In a way, I really don’t care.
I worked at the weekly Delaware Valley News in Frenchtown, N.J. for more than 20 years, helped turn it into a really outstanding community newspaper, one of the best around, and really defended it and protected it and respected its history — founded in 1879, originally called The Frenchtown Star — and tradition. Then I watched short-sighted ownership and anonymous corporate money counters suck the life out of that newspaper — cutting, cutting, cutting until they finally cut too much and finally, inspired by the ghost of Johnny Paycheck, I told them to take their job and….and went to work fulltime as a news editor at the daily Home News Tribune/Courier News/mycentraljersey.com.
But in another way, I really care.
I’m saddened by the news I received yesterday, that the Delaware Valley News has been shut down by the corporate media conglomerate that bought it a few years back — the same corporate media empire that owns the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., the New Yorker magazine, a few dozen other newspapers, and Conde Nast magazines including Vogue and GQ.
The demise of the Delaware Valley News was something I tried to fight for quite a while and expected to happen sooner than it actually did. It bothers me no end to think that some pointy headed little accountant with his or her pointy little red pencil could just cross out a line item that represented a 129-year chronicle of the life — the births and deaths, the joys and sorrows, the good and bad, the tragic and gladsome — of a community.
And I’m also angered. I still know people who work for the Delaware Valley News and its sister publication, the Hunterdon County Democrat (which is still there but took a major personnel hit itself). When my wife heard about the demise of the Delaware Valley News, she commented that one of the DVN reporters who is being transfered to the larger paper is ‘lucky to still have a job.’ What she meant was that he’s ‘lucky’ in the sense that so many people in this greed-driven economic tailspin are just flat-out losing everything — their homes, their retirement, their medical insurance, their jobs. So Annie’s right in that regard.
But my response was that ‘lucky’ should not be part of the discussion. Someone’s ‘lucky’ because they worked hard and did a good job and some corporate deity smiled down upon them and decided to let them keep their job? The real response , the real question, should be how it is that the elite, the people who don’t have a thing to really worry about financially — Will they have to sell their Manhattan penthouse? Will their investments drop in value from, say, $800 million to $600 million? Will they have to let go of some of the help? Will they have to sell the villa in the south of France? — are able to screw around so cavalierly with the lives of ordinary people.
And I’m not just talking about the people who bought and who are now closing the Delaware Valley News. I’m talking about all of the rich folks who were supposed to be taking their tax cuts and investing that money in their businesses, thus creating new jobs, thus growing the American economy for the benefit of us all. What a load of horse shit that turned out to be — as if we didn’t expect it. And you know what all of those people are doing now? They’re getting what they can get while there’s still something to get. It’s like the line from the recent Dylan song, ‘Thunder on the Mountain,’ in which he sings:
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down
Joe Gioioso, publisher and president of NJN Publishing, said company officials decided it was time to fully pitch the weekly Hunterdon County Democrat, a sister publication based in Raritan Township, to readers of the Delaware Valley News in an effort to eliminate duplication of coverage and to offer stories from the entire county. ‘We’ll still be covering those towns that we were covering in the DVN, so that’s not going to change,’ Gioioso said.
Delaware Valley News Editor Deb Dawson said in a brief telephone interview that she lost her job yesterday after spending nine years with the company, most of them as a reporter for the Democrat. ‘They decided to close it,’ Dawson said of the paper she’s led for the past year. ‘That’s about all I know.’
Jay Langley, executive editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat, declined to comment on the closure, as well as whether the shutdown was accompanied by staff reductions at his publication. ‘Anything I know will appear in Thursday’s paper,’ Langley said, adding that subscribers of the Delaware Valley News are being notified through letters of the newspaper’s final days.
The Delaware Valley News, established in 1879 and called the Frenchtown Star until it was sold to the Democrat in 1932, has a paid circulation of about 3,000, according to the New Jersey Press Association’s citation of 2006 figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Of the paper’s four staff members, Dawson and office manager Betty Crouse were laid off yesterday. Staff writer John Monteith will be retained at the Democrat while staff writer Kevin J. Guhl will leave the company after six years for a communications job.
‘Themood here today, as someone else said, it feels like someone died,’ said Guhl, 30. ‘It’s unique to have a newspaper that has been here 130 years that really maintained that small-town quality that I don’t think you see in a lot of corporate papers these days.’
Guhl said the paper’s Harrison Street headquarters, with its large storefront window, acted as an open invitation for locals to drop in and provide tips or to chat about the news of the day. Dogs and their owners were routinely greeted with treats.
Crouse said she started with the company almost 20 years ago when her sister-in-law coaxed her into helping produce the Democrat one night when ‘the college kids didn’t show up’ for work.
Crouse, 64, said she worked that night from the ‘ends of my hair to my toenails.’ After that, Crouse played various parts at the company — telemarketing, data entry, typing up copy for the sports department during a snowstorm — until landing the role as office manager at the Delaware Valley News nearly 12 years ago.
Working at a small operation, Crouse said she accepts advertisements and legal notices, calms down angry customers and even takes the long way to workto make personal deliveries when ‘little old ladies’ don’t get their paper.
‘This morning it was like shocking,’ Crouse said. ‘There were tears. ‘
Frenchtown Mayor Ron Sworen, also a Hunterdon County freeholder, said he received word of the closure yesterday through the letter to subscribers. Sworen, a subscriber of both the Delaware Valley News and the Democrat, said he understands the continuing decline of the newspaper industry, which has been beset in recent years by dwindling circulation numbers and advertising revenue. Still, he said, ‘there’s really something to be said about a hometown newspaper.’ ‘I understand the issues, but it’s still sad,’ he said. ‘It was our local hometown newspaper. Now that’s gone.’
And here’s an article posted today by my friend and former colleague Rachael Brickman on the Hunterdon County Democrat/Delaware Valley News Web site, nj.com:
After 76 years covering west Hunterdon County and parts of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley News newspaper will end its run.
A child of the Great Depression, the paper had absorbed other local papers including the Frenchtown Star and the Milford Leader. The DVN‘s office in Frenchtown will close and some of its editorial staff will move to the Hunterdon County Democrat‘s offices just outside Flemington. The Democrat will cover the DVN‘s circulation area of Milford, Frenchtown and the townships of Alexandria, Holland and Kingwood, but Pennsylvania coverage will be reduced.
Subscribers to the DVN will receive the Democrat for the duration of their DVN subscriptions. Subscribers to both papers will have their Democrat subscriptions extended by the length of their remaining DVN subscriptions. People with subscription questions should call the circulation department at 782-4747 ext. 249 or (800) 300-9321.
The last issue of the small weekly newspaper will be sent to homes this week. For more on the history of the newspaper, pick up the final issue or a copy of this week’s Democrat on Thursday, Sept. 25.