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Economic Squeeze on Newspapers May End Bob Mercer’s Pierre Reporting

In an effort to save money, Dakota Media Group is getting rid of one of its greatest sources of value, Bob Mercer’s statehouse reporting. According to a report in its own Aberdeen paper this morning, Dakota Media Group laid off four staff at the Watertown Public Opinion and seven at the Aberdeen American News. The news staffer let go from the Aberdeen paper was Mercer, who works in Pierre covering state government.

AAN editor J.J. Perry says Mercer may not disappear from our paper pages, if other papers can save him:

He is based in Pierre, and his work is sold by our company to other news outlets in South Dakota. Those subscriptions helped offset some of the cost, but not enough.

Rather than an immediate layoff, the Capitol Bureau in Pierre will remain open through the end of September. That will give our member papers enough time to decide how to proceed with their coverage, including of our new governor and the legislative session that opens in January.

My deep hope is that one of the other subscriber newspapers can pick up the Capitol Bureau position, and we can subscribe or otherwise subsidize some version of what the American News has been able to provide for nearly 10 years [J.J. Perry, “Newspaper Layoffs Reflect Harsh Reality,” Aberdeen American News, 2018.07.12].

Bob Mercer, at SDNA convention, Aberdeen, SD, 2017.04.28.
Bob Mercer, at SDNA convention, Aberdeen, SD, 2017.04.28.

So the most veteran reporter on the Aberdeen paper’s payroll, the source of some of the most civically important news in our local paper and one of only two reporters stationed in Pierre to report full-time on the affairs of South Dakota government to hundreds of thousands of citizens, is too expensive for our belt-tightening paper to keep.

But we’ll still get full-page color pictures of the new football field at Northern and lengthy accounts of sporting events.

As professor and journalist emeritus David Newquist writes, when newspapers prioritize bean-counting over journalistic concerns, “the primary reason that the press receives First Amendment rights is dismissed.”

Far from tangentially, Perry mentions possible sources of the economic stresses that led to this terrible decision:

I have been writing about the impending newsprint tariffs that have already affected us. And, as the soft ag economy goes, so does local business.

These are our first layoffs since 2010 [Perry, 2018.07.12].

Thanks, Trump!

Dakota Media Group loses more than it gains by dropping Mercer’s reporting from its pages. To understand why, read his stuff, and review my extensive three-part podcast with Mercer from April 2017, when Mercer came to Aberdeen to receive the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s Distinguished Service Award.


  1. Rorschach 2018-07-13 09:09

    Even while blaming Trump for newsprint tariffs and for the soft ag economy, Perry is channeling Trump by accusing his allies in the newspaper business of being free riders. “If you other newspapers would only pay your fair shares the state will be able to keep fine political reporting. We’re happy to pay our fair share, but we’re not going carry everybody else’s weight anymore.” It’s a valid position to take, but that doesn’t help Bob Mercer or the public’s need to know what’s going on in their government.

  2. leslie 2018-07-13 12:53

    Trump’s tariffs on print paper are retaliation on a press which dutifully reports his naked cheating.

    SD & SCOTUS outlaw worker union contracts. Arbitration contracts protect management. No safety net. Decades of wage stagnation institutionalize poverty. No bankruptcy protection. Deregulation.

    Maybe now Mercer can help restore democratic registrations. Grow a spine. Fight for voter rights. But maybe his skills are obsolete. More likely Koch will hire him. Corps need good PR :(

    Tragedy of conservative “values”. Tragedy of Dark lord Rupert Murdoch Faux News. KOTA. Emasculation of public radio. All commercials and corrupt content.

    The world needs investigative journalists to expose EB5/MCEC Gearup fraud and political prosecutors who minimize corporate/crony crime. “Democracy dies in darkness.”

    Vanquish Citizens United, sellouts&quitters Paul Ryan, Jeff Flake, John Boehner&Trey Gowdy; Carl Rove, Mitch McConnell, and incompetents Bush &Trump. In other words the guts of the Republican party.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-07-13 13:38

    Ror, I’m not sure how AAN and the other papers (RCJ, MDR, BHP…) share the costs of Mercer’s services. I’m also willing to cut J.J. some distance from Trump’s reckless alienation of our allies. One big difference is that when Trump talks about shifting costs to allies, he doesn’t seem to be doing so in response to military budget cuts or lower revenues on our side. DMG allegedly has less money to spend and is choosing to cut Mercer, while J.J. expresses the hope that maybe they can shift some costs to other papers to bring Mercer back into the AAN budget at a lower cost.

