Who are the people who own control of the print narrative in our backyard?
Adams Publishing Group (APG) was founded in 2013 and by 2014 had already began to acquire rural newspapers and media groups. From a 2017 APG profile by Poynter, "Barely three years old, Minneapolis-based Adams has assembled a group of more than 100 small dailies, weeklies and shoppers in at least 15 separate transactions." Patriarch of the Adams family, Stephen Adams, sits on the Adams Publishing board of directors along with his four sons. One of said sons is Mark Adams, the CEO of Adams Publishing. He looks the part of a super villain and gives off JP-esque vibes from Grandma's Boy.
In December 2018 it was announced that APG had purchased the Daily Jefferson County Union. It was announced concurrently they'd also purchased the Watertown Daily Times and the Dodge County Independent News. Six months later, the Janesville Gazette was purchased by APG after 136 years of familial ownership. Less than a month after that, the Beloit Daily News and its subsidiaries were sold to APG. In seven months time, the once diverse print publishing landscape of south central Wisconsin had quietly consolidated into the hands of one corporate publishing group owned and operated by a billionaire family.
Stephen Adams fortune comes from his founding of Camping World RV dealerships among other business ventures, including Adams Outdoor Advertising company. In 2016, Adams bought many of his billboards across multiple states to promote Donald Trump's presidential campaign. An aide said of the donations at the time, "Mr. Adams is a long-time supporter of, and contributor to, the Republican Party. He has contributed these advertisements to the presidential campaign in furtherance of that historical support."
South-central Wisconsin isn't alone in having their print voices monopolized by the Adams Publishing conglomerate. APG control massive pieces of the print market nationwide in mostly rural areas of states like Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Maryland. They own at least one print newspaper in 18 different states.
This past year has been tumultuous for APG Southern Wisconsin. In May 2020, the Janesville Gazette announced it would cease printing the Saturday and Sunday edition of the paper. In August, APG named Orestes Baez as the new president of the southern Wisconsin region, replacing Mary Jo Villa. Villa had served in a leadership role for the Janesville Gazette for more than 30 years.
In the Gazette article to announce the leadership change, Baez, "said he helped spearhead a model that allowed several newsrooms under Gannett ownership to team up on news projects with a statewide focus." Baez continued, "The issue is one of breaking down silos, being collaborative and sharing resources." We've seen Sinclair Broadcast group employ this same strategy in their now infamous local news synchronized local news message. An objective overview of the landscape of South Central Wisconsin print journalism is depressing: a monopoly of ownership by a billionaire, Trump-supporting family admittedly focused on uniting to control the message.
Beloit is certainly in a unique position when it comes to a city of its size. A billionaire benefactor with aspirations of revamping not the city but the economy leaves large areas of land abandoned and under-developed, citizens under-served, and animosity towards teachers and labor groups. This is exasperated by local CEOs who do not believe in diverse hiring practices, racial justice, or public education. Private citizens of Beloit desperately needs an ally in the print journalism department. Unfortunately, the Beloit Daily News has had other allies and this doesn't appear to be changing in the near future. Local supermarkets in impoverished, underdeveloped, and largely minority areas close while upscale bistros, steakhouses, and hotels pop up in a downtown so beautiful it could be the next Stars Hollow, lack of diversity included. Many impoverished citizens across the bridge only miles away have less in their bank account than it costs for a one night stay at one of these downtown hotels.
Adams Publishing has been a very nice fit for big business and thereby a terrible fit for the working middle class taxpayers. For a city that desperately needs transparency Adams Publishing is the exact opposite.