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After 150 Years Serving Youngstown's Community, 'The Vindicator' Will Stop Publishing

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For 150 years, the newspaper The Vindicator has been telling the story of Youngstown, Ohio. That ends Saturday. M.L. Schultze reports on efforts to keep one of the country's great news towns from becoming a news desert.

M L SCHULTZE, BYLINE: Things haven't been easy for Youngstown since Black Monday 40 years ago, when Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed, and 5,000 people lost their jobs literally overnight. But the past year has been especially tough. The hospital Northside Medical Center shut down. GM closed the nearby Lordstown assembly plant. And the commemorative 150th edition of the daily newspaper The Vindicator will be its last. And for many, that is the most wrenching.

Sherry Lee Linkon, who co-founded Youngstown State University's Center for Working-Class Studies, says the community had others to blame for closing the mills, the hospital, the car plant.

SHERRY LEE LINKON: It was those outsiders. They came in. They bought our businesses. And then they didn't invest in them, and they shut down. But The Vindicator, (laughter) that's a local institution. They're supposed to somehow have our backs.

SCHULTZE: At a recent downtown music festival, Katherine Mabry says The Vindicator has held her city together.

KATHERINE MABRY: The Vindicator seems to be the glue. It kept you up to date, what's going on in the city.

SCHULTZE: Vindicator general manager Mark Brown says he kept it glued as long as possible. Today, he's fighting a cranky office air conditioner and 32 pounds he says he put on since he started stress-eating a year ago. That's when it became increasingly clear that no one was likely to buy the paper that's been in his family for 132 years.

MARK BROWN: For the last 20 years, 15 years, it's been sort of like watching a relative dying, and you can't do anything to stop it.

SCHULTZE: Declines in circulation and advertising are the norm for local papers these days. But The Vindicator are also faced steep population drops. And even in the best of times, its profit margin was about half that of comparable newspapers. One reason was that it hired experienced reporters to keep up with the kinds of stories that had national significance - from a colorful and corrupt congressman named Jim Traficant to the ongoing collapse of manufacturing. The paper also paid a lot of lawyers to sue over public records and open meetings.

In 2004, an eight-month strike in this union town alienated advertisers and readers. Then came delays in installing a new press and the downturn that has swamped the entire industry. When the paper finally went up for sale last year, nobody made an offer. For Brown, that was crushing.

BROWN: People are slowly just now beginning to understand that when they're going to lose newspapers, they're losing a significant part of the country and the democracy.

SCHULTZE: Efforts are now underway to recover some of that. Ogden Newspapers, which publishes the nearby Warren Tribune Chronicle, just bought The Vindicator's nameplate, web domain and subscriber list and plans a Youngstown edition. But the publisher acknowledges it won't be replacing The Vindicator, which, even in these lean times, had a newsroom of nearly three dozen people and a total of 145 employees.

Meanwhile, the new McClatchy Google News lab picked Youngstown to launch its Compass Experiment, a digital-only effort. General manager Mandy Jenkins will oversee the five-person news team.

MANDY JENKINS: We're going to be a small team, so we're going to have to be pretty laser-focused on covering issues and places and people that aren't going to be picked up by other media.

SCHULTZE: Then there's The Business Journal, a local bi-monthly publication teaming up with ProPublica. Publisher Andrea Wood says its new investigative effort will focus on economic development. As well, it's expanded political, government and cultural reporting. But Wood acknowledges it can't be The Vindicator

ANDREA WOOD: It's a gut punch. It's a reality check. And people will grieve it. I mean, it is sad. It's something that people have lived with, myself included. I've read it every day.

SCHULTZE: A reality check for a city reeling from economic punches for decades.

For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRESSIN RED'S "1THREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.