When the news came down that Henry Freeman would be retiring/pushed out as executive editor of The Journal-News, the newspaper by default in New York's northern suburbs and a long-ago employer of mine, it was hardly a shock.
After all, the paper is a daily exercise in extreme mediocrity. Not that it was ever a great paper--few in the Gannett stable can ever hope to be when corporate is squeezing every pore for profits at the expense of the product--but at least it made an attempt to cover its territory. Every town had a reporter assigned to it, while high school sports received blanket coverage. Even most of the pro teams had beat writers.
Suffice to say that train left the station a long time ago. The train analogy is actually more than apt. Freeman, according to the article/quasi-eulogy about his departure, is a big rail buff, and will soon embark on a 7,500-mile trip. It'll be one where he'll never have to read The Journal-News. That'll mean he'll have a lot in common with people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
I did a little poking around for some old circulation figures and stumbled upon the ABC Fas-Fax numbers from March 2006, when daily sales were over 141,000. Fast forward to the latest tally from the end of October, and the J-N has dipped below 80,000. That's nearly a 47 percent decline--in three-and-a-half years.
Of course, the newspaper industry has been reeling for much of that time, so Freeman can't get all the blame for that drop. But he also didn't do anything to ameliorate the situation. On his watch the news hole shrunk. So did the physical size of the paper.
There was less room than ever for copy, yet Gannett had the cojones to raise the newsstand price. Meanwhile, the slow-to-update lohud.com website remains, at best, an afterthought. It's just like most other Gannett papers, which have the same desultory, cookie-cutter design online.
Meanwhile, the staff has suffered one round of cutbacks after another. Except when there is breaking news, reporters are now only covering parts of the counties where the J-N still sells papers. Otherwise, you're out of luck, though it seems every stabbing in Yonkers and Mount Vernon is dutifully recorded. The J-N is doing the local weeklies and Patch a deep favor while digging its own grave one shovel full of dirt at a time.
So, again I ask, why is Henry Freeman smiling?