2015 | News

Former Publisher, Editor React to Gazette’s Closure

Former publisher of weekly paper expressed interest in buying it before Friday's announcement that it would cease publication

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A Gazette newspaper box in downtown Bethesda

Aaron Kraut

The announcement Friday that The Gazette will cease publication after its final edition next week left many questioning the paper’s publishing strategy, including the man who used to run it.

Davis Kennedy, who served as publisher as The Gazette from 1979 until he sold it to the Washington Post Co. in the early 90s, said the paper was effective in his days because it had 13 different editions focused on "ultra-local" news in each town and section of the county.

The paper has since cut the number of editions.

"They knocked that way down to save money, and I think it reduced readership," said Kennedy, who now is the publisher of The Current Newspapers in Washington, D.C. "If you look at most people, most Americans are most interested in news of their immediate neighborhood."

Kennedy said a survey the paper conducted then showed that almost everyone in Gaithersburg read the paper, more than 90 percent of people in Rockville read it, about 60 percent of people in Bethesda read it and about 80 percent of Chevy Chase residents picked it up.

"It's awful sad. The Gazette was a very very fine group of papers," Kennedy said. "Sometimes when you try to save money, you hurt things."

Kennedy said he expressed interest in buying the paper through a broker but that, "I didn't have anything in writing."

Doug Tallman, who served as the paper's Montgomery County editor until he was laid off last year, said that the purchase of the company by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013 brought at least some hope that it would be in for a turnaround.

"It's a really sad day," Tallman said. "What completely boggles my mind is it's a county of a million people. Jeff Bezos is probably the world's greatest entrepreneur. How in the world, when you put those two things together, can you not have a newspaper that at least survives, if not be profitable?"

Tallman started at the paper in 2004 as its Montgomery County Council reporter and covered the Statehouse in Annapolis.

"No one else is covering the news the way The Gazette is covering the news," Tallman said. "The paper could go in-depth in ways that none of the other news outlets would even try. TV and radio are great for headlines. I think that blogs help fill that immediate need. But The Gazette was really the only source for intelligent coverage that could take the longer view."

Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal said he was sorry to hear of the paper's closure.

"In the absence of journalism, rascals thrive," Leventhal said. "I think it's bad for honest government if nobody's watching us. I'm just absolutely devastated. I certainly don't think the Washington Post Company is acting in the public interest."

"Fortunately, we have people inventing new business models," said Council member Hans Riemer. "It's a loss. I think it's sad. I think they actually did a very good job covering local issues, government issues in the county, certainly community issues. It's hard enough for people to find out what's going on in the community."

Bethesda Beat editor Andrew Metcalf contributed to this report