Katherine Ludwig has an important feature in this week’s C-Ville Weekly about what lies ahead for our newspaper of record. There’s a genuine danger that the Daily Progress will cease to exist because of the unfortunate synchronicity of Media General being run by dart-throwing chimps and the severe recession. Media General’s stock is in the tank, they seem to make the worst possible decision at every turn, and they’ve shown a willingness to hack away at the Progress in the name of profitability. Though the company doesn’t reveal the profitability of individual newspapers, the Progress is almost certainly strongly in the black, but Media General is looking out for their entire portfolio of hundreds of newspapers and other media properties. They don’t have Charlottesville’s best interests at heart, and if they can bring up their stock price by taking the Progress down to a thrice-weekly paper, or eliminating it entirely, don’t doubt that they’ll do it.
Ludwig talked to some Progress alumni (Bob Gibson and Wayne Mogielnicki, notably) to get their take on what lies ahead. Mogielnicki makes the important point that C’ville isn’t exactly lacking for media outlets, and that’s a considerable change in the past few years. A decade ago we had NBC-29, C-Ville Weekly, The Observer, The Progress, and WINA. Now we’re practically drowning in media outlets, although I’d argue that the most valuable work—investigative coverage, FOIA work, etc.—is coming from our two weeklies and (decreasingly) The Daily Progress, with the rehashing of press releases and the show-up-and-record-something coverage of the others being shown up by Charlottesville Tomorrow. As the Progress withers, the weeklies are muscling in, and impressively.
The big question, one that Ludwig never gets into seriously, is the one with no answer: What would Charlottesville media look like without the Progress? What functions does it perform that would need to be replaced? Is any media outlet prepared to take that on? Do we need a daily print publication, or can an online-only outlet fill that role? These are tough questions without clear answers, but this town has had a daily newspaper for most of its history, if we suddenly find its tasks undone, we might quickly come to regret not having collectively planned ahead.
Finally, Ludwig (and C-Ville Weekly) deserves credit for writing a snark-free, fair analysis of the state of a major competitor. It would be easy for the paper to have argued that a daily is unnecessary, or taken shots at the Progress for some of its lower moments, but instead they published an even-handed analysis that should start a community-wide discussion about what lies ahead for the Progress.