  4. mike from iowa 2018-07-13 13:39

    Nice copy and paste without attribution, slick.

  5. Jason 2018-07-13 14:15

    Newspapers are losing money because they either lie or omit stories.

  6. jerry 2018-07-13 14:16

    As long as newsprint is in such short supply, thanks trump and the Confederates, perhaps the paper could eliminate the propaganda it allows from NOem, Thune, Rounds and Daugaard on a weekly basis. As a note of fairness to all, allow equal time and space to Mercer. Set up a gofundme account to pay the man for his work and that would be that.

  7. mike from iowa 2018-07-13 14:22

    Newspapers are losing money because they either lie or omit stories.

    If that were true, Fake Noize would have folded before they go on air. Drumpf’s butty at National Enquirer would have been run out of town decades ago.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-07-13 14:48

    Jason, provide evidence that Bob Mercer is lied.

    I see no evidence that anyone writing for the Aberdeen American News has lied. They’ve misspelled some names, posted some mistaken statements requiring correction, but I haven’t seen a lie from their reporters or editors.

    Also, Jason, provide evidence of stories Bob Mercer has omitted. I would contend his work is integral to filling in gaps in news coverage.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-07-13 15:08

    Jason’s shout there is part of the Trumpist strategy of delegitimizing the press in order to make it easier for people to fall for propaganda. The press gets some things wrong, and it doesn’t cover everything, but Trumpists offer no more reliable alternative, only comforting pablum that reinforces their preferred power structure while leaving us less informed.

    Bob Mercer is one of the more reliable, valuable elements of South Dakota journalism. He has his biases, as do we all, but Mercer’s biases are far less dangerous than those of Dakota War College, The Right Side SD, and Shad Olson.

  10. Porter Lansing 2018-07-13 16:58

    That’s wrong, Jason. It’s you that lies and people still read you. Newspapers are failing because they’re no longer first to bring us the news. It’s rare that a feature in the Denver Post is a new story to me. Local news and sports are about all that’s fresh because no other print covers them. TV news covers local and sports headlines but is time limited. TV now seems to steal stories from print to save money. Neither medium has many reporters anymore.
    *It hurt like Hades when I went from print to the newspaper’s E-edition, four years ago. The cost savings was just too great not to do it, though. The DenPost is two bucks a day and an exact replica on the computer is $4.35 a month.

  11. Porter Lansing 2018-07-13 17:27

    PS … Every morning I read condensed versions of the news in this order Boston Herald – Chicago Tribune – New York Times – New York Times California Update and then Denver Post. All are free except $4.35 a month for DenPost. All the others give ten free full articles a month, each. I get instant news notifications from NYTimes and WashPost as news happens, on my phone free. Facebook and Twitter show me ads that are relevant to me for things I’ll probably buy. How’s a small paper supposed to sell enough ads to compete with that?

  12. Roger Cornelius 2018-07-13 17:33

    Porter understands the problem with today’s print media, they are being forced to go digital. Small town weekly publications can’t compete with the internet at the level they need to.
    The shortage of news print has little relevance to the future of the small town newspaper, these publications simply can’t compete with digital.

  13. bearcreekbat 2018-07-13 17:54

    I enjoy the Washington Post online, especially the editorials. I also get a hard copy of the RC Journal every morning, which I read before going online to read the current edition of the WaPo.

    I used to enjoy the Journal’s editorial page but lately it seems the Journal simply reruns one or more of the WaPo’s editorials that I read the day before online. This practice is disappointing and can only contribute to the decline of newsprint.

    And the ultimate irony is that I started getting the WaPo online for free as a benefit that comes with my subscription to the Journal!

  14. mike from iowa 2018-07-13 18:16

    I don’t think these big newspapers can count. I also don’t like the paywalls, as necessary as they may be. I can find plenty of free access news, so far.

    When you count pennies every month, $10 monthly bills for e-news rips a hole in my budget. I have learned to do without. Someday I will model my blogging after Fake Noize and just make stuff up.

