Now in the News: Paxton Media Group Acquires The Southern Illinoisan Newspaper

November 3, 2023

Paxton Media Group Acquires The Southern Illinoisan Newspaper

Paxton Media Company (PMG), a family-owned media company currently managed by fifth generation family members, has agreed to purchase The Southern Illinoisan newspaper. Lee Enterprises had owned The Southern Illinoisan since 1979.

Dirks, Van Essen & April, a media merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is representing Lee Enterprises in the transaction. Terms were not disclosed.

PMG Group Publisher Bill Evans will add The Southern to his stable of media properties located in southern Illinois and western Kentucky. No stranger to southern Illinois, Evans has led the PMG-owned NBC television affiliate for the region, WPSD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky, for the last 23 years. He is also publisher of Paxton’s flagship newspaper The Paducah Sun, and weekly newspapers in Mayfield, Kentucky; Benton, Kentucky; Eddyville, Kentucky; Princeton, Kentucky; and Metropolis, Illinois.

“The SI naturally fits our footprint for community-based journalism. The team of journalists I have the opportunity to lead from our Paducah and southern Illinois newsrooms has covered many of the important stories impacting our hometowns in southern Illinois. I look forward to expanding our coverage. We have the resources to allocate to covering southern Illinois,” said Evans.

Paxton Media Group is a growing media company, having purchased numerous newspapers over the past few years in the Midwest and Southeast. PMG operates more than 120 newspapers in 14 states. Paxton owns six other newspapers in Illinois. “PMG believes strongly in the value of local newspapers and the vital role they play in the communities they serve. We appreciate being the new steward of this important community asset and intend to work hard to maintain the trust that The Southern has earned over its history,” Jamie Paxton, the president and CEO of PMG, said in a statement.

Alden’s At It Again: Hedge Fund Trims Staff At San Diego Union Tribune, Critic Charges

Alden Global Capital has been accused of gutting newsrooms since its takeover of Tribune Publishing in 2021. But the criticism has seemed muted lately.

No more. Andrea Donohue writes in the Voice of San Diego that the hedge fund is in the process of cutting staff at The San Diego Union-Tribune, the paper Alden bought from Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of The Los Angeles Times, in July of this year for an undisclosed sum.

Barely two weeks after Alden acquired the Union-Tribune, Jeff Light, editor and publisher, left the paper. And that was just the start of the talent exodus made of staggered buyouts, Donohue writes. “Internally, one newsroom worker said employees estimate that somewhere between 60 and 80 people are left from the 108-person newsroom under Soon-Shiong,” Donohue continues. He adds, “Another said the mostly editorial staff meetings that used to have between 100 to120 people now feature 50 to 60…If the newsroom is now at, say, 75 people, that would be just 18 percent of its 2006 size.”

Many may not realize that the La Jolla Light was also acquired during that transaction. This is not some small town: San Diego is a major city and military center that, like Chicago, may now see its local journalism suffering.

Alden is not the only hedge fund in the journalism game. Nor is it the only one accused of reducing newsrooms. But it symbolizes much of what is wrong in the news business: a bottom-line approach that puts short-term profits above product-building.

You may recall that Alden acquired Tribune Publishing, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and numerous other newspapers, for a reported $633 million in 2021.

The Union-Tribune was “big and important and it employed a lot of journalists at one point, and many of them were quite good,” Donohue writes. “The paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for a stunning investigation that sent Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham to prison for spectacular corruption. It had bureaus in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City. Even when it wasn’t great, it was at least there: watching meetings of the City Council, school board, supervisors, Port of San Diego and more.”

Two Daily Newspapers In Rhode Island Will Merge

Sad news coming out of Rhode Island, where two daily papers are being merged into one. Ian Donnis of The Public’s Radio reports that The Call of Woonsocket and The Times of Pawtucket will become The Blackstone Valley Call & Times as of Nov. 1. “Our commitment to being a daily news provider for Northern Rhode Island has not changed,” according to a story Donnis cited that was on the front page of The Call. The article referenced “current business trends and increases in printing costs” as the reasons behind the merger.

In addition, The Call’s Sunday edition will be discontinued, to be replaced with a Saturday weekend edition in the merged paper. And get this: Donnis writes, “Between them, The Call and The Times have two news reporters, two sports reporters and a photographer.” Now that is small. The papers are controlled by the same Canadian-based owner as The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.

