This article has been updated with comments from Gannett Vice President James Fitzhenry denying that the paper has plans to scale back its daily publication schedule. Fitzhenry’s name was previously misspelled with a capital “h.”
The nearly 90-year-old Oshkosh Northwestern building has been sold to an out-of-state developer amid cutbacks in coverage and expectations that the newspaper will reduce its printing schedule to two days a week later this year.
A Michigan company paid $550,213 for the newspaper’s historic headquarters building at 224 State Street and three nearby parcels on April 26, according to the city assessor’s website.
When it opened in 1930, the Northwestern building was the envy of newspaper publishers around the country.
The registered agent for the new owner, Oshkosh Business Center III LLC, is Murray D. Wikol, a real estate investor who is working to buy the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s headquarters as well.
According to a report in that newspaper, Wikol’s company plans to invest $60 million to erect an 18-story office building and renovate the Journal Sentinel’s headquarters into a mix of offices and retail space.
Plans for the Oshkosh site are not publicly known, although the Oshkosh Business Center name suggests a renovation for office use. The city is prepared to discuss financial incentives, but it has not received a specific proposal, said Allen Davis, director of community development.
In early May the owner of the Northwestern, Virginia-based Gannett Corp., engaged in a round of layoffs, which, according to unconfirmed accounts, affected about 40 of its more than 100 newspapers. The company issued no official statement and left it to local editors to decide whether to report on cutbacks or not.
There was no such coverage in Wisconsin. “Gannett newspapers are hiding an important local story,” the Columbia Journalism Review said in an online article summarizing the situation.
“Gannett’s stated ‘purpose,”according to its website, is to ‘serve communities’ and ‘get the right information, tools and guidance to people at the right time,’” the article stated. ”Many local readers, however, remain in the dark about how this umpteenth round of belt-tightening might affect the diminished newspapers they read.”
The layoffs, which claimed the Northwestern’s sports reporter, came shortly after the company announced a $2.1 million loss for the first quarter and a steep decline in print advertising.
“Woke up this morning not a journalist for the first time in 25 years,” Steve Clark, the paper’s former sports content manager, posted in a May 4 tweet. “My heartfelt thanks to all coaches, athletes I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. I loved covering prep sports and will miss the games, matches and interviews.”
The paper no longer contains bylined accounts of Oshkosh sports teams and appears to be relying on material supplied by local schools.
In the case of UW Oshkosh, at least, articles that are published on the Northwestern’s website as coming from “USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin” appear to be cut and paste versions of articles that appear on the university’s website. (Follow links to make your own comparison.)
Earlier this year Gannett reduced the print frequency of three newspapers in Louisiana and Mississippi, a strategy that other publishers have implemented in recent years.
Former employees of the Northwestern say they were told to expect that the Northwestern will shift from daily print publication to a twice-a-week schedule by the end of 2017. Breaking stories will continue to appear on the paper’s website.