Aaron London’s first by-line appeared in the Flagler-Palm Coast News-Tribune atop a story in late December 2001–a familiar one: a routine Palm Coast City Council meeting turned noisy when residents objected to a zoning change that would permit apartments near Belle Terre Boulevard and Citation Parkway.
London’s by-line over news and business reports, his Spare Change columns biting off macro and micro economics, and compilations of historic clippings that were invariably redistributed by the Flagler County Historical Society’s Sisco Deen, went on to make some 6,000 appearances in 18 years. Nurturing an affecting, tobacco-hazed crankiness, London went on to become the bi-weekly, then weekly section’s editor. His latest opus was a brief recap of last week’s legislative update by Rep. Paul Rennet and Sen. Travis Hutson before a Chamber of Commerce audience at the Hilton Garden Inn.
It would prove to be his last: London was among six journalists the Gatehouse Media-owned Daytona Beach News-Journal laid off last week, part of a wave of 200 layoffs across Gatehouse properties as the newspaper industry continues to struggle with declining circulation and declining revenue. In Florida, the Lakeland Ledger was also severely hit, losing five journalists. Its newsroom is reduced to 16, ensconced in the semi-basement of what used to be the Ledger’s own three-story building, now partially leased to Publix and other companies.
Others laid-off at the News-Journal include Mark Harper, the long-time politics reporter and editor, Assistant Sports Editor Jeff Wilen, Features Editor Cindy Case, Sports Editor Scott Zucker, and Rob Ullery, a letters editor. The News-Journal’s newsroom, including the Flagler bureau, has been reduced to 34 people–including reporters, photographers, editors and columnists–down from around 200 at its peak in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, the news staff won nine first-place awards through the Florida Press Club last year and the newspaper has sought to broaden its imprint and appeal online, though it remains behind a paywall. Audit Media does not have web figures.
Weekday average circulation of the print product peaked at 108,000 just as the housing bubble was bursting in 2007. By then the Davidson family was in a losing legal battle to keep control of the newspaper. Circulation was down to 71,000 after the newspaper went into receivership then sold to Halifax Media in 2010. According to Alliance Audit Media’s first quarter 2019 report, the News-Journal had an average weekday total circulation of 37,000, and 49,000 on Sundays, including some 2,000 “digital replicas” and free copies distributed to schools, contractors and retail businesses. Paid circulation was just under 34,000 on weekdays and 46,000 on Sundays.
The News-Journal’s circulation in Flagler County in 2006 had averaged nearly 13,000 copies on weekdays. It was down to just over 6,000 copies at the end of 2017, according to the latest audit by the Alliance for Audit Media, and has declined further since. (That compares to home-delivery circulation of 30,000 on weekdays in Volusia, and 35,000 on Sundays.)
In Palm Coast, weekday home delivery was down to 2,828 homes. It was 772 in Flagler Beach, and just 241 in Bunnell, according to Audit Media.
News-Journal Editor Pat Rice did not return a call and an email Tuesday. Another editor said the News-Tribune would continue without London. The News-Journal bought the News-Tribune in 1981, merged it with the Daytona paper, and published it on Thursdays and Saturdays. It’s now published in tabloid format just on Wednesdays and distributed free to about 30,000 households in an attempt to compete with the Palm Coast Observer, also freely distributed (and published every Thursday), with about the same circulation.
Until early 2017, the Flagler Bureau counted four reporters. Jennifer Edwards-Park was not replaced after she left that January. London’s departure leaves just two reporters: Matt Bruce, who covers police and government, and Shaun Ryan, who covers education and “coastal issues,” according to the paper’s contact page. Nick Klasne, an assistant managing editor, remains in charge of the Flagler operation. The operation is based out of a storefront on Palm Coast Parkway, a couple of hundred yards west of the former Sears building, whose own surprises have been cause for much newsprint in the past few weeks.
Gatehouse Media bought the News-Journal from Halifax Media and Halifax’s three dozen other properties in 2014. Gatehouse is owned by New Media Investment Group, whose stock fell to a five-year low today, trading at $9 a share. It peaked at just over $25 a share in early 2015. In an interview with Poynter.org, New Media CEO Mike Reed called the layoffs a “small restructuring — at least that’s what I would call it — that I’m sure will be misreported. We have 11,000 employees. This involves a couple of hundred.”
Maybe so, but at the News-Journal, it represented a loss of 15 percent of the newsroom’s remaining journalists.
In a May 24 memo to company employees, obtained by Subscription Insider, Reed writes the layoffs “will give us resources to invest in doing more, not less, quality local journalism and investigative journalism.” Reed, according to the Business Insider, called the cuts “immaterial.”
London, for his part, tweeted with characteristic sarcasm the day of Reed’s memo: “As one of the ‘immaterial’ former employees of Gatehouse Media thanks to all for your kind words. I feel certain I am in Mike Reed’s thoughts and prayers.” He received numerous accolades from former sources, story subjects and friends, among them a comment from former News-Journal reporter Annie Martin, who’d also been assigned to Flagler before moving on to the Orlando Sentinel: “Reed’s comments were cruel. If he knew the people who devote so much of their lives to their newsrooms and communities, I hope he’d realize how wrong he is.”
As one the “immaterial” former employees of Gatehouse Media thanks to all for your kind words. I feel certain I am in Mike Reed’s thoughts and prayers.
— Aaron London (@invizcarnivore) May 25, 2019