One of Andy Youngâ€™s first assignments as a reporter back in the â€˜70s for The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria was to write a profile of the president of Local 1104 of the United Steelworkers of America. A resident of Elyria his entire life, Young had to ask his boss how to get to Lorain, where the unionâ€™s office was located.
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s unusual – for people in Elyria not to be familiar with Lorain and for people in Lorain not to be familiar with Elyria,â€ says Young, editor of the Chronicle-Telegram since 1997.
Historically, Lorain Countyâ€™s two daily newspapers have covered distinct areas within the county: The Lorain Morning Journal covers the city of Lorain, Erie and Huron Counties, and Western Cuyahoga County, while the Chronicle-Telegram covers the city of Elyria and those communities south of the papersâ€™ artificial dividing line of Route 254, or Detroit Road. This road has traditionally been the natural boundary line between the two cities. As a result, those who live north of the road typically read the Journal and those south of the road read the Chronicle.
However, the two newspapers are merely some 12 miles apart from one another, so their coverage areas overlap, meaning they pursue many of the same readers, the same advertisers and the same news stories within the county.
â€œFrom the business community perspective, most people look at both papers,â€ says Frank DeTillio, president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. â€œEven though there is that mythical 254 line, the business community travels across that line without even thinking about it. The market is really Lorain County, not north of 254 or south of 254. Each paper covers certain issues in certain areas differently. From a news standpoint, we are always looking for a regional hue of things. You need to take more than one newspaper to be able to get that.â€
But that isnâ€™t the case in most counties across the country, or large municipalities for that matter. Increased consolidation in the media industry has resulted in the decline of two-paper towns.
There have been rumors for decades that one paper has plans to buy the other or that one is looking to sell, but there is evidence on both sides that suggests the papers plan to stick around for a long time.
â€œWhether they can both continue is up to the leadership of both operations,â€ DeTillio says. â€œI donâ€™t have a crystal ball. â€¦ You hear rumors about one buying the other. When you have two papers those things are always a topic of consideration.â€
Owned by Trenton, N.J.-based The Journal Register Co., the Morning Journal arguably has more resources than the family-owned and operated Chronicle, so itâ€™s possible the Journal Register could buy up the Chronicle. But the Chronicle has a new generation of leadership ready to continue the family business and is spending $10 million in an effort to expand and improve its printing facility and offices. Is this a tactic to make the paper more attractive to a potential buyer, or is it simply a move solidifying the familyâ€™s presence in Lorain County?
There was talk back in the â€˜70s about the prospects of a merger, Young says. â€œWeâ€™re still here, theyâ€™re still here. Thereâ€™s a certain feistiness in both of those newspapers. I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if both existed in 50 years.â€
The history of competition between the cities of Lorain and Elyria runs deep. From the intense rivalry between the two high school football teams to protests from the business community when the two citiesâ€™ chambers talked about a merger, Lorain and Elyria want to be known as two distinct communities. The demographic makeup of each, though slightly different, is generally blue-collar, industrial, hard-working people. Traditionally, Elyria has been considered more conservative than its counterpart to the north, but in recent years, that is showing signs of fading.
Both newspapers have a long history in their respective communities as well.
The Horvitz family of Shaker Heights began what was then known as the Lorain Journal in the early 20th century when existing newspapers criticized the road-building efforts of the familyâ€™s construction company. The family went on to own the Lake County News Herald, the Mansfield News Journal and the New Philadelphia/Dover Times-Reporter.
Ownership changed in 1987 when newspaper magnate Ralph Ingersoll, son of the legendary New York journalist by the same name, bought the newspaper chain. He lost his U.S. newspaper empire in bankruptcy to an investment firm, which started The Journal Register Co. in 1990. Not long after that, following the increasing trend of p.m. newspapers making the switch to a morning edition, the Journal became an a.m. paper and changed its name to the Morning Journal.
