ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Journalism is an integral part of society and when a community loses it, it’s much harder to get the information you deserve.
Take newspapers for example – in nearly 20 years, more than 2,500 of them have closed up shop. And in St. Cloud, the last reporter left at the Times is leaving next week.
Abdulla Gaafarelkhalifa was an English major in college and has worked at the St. Cloud Times for the last nine months.
"I've always been the guy that likes learning," said Gaafarelkhalifa. "And just being able to pretty much get paid to do that is just an awesome, cool thing."
The paper is a well-respected one that has been around for more than 90 years. But like a lot of papers, it's feeling a financial pinch that can lead to so-called news deserts.
"That's where local community news organizations, mostly small newspapers, have gone out of business," said Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Scott Libin.
Libin says people are changing the way they consume news and it's hitting organizations where it hurts, like Gannett Co. that owns the St. Cloud Times. Poynter reports it recently suffered more than $100 million in losses.
"I'm not pessimistic about it, but I'm worried about the casualties along the way," said Libin.
The St. Cloud Times isn't closing for good, but it is down to just Gaafarelkhalifa and he's now leaving next week.
"I've seen two official layoffs and large waves of resignations, I being one of them, unfortunately," said Gaafarelkhalifa. "My perception was if they're hiring, then that's a good sign, but that was certainly not the case for everyone."
Gannett has been laying off journalists across the country for months and it hit the St. Cloud Times hard. And with an empty newsroom, the city's metro area of about 200,000 people are without a news outlet.
"How do you run a local newspaper with nothing but national material and the news releases that people send in and user generated content," said Libin. "That stuff is all great, but that's not enterprise journalism."
In the meantime, the city is about to welcome a new outlet that launches next month called St. Cloud Live and it's free to readers. Owned by Forum Communications, it's based out of Fargo and has been in business for 140 years. It's already hired two reporters – including Gaafarelkhalifa.
"I'm happy to get the chance to continue to do pretty much the same thing, it's just going to be under a different title; I'm literally not moving," said Gaafarelkhalifa.
Abdulla never wanted to be the news. He just wants to write about it, but his story his home for many reporters who felt compelled to reach out as the media landscape continues to change.
"Honestly they've been telling me that they feel for me, that they've been through the same thing," said Gaafarelkhalifa. "It almost brought a tear to my eye.
KARE 11 reached out to Gannett and asked how it plans to continue operating as a daily newspaper with current staffing levels. This is the email response we received from a St. Cloud Times spokesperson: "The St. Cloud Times has deep roots in central Minnesota, and we remain committed to providing resources to our newsroom by actively recruiting for editorial positions and relying on our USA TODAY Network to ensure continued coverage."
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