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A 'Gut Wrenching' Decision: Youngstown Vindicator Closing After 150 Years

Jeff Eaton

The Vindicator, the only daily newspaper in Mahoning County, announced on Friday that it would close at the end of August. 

The news came from two members of the family that owns the newspaper—publisher Betty H. Brown Jagnow and general manager Mark A. Brown—in a letter to readers published late Friday evening

"Due to great financial hardships, we spent the last year searching for a buyer to continue to operate The Vindicator and preserve as many jobs as possible while maintaining the paper’s voice in the community," they wrote. "That search has been unsuccessful."

The newspaper is scheduled to close in 60 days. The last edition of the newspaper, which has been in their family for four generations, will be published on Saturday, Aug. 31. 

The closure will mean that 144 employees and some 250 carriers will lose their jobs, according to WFMJ-TV, which is also owned by the family. In a letter to WFMJ employees, Brown said, "We have no plans, no intentions, no desire, no thoughts and no interest in selling WFMJ. Period."

Most of the revenue of The Vindicator still came from the print newspaper, a similar situation for most newspapers. Newspaper circulation is in decline, and print advertising has seen precipitous drops in the past several years. The Vindicator was not able to make up the loss of revenue from digital advertising. Brown blamed Google and Facebook for driving down digital advertising rates, according to WFMJ.  

"Our staff and our carriers have been remarkable. They have worked through staff reductions, pay freezes, many a snowstorm and numerous changes and always tried to make The Vindicator the best it could be for our readers and advertisers," the letter continues. "It is with broken hearts that we say goodbye and a final thank you."

The news came only days after The Vindicator celebrated its 150th anniversary. The newspaper was first published on June 25, 1869, and like many newspapers of the day, it was aligned with a political party. 

James H. Odell was a staunch Democrat who was run out of Beaver Creek, Pa., for his political activities, according to legend. When he arrived in Youngstown and launched his newspaper, he felt vindicated. The Vindicator was born. 

In marking the 150th anniversary, Brown Jagnow, 88, said that she had worked at the newspaper for 71 years and added, "I cannot imagine not coming to work every week." She and her son said that the decision to shutter the newspaper was "gut wrenching." 

A week ago, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) congratulated the newspaper for its 150 years of publishing and said, "I congratulate The Vindicator on this milestone anniversary, and wish the entire organization continued success." Now, he has turned to Twitter to comment on the loss of the newspaper. 

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Youngstown) called the news "heartbreaking.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the newspaper's closing was a great loss to the Mahoning Valley.

Several staff members took to Twitter to announce the closure and also start their job search. The Vindicator's politics and government reporter David Skolnick said:

Joe Gorman, a police reporter at the paper, said employees were notified the same day as the public announcement.

Fellow journalists in the region also expressed sadness at the loss. Plain Dealer business reporter Jordyn Grzelewski worked at The Vindicator and wrote the story about the closure.

Media watchers and analysts worried what the closure meant for the battered industry.

“The biggest question in local news has been when newspapers will stop shrinking and start closing,” said Joshua Benton, who runs the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. “Well, the daily in Youngstown, Ohio is closing. Not a good sign.”

kevin.anderson@ideastream.org | 216-916-6250