The Chronicle-Telegram was founded in 1829 and has been owned by the Hudnutt family since 1927. A. Cooper Hudnutt, the current publisher, is part of the third-generation leadership team of the Lorain County Printing and Publishing Co., which includes his brother, George, publisher of the Medina Gazette, and his cousin, Andy Young, the Chronicleâ€™s editor. The family also owns the Elyria-Lorain Broadcasting Co., which operates four local radio stations, WEOL, WKFM, WNWV, and WLKR.
Additionally, the Hudnutts are co-owners of four weekly papers: the Avon Lake Press, the North Ridgeville Press, Westlife and the Vermilion Photo Journal. In the mid-90s, the Chronicle transitioned from an afternoon paper to a morning one.
Both papers are comparable in size. The Journalâ€™s daily circulation is about 30,000 and 32,000 on Sundays, while the Chronicleâ€™s circulation is around 25,000 and 27,000 on Sundays.
Jeff Sudbrook came from the News-Herald in Lake County where he had worked for nearly two decades to become publisher of the Journal in August 2004. It didnâ€™t take him long to become accustomed to the competition between the two Lorain County papers.
â€œIâ€™m competitive by nature,â€ Sudbrook says as he sits in a plush leather chair in his modest, neat office. â€œWe may not win the battle every day, but I want to win it at the end of the year.â€
Sudbrook and Hudnutt say their relationship is cordial. They both belong to the Elyria Country Club and are co-chairs of the United Way of Lorain County this year. The two papers also worked together recently to create a tabloid that ran in both papers in celebration of the Elyria Country Clubâ€™s 100th anniversary. But thatâ€™s about as far as the relationship goes. (Funnily enough, during the photo shoot for this article, passersby at the Country Club joked with the two, asking whether they were going to joust one another with their golf clubs.)
The editorial side isnâ€™t known to be as friendly with one another, though.
â€œWhen we get beaten [on a story], we grit our teeth,â€ Young says.
There have been employees who have worked for both papers, and thereâ€™s no consensus on which newsroom is tougher. But thereâ€™s no doubt that the Journalâ€™s editor, John Cole, who didnâ€™t return Inside Businessâ€™s calls, has a reputation for being demanding.
â€œHeâ€™s a live wire,â€ Sudbrook says. â€œHe wonâ€™t accept a loss. Period.â€ But itâ€™s because he cares so much about the paper, Sudbrook adds.
â€œCole set the standards for the paper,â€ says Richard Hendrickson, the former editorial page editor of the Journal, where he worked for 35 years. â€œHe still demands a great deal of effort and production from the reporters. Itâ€™s a tough newsroom to work in in Lorain. We always thought of the Chronicle to be a little more easygoing.
â€œIf a reporter at the Journal got beat on a story, he could expect to have a bad day,â€ says Hendrickson, who now teaches journalism at John Carroll University. â€œIf the paper really got beat on a big story, the whole staff would have a bad day, maybe even a bad week. Thatâ€™s how Cole felt about the competitive edge. At most papers reporters will write one or two stories a day. At the Journal, it was more like five or six.â€
The newsrooms at both papers have traditionally been training grounds for young journalists. Those who have worked at either paper usually remark that they are places you never forget; the working conditions are unlike anywhere else.
â€œBoth papers are working right at the edge of their resources,â€ says Carl Schierhorn, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University, who often sees his students get jobs at either paper. â€œThey are getting everything they can out of their staff. â€¦ They donâ€™t have the luxury of having an extra copy editor.â€
As a result of having a primarily young editorial staff, there tends to be a lot of turnover.
â€œWeâ€™re feeders for the bigger newspapers,â€ Young says. â€œPeople get trained here. We find ourselves always having to start over again.â€
But readers and advertisers generally see the benefit of the competition between the papers.
â€œItâ€™s very wonderful in this competitive world for two papers to be surviving,â€ says Marcia Ballinger, vice president of strategic and institutional development at Lorain County Community College, who works with reporters at both papers.
