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Newspaper Building Purchase A Sign of The Times


Plywood covers a giant hole in the back of the RGJ building where a printing press was removed. Image: John S. Wright & Associates appraisers / City of Reno public document.

The City of Reno approved in July the purchase of the Gannett-owned Reno Gazette-Journal building. The sale has two-fold ramifications: one is the need for increased law enforcement resources.

The other is the gesture of corporate-owned media companies becoming larger — and more focused on digital news production — while severely downsizing their on-the-ground staff. Smaller newsrooms require less space.

Gannett, which runs the USA Today Network, of which the RGJ is a property, has seen dramatic cuts to production staff in the past two decades — with no end in sight.

This may become more pronounced, media critics noted, with the recent purchase of Gannett by a chief rival, Gatehouse Media.

Newsonomics’ Ken Doctor, a frequent writer on news media dynamics, said that “the two chains have both grown more comfortable with a combination that will produce an unprecedented giant in American daily journalism. The combination … produces a company that will likely own and operate 265 dailies and thousands of weeklies across the country.”

“Its local newspapers and their digital sites run USA Today’s national stories, while USA Today carries more content from its local news partners.”

Gannett has already hinted at potential cuts as a result of the merger.

“‘Centralization and expansion of technology systems’ could save more than $40 million,” according to a report in the USA Today from mid-August.

Gatehouse is also notorious for drastic cuts to its news operations, centralizing services under restructurings, and squeezing resources from frequently meager operations at the expense of local communities.

A sign of the times: It’s not looking good for those wanting to be news journalists.

Even the UNR journalism school, which formally maintains the name Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies, drops the word journalism from its name in some instances.

Depending on the audience, or the context, the college goes by The Reynolds School. Its curricula have also shifted away from legacy news reporting.

“News deserts” are growing around the country with such evolutions. Gatehouse and Gannett are frequently at the center of massive staff reductions around the country.

“Both companies have regionalized huge portions of management and daily production work — editors overseeing multiple properties, regional design centers handling layout, centralized printing and unified tech backends,” Doctor noted. “While that makes for a cultural fit, it also of course means there are probably fewer cost savings left to be squeezed out of even more regionalization.”

Local staffers still promote what they call a “local journalism” focus, but vacant positions frequently go unfilled, and focused Reno news coverage from legacy news media is becoming more spotty.

A recent RGJ hire to cover Las Vegas belies which community is meant to be considered local. And, frequently, Reno-area stories are crafted for the broader USA Today Network.

“Its local newspapers and their digital sites run USA Today’s national stories, while USA Today carries more content from its local news partners,” the company announced in 2015.

The RGJ building on Kuenzli Street has become increasingly vacant over the years.

Reno police are increasingly more than law enforcement officers. They frequently play the role of social workers, teachers, and doctors, said Chief Jason Soto. Image: Bob Conrad.

Meanwhile, the Reno Police Department needs a new station. Its decrepit building on Second Street is well past its useful lifetime.

“The current Reno Police Department building was constructed in 1947,” said Reno Police Chief Jason Soto. “Updating or upgrading the current facility for more than $7 million is not an option.”

RPD needs at least $5 million over the coming years “just to keep the building standing,” Soto added.

Reno’s City Council consequently approved the purchase of the RGJ building July 24, 2019.

But that too comes with a host of issues — namely, money. The building has structural issues, asbestos, and a giant hole in the back of the building where a printing press was removed. The hole was covered with plywood.

Importantly, the city has no firm idea of how it will pay for the complete cost of the building. The total purchase and upgrades are expected to total $33 million.

The Pennington Foundation pledged $5 million toward the purchase, sales of other city properties could produce another $4.3 million, and the city’s general fund will cover $7 million.

That means $17 million is still needed. As of July 24, Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas said the city did not have a solid plan to cover that amount.

“We need to come back with a financing plan to show … how this is going to be funded.”

“We need to come back with a financing plan to show … how this is going to be funded,” he explained. “We’ve had conversations — multiple conversations — with the philanthropic community, and what they’ve told us is, right now, they want to see whether the council really wants to do this.”

Since the city approved the purchase, Thomas said council’s approval would “be the gateway to go out to the many philanthropic organizations to get them … to pledge money.

Assistant City Manager
Bill Thomas

“Realistically, that’s probably somewhere between five and 10 million dollars,” he added. “Best case, we can probably get $10 million that way. That $7 million that’s left there is a cost that we’re going to have to pay either way. Exactly how we’ll do that, we’ll have to bring back to the council, but maybe we can sell more properties so that $7 million goes down, but again, we have an exposure in the current station at $7 million.”

The sale and purchase need to happen fast. The Pennington pledge has to be finalized by September 1.

“We’re expecting the deal with Reno will close soon since it looks like there’s a pretty hard deadline for the city to act in order to secure funding from the Pennington Foundation,” RGJ’s Executive Editor Brian Duggan said. “The newsroom isn’t directly involved in those negotiations, though, so we’re waiting to see the outcome like everyone else.”

The RGJ building has what the current RPD building does not: space, and plenty of it. This is needed for things such as staffing, evidence storage, and importantly, confidentiality.

As law enforcement increasingly deals with mental health challenges, confidentiality, making police reports, and conducting interviews are difficult in the existing RPD building.

“It’s the majority of what we do,” Soto said, “because there’s no more resources. We’re teachers, we’re doctors, we’re therapists, we’re counselors, were police officers, we’re rescue units — they work really hard.”

RPD’s new headquarters could become a reality as early as November of 2020 with final phases competed by July of 2021.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.