The final edition of the Montgomery Gazette hit our driveway this morning. Yet another casualty of the internet and media consolidation, the 55-year old Gazette was hardly my go-to news source but it did do a great job covering high school sports and various other interscholastic events. My high school age sons often pointed to mentions of friends and classmates whose accomplishments were touted in print. As the Gazette goes, so goes a source of pride for many teenagers and their parents.
For some time, I was perplexed by the hyper-local stories in each week’s Gazette. Montgomery County’s population exceeds 1 million and it sprawls well over 32 miles from Takoma Park on the northeast side of D.C. to west of Poolesville. But our paper’s focus was always Bethesda – Chevy Chase – Kensington where we live. It turns out of course, as I finally figured out, that five editions of the paper were published concurrently. The result: five times as many local students, athletes, business people, and politicians got coverage.
The Washington Post Company bought the Gazette in 1993 and operated it until 2013 when Post purchaser/Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spun it off to a separate but affiliated entity called Post Community Media. Although the Post and the Gazette had the same ultimate owner, their editorial positions on occasion differed, most notably in education. The Post was relatively critical of Josh Starr, who recently resigned as Montgomery County Schools Superintendent. By contrast, the Gazette more frequently attributed tension within MCPS to the more conservative School Board than to Starr who championed higher pay for teachers and smaller class size.
Before shuttering operations, the Post says its media group put the Gazette on the block but did not receive any offers. Columnist Erik Wemple, however, recently wrote that the Montgomery paper’s former owner reached out to the Post but did not receive a response. Regardless, no deal was reached and the paper is folding.
If the Gazette were to continue as an online venture, this would be tolerable. But apparently, expected revenues were deemed insufficient to maintain operations. When I moved to Montgomery County in 1990, a much smaller populace supported the daily Montgomery Journal, and two weeklies, the Gazette and the Sentinel.
Except for the skeletal Sentinel, they’re all gone. There are no English-language radio news/talk stations located in the county. Going forward, MCPS, the county government, and businesses will face minimal media scrutiny. Likewise, residents will have less information when making political and economic decisions. The loss of the Montgomery Gazette erodes the ability of Montgomery County residents to govern ourselves wisely.