The exodus of many of the Akron Beacon Journal's most experienced news room staffers in recent weeks has created a sieve in the institutional memory of the once-proud Knight newspaper. We need to talk about its consequences.
The paper's former reputation as a leader in the state's governmental, political and hometown coverage was the proud creation of John S. Knight, a widely respected publisher, editor and, most of all, journalist whose determination to provide quality on its daily pages worked its way down to the exacting placement of commas in the most routine stories. He had a love affair with Akron while building a newspaper empire.
The city that he loved thrived with a strong industrial base, an important university campus in its midst and a cultural heritage reaching back nearly a century or so to Gertrude Seiberling's music salons at the Seiberlings' Stan Hywet residence. Even today, when many cities are losing their orchestras, The Akron Symphony Orchestra remains strong and vital. So does the more than century-old Tuesday Musical Club. And in the visual arts, it recently opened its door to an impressive addition to its art museum.
I make a special point of the city's cultural commitments only because the Beacon Journal's longtime music critic, Elaine Guregian, turned off her BJ computer and joined the Cleveland Orchestra's front office, with no indication as yet that the BJ will replace her with someone of equal professional value.
But there's more: popular sports and general columnists have vanished through the front door, unwilling to commit their future to a paper that you have been decimating since you entered the scene as a reclusive publisher largely concerned with weekly newspaper ownership (roughly 150, many that are said to be easily circulated free of charge to the readers' doorsteps.)
Lest you accuse me of being ignorant of the great pressures on newspaper publishing in the modern world, I am not. As a veteran newspaperman myself, I regret the threatened demise of my profession. However, I remain confused by an apparent game plan that a half a loaf is better than none, and then a half of a half, etc. I must ask: What do you have mind as a publisher? At what point because of the shrinkage do we stop referring to your paper as a newsaper? What is your obligation to treat not only the paper but the city with professional concern so that you would still merit with pride your name on the paper?
Many people in this town would like to know. Unless you can explain how the loss of your best reporters and editors can improve the ailing look of the Beacon Journal these days, you will only make matters worse for yourself with the paper's readers. Perhaps you might consider a visit to Akron someday to offer some answers to these questions. Otherwise, why should anyone care about the bottom line for a newspaper that has already lost its soul?
Respectfully, Abe Zaidan