As I’ve written here before, I was a Northeastern co-op student at The Call from 1976-’78, working full-time for about a year in three- and six-month stints. The way co-op works is that you’re replaced by another student when the semester ends and it’s time to return to school. I alternated with Karen Bordeleau, a future executive editor at The Providence Journal who’s now at Arizona State University.

The Call was excellent, a place where I learned a lot under great mentorship. It’s sad to see what’s become of the paper, as well as The Times, but Woonsocket and Pawtucket are economically depressed cities, and they no longer reach out into the more affluent suburbs to the extent that they did at one time. According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in Pawtucket is $56,427, and in Woonsocket it’s $48,822. Both of those figures are well below the state median of $74,489.

In the mid-’70s, The Call covered what we referred to as “Call Country,” which comprised more than a dozen communities in northern Rhode Island and southern Worcester County. I don’t know what the circulation area is today. Nor do I know how many paid subscribers the papers have because the Alliance for Audited Media has ended instant access to those numbers.

Donnis doesn’t mention any layoffs, and it’s hard to see how they could get much smaller. I just hope the Call & Times will be able to at least do as good a job of serving their communities as the two separate papers do now.

News/Media Alliance Study Finds Pervasive Unauthorized Use Of Publisher Content To Power Generative AI Technologies

Yesterday, the News/Media Alliance published a White Paper and a technical analysis and submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office on the use of publisher content to power generative artificial intelligence technologies (GAI). Together, the three publications document the pervasive, unauthorized use of publisher content by GAI developers, the impact this may have on the sustainability and availability of high-quality original content, and the legal implications of such use. GAI systems have been developed by copying massive amounts of the expressive material published by the Alliance’s members, almost always without authorization or compensation, to create new products and services that frequently compete with Alliance member publishers.

The Alliance recognizes the exciting potential of GAI models and applications to improve aspects of our lives and supports the principled development of these systems. But this development must not come at the expense of publishers and journalists who invest considerable time and resources producing material that keeps our communities informed, safe, and entertained, and holds our government officials and other decision makers in check. The Alliance and its members would welcome working with GAI developers to help build and grow these technologies in a sustainable and responsible manner.

While the Copyright Office submission and White Paper discuss the wider publisher landscape in the face of the GAI revolution, including relevant principles of copyright law, the accompanying technical analysis documents the extent to which GAI developers rely on high-quality journalistic content to power their models. In particular, the results show:

GAI developers have copied and used news, magazine and digital media content to train large language models (LLMs).

Popular curated datasets underlying LLMs significantly overweight publisher content by a factor ranging from over 5 to almost 100 as compared to the generic collection of content that the well-known entity Common Crawl has scraped from the web.

Other studies show that news and digital media ranks third among all categories of sources in Google’s C4 training set, which was used to develop Google’s GAI-powered products like Bard. Half of the top ten sites represented in the data set are news outlets.

The LLMs also copy and use publisher content in their outputs. The LLMs can reproduce the content on which they were trained, demonstrating that the models retain and can memorize the expressive content of the training works. Alliance President & CEO Danielle Coffey stated, “The research and analysis we’ve conducted shows that AI companies and developers are not only engaging in unauthorized copying of our members’ content to train their products, but they are using it pervasively and to a greater extent than other sources. This shows they recognize our unique value, and yet most of these developers are not obtaining proper permissions through licensing agreements or compensating publishers for the use of this content. This diminishment of high-quality, human created content harms not only publishers but the sustainability of AI models themselves and the availability of reliable, trustworthy information.”

The Copyright Office comments and the White Paper offer multiple recommendations to policymakers, including recognizing that unauthorized use of publishers’ expressive content for commercial GAI training and development is likely to compete with and harm publisher businesses in a manner that infringes copyright; creating transparency requirements to require disclosure of the use of copyright protected content in training; encouraging and facilitating effective licensing solutions; supporting international cooperation and harmonization on GAI regulations; and adopting legislation to remedy existing market imbalances that prevent publishers from engaging in fair negotiations for the use of their content against dominant platforms.

Coffey continued, “Generative AI systems should be held responsible and accountable, just like any other business. This White Paper demonstrates that these systems rely on journalistic and creative content, which have the benefit of investment in quality on the front end, as well as publishers who are required by law to take responsibility for the content they share with the public. Continued unauthorized use will harm existing markets that acknowledge the value of archived and real-time quality content, and over time the GAI models themselves will deteriorate. You get out what you put in. It is critical that our copyright protections are properly enforced and that high standards of quality and accountability are the foundation of these and other new technologies.”