I recently spent 24 hours in Pensacola, and stumbled across a ghostly reminder of how far local journalism has fallen in cities across the country.
Turns out, Pensacola has a fake newsroom – part of the Pensacola Museum of Commerce. The day I visited, there were two Pensacola Journal reporters (or editors) hard at work.
Meanwhile, across town at the real Pensacola News Journal newsroom, where I popped in for a visit, there also seemed to be just a couple of reporters at work, in less space than the mannequins have.
I don’t mean to pick on the News Journal. I’m sure their team is doing great work (or trying to). In fact, they took home thirteen statewide journalism awards just last month. And they have an editorial staff of seven, not two, plus someone helping out with a new experimental podcast.
Still, like most dailies, this paper (and newsroom) has become a thin shadow of its former self. Owned by Gannett, it’s partly a local wrapper on USA Today content. As you see below, one rubber band fits around a whole stack of them.
The News-Journal’s daily circulation peaked at 64,000 in 2002, dropping to 30,000 in 2015 (Gannett annual report). The company’s 2017 report didn’t even bother breaking out The News-Journal’s circulation, and when I asked the receptionist, she had no idea (never a good sign). And because of its paywall, the PNJ.com digital-only subscriber base (at $84/year) is probably tiny.
This is bad, for a metropolitan area that has 487,000 people.
Meanwhile, back at the mannequin newsroom, there are many great relics and reminders of how local journalism once thrived in this city… old presses, mastheads, front pages, typecases, and even a linotype machine. And the mannequins look energetic. If you ever get to Pensacola, it’s well worth a visit!