We’re going to call a time-of-death on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, despite the fact that the newspaper says it’ll live on with a website. Everyone says that these days. The more important news is that the 24-year-old daily will shutter its print edition and lay off 106 staff members. It will maintain an online-only edition, but most dying newspapers say that.
Our favorite quote comes from Jennifer Bertetto, president and chief executive of Trib Total Media, which owns the Tribune-Review: “Our commitment to covering news in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County will not change.” Right. We’ll just do it with 106 fewer people.
In keeping with the pattern that has characterized other newspaper failures, the company’s official announcement doesn’t mention the closure or layoffs until the seventh paragraph.
It’s actually a lot fewer than that, when you consider the multiple cuts that parent company Trib Total Media has inflicted on its workforce over the past couple of years. Isolating the goings-on at the Pittsburgh paper is difficult, since Trib Total Media built its media empire in nearby Greensburg and only expanded into Pittsburgh in 1992 when the competing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was in the midst of a strike. Billionaire Publisher Richard Mellon Scaife (note that Mellon is a rather big name in the region) launched the expansion after he failed in an attempt to buy the Post-Gazette. The Pittsburgh Business Times has a good timeline here.
As the number-two paper in a two-paper town, the Tribune-Review‘s back was always against the wall. Its weekday circulation of 89,000 and Sunday circulation of 168,000 were more than 40% lower than the Post-Gazette‘s, and Pittsburgh isn’t a very big market to begin with. Once Scaife died in July, 2014, the company he left behind focused its attention more on selling off assets than supporting journalism. An ongoing suit by Scaife’s heirs alleges that he threw good money after bad in attempting to keep the Tribune-Review alive.
Trib Total Media sold eight newspapers last October and laid off 153 employees in November. It shuttered the McKeesport Daily News – the Monongahela Valley’s longest-running daily – in December. Nearly 80% of the staff got a buyout offer in July. This is clearly a media business that’s looking to get out of the media business.
The loss of the Tribune-Review reduces by one the dwindling number of two-newspaper towns in the U.S. The fact that Pittsburgh, with a population of just 300,000 souls, held out so long is notable. Pittsburgh is a proud and beautiful city, if you ever get the chance to visit. Just don’t expect to find a choice of newspapers when you get there.