit, Benton said. But if there’s no newspaper at the door anymore, they could change that habit to finding news online. “Generally speaking, print readers are print readers, and digital readers are digital readers,” he said.
Both Benton and Edmonds said relying on digital advertising is tough, especially trying to compete against Google and Facebook ads. But the news organization laid out its financial plan in an article today about the transition:
Bertetto said Trib Total Media and the Pittsburgh Trib will be different. Newspapers that completely became digital had to rely solely on the digital format to generate the revenue needed to produce it. The Pittsburgh Trib won’t be in that position, Bertetto said.
Ninety percent of the company’s revenue comes from printed products, including its daily and weekly papers and commercial printing operations, Bertetto said. The company isn’t relying on the all-digital Pittsburgh Trib to support itself through digital ad sales.
The Trib’s story also said the company’s Greensburg and Tarentum papers are profitable.
“I wish them the best of luck,” Benton told The Incline.
The pair of experts agreed that the closest American comparison is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which went all digital in 2009 with a reduced staff. In that case, The Seattle Times grew to be the dominant newspaper, they said.
In some cities that lose their second paper, the remaining newspaper will ramp up staff with journalists from the other organization, Benton said. But in other cases, they kept the staff they had or reduced staff due to less competition.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette declined to comment on Tuesday.
Former Trib Total Media owner Richard Mellon Scaife launched the Pittsburgh edition of the Trib in 1992. Here are a few historical front pages from the archives of Newseum, used with Fábregas’ permission. He said a few extra copies of the newspaper were printed for today, in case there are requests.