200-YR-Old Upstate NY Newspaper’s Decision Prompts Anger
It's no secret - the newspaper industry is struggling to stay afloat in an increasingly digital marketplace. One legendary paper made an announcement this week that has traditional subscribers threatening to cancel.
The Observer Dispatch (OD), a daily morning newspaper in Utica owned by Gannett which dates back to 1817, has informed subscribers that they will no longer be using delivery drivers or carriers to deliver their morning newspaper. Instead, beginning in mid-October, the OD will be delivered via the U.S. Mail Service.
The best part of the announcement which came to subscribers via a letter with a St. Louis, MO return address, is how well the paper creatively described the decision as positive.
"Delivering quality local journalism and serving our communities has never been more important," the letter said. "As we work diligently to ensure a consistent experience for you, we are applying new solutions that enable our commitment to accountable journalism in print as we also provide the breaking news you need to your phone or computer."
That's when the letter explained that the OD was partnering with the United States Postal Service for delivery beginning on October 23rd. "We will make every effort to have your Sunday publication delivered via the Monday mail." Of Course, on holidays which fall on a Monday, there's no mail service and that means you'll be receiving your Sunday paper in the mail on Tuesday, or possibly later. Additionally, for those used to getting their daily paper before the sun rises, they'll now receive the paper when their mail arrives. For some, that means a 10 am delivery, but for others who don't get their mail delivered until later in the day, it could mean 4 pm..
"Our Sunday edition will include all the same features you've come to expect - you'll just be receiving it a day later." Really? Does Editor Kevin Hogan really think subscribers will be okay with this? People have years and years of tradition reading their Sunday newspaper on Sunday morning -their day off- as they sit down for their first cup of coffee.
The letter explained how the E-Edition is available and the latest news could be found on the computer and via the OD app. The problem with this option is that there are so few employees, even much of the news online is old and outdated.
Listener's calling into WIBX's Keeler Show voiced their displeasure. "Now it is the Observer Disgrace," said Donna, referencing an old disparaging phrase used by then Utica Mayor Ed Hanna back in the 70s. Many who called or messaged in had already stopped their subscription to the newspaper.
Meanwhile, in nearby Rome, The Sentinel (formerly The Rome Sentinel) has expanded to serve Utica and the Mohawk Valley with an intended goal of significantly increasing circulation. The Sentinel also delivers via the Postal Service, but that is an afternoon paper, which makes it less disruptive for people. Also, The Sentinel has hired a much larger staff, including many former OD employees, who are delivering a far more topical and up to date paper. This is all very problematic for the Observer Dispatch according to subscribers, including one radio caller who considers this move, "the nail in the coffin" for the OD.
Recent OD Timeline
After a storied history that includes winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1959, the Observer Dispatch has fallen on hard times, like so many other news publications around the country as the digital platform has grown.
Here's a short modern timeline of changes at the OD.
January, 2000 - Utica Observer Dispatch adds digital, UticaOd.com
May, 2007 - GateHouse Media buys Observer Dispatch from Gannett
2011 - Observer Dispatch stops printing in Utica, moves printing to Binghamton
2014 - Observer Dispatch moves printing to Syracuse
August, 2019 - Gannett merges with GateHouse and becomes Gannett
November, 2021 - OD announces plans to sell their historic building, dating back to 1914
January, 2022- Gannett suspends Saturday printing and delivery
January, 2022- Real Estate company announces there is a top bidder planning to purchase OD building
March, 2022- Mohawk Observer LLC, an investment company, purchases Observer Dispatch building for $660,000. OD will move to much smaller new office on Genesee Street
August, 2022 - Mass layoff from Gannett. 400 jobs cut, 400 unfilled positions cut
September, 2022 - Observer Dispatch and sister paper Times Telegram go on strike. One-day work stoppage over work conditions, layoffs and furloughs
September, 2023 - Observer Dispatch announces delivery will be carried by U.S. Mail Service starting Sept. 23. Sunday paper will arrive on Monday most days.
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