  15. Bucko Bear 2018-07-13 21:11

    Sixty years ago, I started throwing the Arizona Republic onto peoples’ porches at 5AM. My Father asked me one morning, “what’s in the paper today?’ I replied, “I don’t know.”
    He said, “if you’re going to put it on peoples’ porches, you, at least, need to know what’s in it.”
    Thus started the life long habit of reading the morning paper, every day. I still do.
    I enjoy reading thru the RCJ in print and then moving on to my COMPLIMENTARY, on-line subscription to the WaPo ( which I read, cover to cover for over 20 years while living in DC).
    Journalism isn’t just what’s happening at the local high-school. It’s the in-depth reporting on what’s going on. It isn’t instant; good reporting on issues takes time. It also teaches one the the value of the correct use of language.
    Make your kids read one every day !!!

  16. Debbo 2018-07-14 00:29

    I get the Sunday Minneapolis Star-Tribune delivered, and that’s all I pay for. However, because of that I have online access to the Strib and WaPo every day. I also get 5 different versions of Axios, which I agree is first rate. Sojourners and Mother Jones are good sources and one of the best is Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. That woman’s photo should be on the cover of any ethics textbook.

    I like several other newspapers and magazines that I follow links to. I think the N.Y. Times is not a good source for news about Israel however. I think it’s somewhat biased; not as bad as rabid GOP, but I’ll check other sources for Israeli/Palestinian pieces.

    Thank god for the free press. I look at those blatant propagandizers like Faux Noize, Dimbart, Alex Jones and similar as the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theatre. It should not be protected under Amendment #1 because it’s so destructive to the nation. What they are doing should be a crime punishable by a huge fine, closing the business and prison time.

  17. mike from iowa 2018-07-14 06:30

    Amy Goodman and Democracy Now are/were on Dish Network and Madison Capital Times Opinion page features her column.

    Very thought provoking and she was broadcasting from the protest encampment for the Balken Pipeline a year or so ago.

  18. Porter Lansing 2018-07-14 08:01

    @Debbo … Is the MinnPost the equivalent of Fox News, as I’m told? Jason reads and recommends it so it makes me wonder.
    Thanks. Good luck beating the heat. :0)

  19. leslie 2018-07-14 09:24

    I missed CH’s 3 pt series, will catch up, & am no journalist, but ethics against bias seems critical.

    Judges must set bias aside and good ones do. Merrick Garland (R.) had that reputation but neither “stolen seat” Gorsuch (R.) nor “hurry up before Trump ‘collusion’ is proven” Kavanah (R.) possess such a reputation. Lifetime appointments REQUIRE advice and consent of the Senate. Like the Chevron principle, the ABA has ethical education and expertise, and the Senate must consider that input. It must not be about political, religious or racial bias. Thomas and Scalia were biased, it appears, masking it as ‘originalism’.

    Journalists must report truth rather than focus on hammering the public with facts like the 2007 housing bubble was caused by borrowers, the Fox News narrative. Mercer’s reportage of falling Democratic voter registration numbers month after month, has been weaponized by the SDGOP and used as a club against the Democratic Party. We don’t call it ‘fake news’.

  20. leslie 2018-07-14 09:54

    Here is a seemingly unrelated thought for later. The gay cake case may have application to the right of drug mnfctrs to refuse death sentence cocktails in cruel and unusual executions.?? “Who woulda thunk it would be so complicated?” Trump.

    North Korea? Purin is “fine”? Health care?

    Right. Simpleton reality show con-artist Republicans elected to keep guns and stop abortion. He now wants a simple 4xGDP formula for defense spending. That’ll pretty much eliminate our Social Security ect, and NATO’s. Kochian World Domination.

  21. Debbo 2018-07-14 11:36

    I think MinnPost is pretty good. Can’t believe Jason would like it unless he just cherry picks articles critical of the DFL.

    “Unless.” Listen to me being silly.

  22. Porter Lansing 2018-07-14 12:53

    Thanks, Debbo. I read some articles and thought it was pretty good. I like that it’s nonprofit. When Jason posts as Miranda he’s said he/she likes the DFL and claims to have spoken in favor of things at DFL’s meetings.
    ~ Many identities equals many positions, I suppose. #ConfusedSoul
    PS … as much as I criticize their hate towards innocent Muslims in Aberdeen, I find Larry Kurtz’s post about them (Miranda – Lynn – KM – Jason) on David Newquists post highly unnecessary. Kurtz must not have any business because he keeps his nose in other’s, continually.

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