Word got out late Friday, June 19th, that longtime Victoria Advocate Editor and short-time Publisher Chris Cobler was relieved of his duties. In fact, according to a social media post, the position was eliminated “due to financial reasons.”
While the news of Mr. Cobler’s departure is somewhat shocking, this change is in-line with a growing national trend: Traditional newspapers are failing. Readers are abandoning the print product and advertisers continue to follow the audience online. The current pandemic has only hastened the inevitable.
Mr. Cobler was a tireless proponent of the product he championed and that enthusiasm continues even after his dismissal. Having worked with Chris for several years I know first hand that his passion for local news and the audience is unmatched in the industry. Whether that passion led to solid business decisions or was misguided at times is up for debate.
Simultaneously, M. Roberts Media eliminated the position of “Editor” at their Longview, News Journal property, opting for a “regional editor” structure. Interestingly, the News Journal retained its Publisher, none other than Stephen McHaney, president of the company.
But what does a move like this mean for Victoria and similar communities that depend on reporting they can trust? Are newspapers going away? The answer appears to be yes, and faster than many predicted just a few months ago. Recently the parent company of the Advocate initiated what seemed like an ingenious scheme; launch a 50% off sale disguised as a matching community grant. Just a few years ago something like this would have been extremely successful. However, according to their own published records, only 21.7% of “available funds” were claimed. It seems most local business owners saw through the ruse and the corporation failed to even give away their products and services at the level they expected.
While hedge funds have been gutting newspaper operations across the county, attempting to secure profits as before the industry finally collapses, a cry has been made across the country for local ownership to step in and “save” local newspapers. However, in the case of M. Roberts Media, it seems they’re learning from the corporate owners. Consider these similar quotes from their president, Stephen McHaney, which ran in their Victoria and Longview publications:
This move is part of a restructuring designed to bolster newspaper operations. Taking such an approach meant eliminating Chris Cobler’s position as publisher, which he has held for two years.
“Chris has been with the company for over 13 years and we wish him well in his future endeavors and appreciate his service to our readers and community,” McHaney said. “This is a strategic decision to streamline our operations. Our readers can continue to expect quality local journalism, and we remain committed to being the most trusted source of local news.”
This move is part of a restructuring designed to bolster newspaper operations. Taking such an approach meant eliminating Ric Brack’s position as News-Journal editor, which he held for 10 years.
“We wish Ric well in his future endeavors and appreciate his service to Longview and our readers,” McHaney said. “This is a strategic decision to streamline our operations. Our readers can continue to expect quality local journalism, and we remain committed to being the most trusted source of local news.”
How very human of them.