YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Six days after The Vindicator made its 150th anniversary front-page news, the announcement came Friday that the newspaper will be closing. The final edition will be printed on Saturday, August 31. The website will also be shut down.
Readers could see it coming. The paper was noticeably smaller and, most importantly, there were fewer and fewer ads.
In the end, there was no choice but to close it all.
Vindicator General Manager Mark Brown sat in a conference room Friday evening, surrounded by some of the newspaper’s most famous front pages, and made the announcement that would end his family’s 150-year-old business.
“We were left at the point where there was no choice. The only alternative left was closing,” he said.
Outside of The Vindicator’s downtown Youngstown operation, employees could be seen leaving, having learned the news in a series of staff meetings.
A total of 144 employees and 250 carriers will be losing their jobs.
The reason for closing? The newspaper was hemorrhaging money.
“In 20 of the last 22 years, we had expenses greater than our revenues,” Brown said.
He said the newspaper had a substantial rainy day fund that kept the paper running.
They bought a new press and it saved money — but not enough.
Revenue and circulation continued to fall — a trend in the newspaper industry nationwide.
“When the internet started hitting newspapers, that happened to be a time period when we were in the red,” Brown said. “So we’ve been kind of caught and never could get caught.”
In December 2017, Vindicator officials sought out a broker and by spring of 2018, were looking for a buyer.
“Had several people take a look and examine the property. Only ended up with two people that showed any real interest,” Brown said.
He said one of the potential buyers bought a different paper. The other, Brown said, was for internal reasons.
“We never got to the point where we had final discussions on anything.”
Brown said they looked at eliminating three print days and subcontracting some departments. But none of it would work.
Just keeping the website was not an option. Most of the revenue comes through the print product. Brown said Google and Facebook have driven down the internet ad rates and have flooded the market with inventory.
“You can’t make enough money off your website. Very few can make enough to support a newsroom.”
For everyone that hung in with The Vindicator over all the years, Brown had one last thing to say.
“Very grateful to all the support from the readers, and the subscribers and the advertisers over the years. It’s been wonderful to serve them.”
Reaction to The Vindicator’s closing came quickly.
One woman called it sad, saying she’ll miss starting her day with the newspaper.
“It was like a shock and all,” said Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown. “Like, really, the Youngstown Vindicator. I thought, in my lifetime, that I would always have the Youngstown Vindicator right here in downtown Youngstown.”
“I always felt The Vindicator was pretty straightforward, pretty honest, even if you didn’t like it,” Congressman Tim Ryan said. “You thought to yourself, ‘Maybe they have a point.’ They never came out to get me. I always thought it was fair.”
“Typically, cities that don’t have a newspaper don’t vote as well and it’s because the voters aren’t as informed for having that institution there to print facts and things about their particular opponent or their particular candidate,” said Youngstown Councilman Julius Oliver.
“It is really important to have local journalists to tell the story of what’s going on and The Vindicator — what, 150 years? It’s just a shock,” said Jacob Harver, a downtown businessman.
The Vindicator also owns a substantial corner in downtown Youngstown at Front Street and Vindicator Square. Brown said the property will be put for sale.
Brown’s family also owns TV station WFMJ and a statement Friday on the station’s website said WFMJ is not for sale.
The first edition of the “Mahoning Vindicator” was first printed on June 25, 1869, according to The Vindicator’s website.