â€œItâ€™s a healthy competition,â€ Sudbrook says. â€œBoth papers are looking to do a better job at beating the competition, whether itâ€™s editorially for a news story, or for the advertising dollar. The papers are good for each other.â€
Though revenue at the Morning Journal hasnâ€™t seen any major increases in the last couple years, there havenâ€™t been any major dips either, says Sudbrook. Thatâ€™s indicative of the newspaper business across the country, he says. The Journal Register Co. does not release financials for individual papers, consistent with other major media corporations. However, the Journal is one of the companyâ€™s best daily local newspapers, according to Jean Clifton, president and chief operating officer of The Journal Register. â€œWe have an enviable market share in Lorain County,â€ she says. Itâ€™s unlikely Journal Register would consider selling the paper anytime soon.
â€œThe Journal Register puts enough into our paper that there are no talks pending of selling the paper,â€ says Sudbrook. At press time, Sudbrook was in conversation with executives at Journal Register planning the budget and business strategies for 2006. Though he couldnâ€™t be specific since plans werenâ€™t finalized, he did allude to the company making an investment in some physical improvements to the office and the outside of the building.
If anything, it seems Journal Register would be looking to buy up more papers in Northeast Ohio.
The business strategy of the Journalâ€™s parent company is to own clusters of smaller papers around a major metropolitan area. In total, the nearly $500 million company owns 27 daily newspapers and more than 300 non-daily publications in Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. In Northeast Ohio, it owns the News-Herald to the east in Lake County and the Morning Journal. The companyâ€™s mission is to be the leading provider of local coverage in the areas it serves. And acquisitions will continue to be part of the companyâ€™s growth strategy, as stated in Journal Registerâ€™s 2004 annual report. So itâ€™s possible that in the future the company may want to buy additional small- to mid-size Northeast Ohio papers, which could include the Chronicle-Telegram.
â€œWeâ€™re always looking at acquisitions,â€ Clifton says. â€œIf there were an opportunity to make an acquisition in Northeast Ohio, we would do it.â€
After nearly three years of planning, the Chronicle has begun construction of a new printing facility in Elyria adjacent to the paper that will consolidate the production of both the Chronicle and its sister paper, the Medina Gazette. The $10 million investment includes new equipment for the production of inserts in the papers, as well as a complete renovation of the Chronicleâ€™s outdated offices, and is set to be complete by 2007.
This could be seen as an effort to spruce up the business in preparation for a sale; itâ€™s not uncommon for businesses to upgrade facilities and services to give them more leverage during a buyout.
But Hudnutt insists this isnâ€™t the intent.
â€œA week doesnâ€™t go by when somebody doesnâ€™t come along who is interested in buying the paper,â€ Hudnutt says. â€œWe just started a fourth generation here. My son started working here after just graduating from college. We have a nice little family business here and we are comfortable in the community. The family is committed to keep running it.â€
That fourth generationâ€™s interest is a key component in the paperâ€™s survival, says Kentâ€™s Schierhorn. The decline of the family-owned newspaper is a result of younger generations losing an interest in the business. If there is a strong commitment from the family to keep it going, it will last, he says.
Hudnuttâ€™s son, Bill, recently graduated from Miami University and started at the paper in June. He is training to take over the business.
â€œItâ€™s always been what Iâ€™ve wanted to do,â€ he says.
Ultimately, both papers have plenty of other challenges to concentrate on without the prospects of a merger or acquisition.
As the newsprint industry consolidates and tackles a declining readership due to the increase in online media, papers around the country are constantly looking for new ways to attract readers and satisfy advertisers.
Though competition between the two papers keeps both Hudnutt and Sudbrook on their toes, they retain a positive outlook on their businesses.
â€œYouâ€™re putting out a new product every day, 365 days a year,â€ Hudnutt says. â€œYou never know whatâ€™s coming at you next.â€
â€œIf you do something wrong one day, you can fix it the next. I find that exciting.â€
Norm Weber contributed to this article.