Ohio newspaper that battled injustice for 150 years to shut down: ‘Scary for democracy’

The Vindicator’s closure means Youngstown will be the largest US city without a major paper, and is the latest blow to an ailing American news industry

By Andy Gabbatt | The Guardian, in Youngstown | August 21, 2019

 

It was in the late 1920s that the Ku Klux Klan regularly began gathering outside the home of William F Maag Jr in Youngstown. Maag owned the Vindicator newspaper, which unlike others in this once prosperous part of Ohio, had been willing to criticize the racist Klansmen.

Men on horseback, clad in white robes and hoods, would burn crosses and flaunt rifles and shotguns, in an attempt at intimidation. It didn’t work. The men of the Maag family would stand outside their home, themselves armed, refusing to be cowed, as the Vindicator continued to expose government officials who were part of the Klan.

That defiance set the tone for decades of investigative, combative reporting from the Vindicator. The daily newspaper relentlessly reported on the mafia, the government, big business and even its own advertisers.Advertisement

But no more. Soon after celebrating 150 years since its first edition came news that was devastating to many in Youngstown and the wider Mahoning valley. The Vindicator was shutting down at the end of August. For good.

The Vindicator’s closure means Youngstown will soon be the largest city in the US without a major newspaper, and is the latest blow to an ailing American news industry. According to the University of North Carolina, more than 2,000 US newspapers have closed since 2004, and at least 1,300 communities have completely lost news coverage in the past 15 years. In July a Pew Research Center study reported that the number of journalists in the US declined 47% between 2008 and 2018.

It’s a sad end to a newspaper with a long history of fighting injustice – going all the way back to those days battling the KKK. That fearlessness is what Mark Brown, Maag’s grandson and the fourth-generation owner of the Vindicator, is most proud of.

“Fighting the Klan I think would have to be number one because that was a core social justice issue,” Brown said. “The Klan tried to make this area sort of its northern center. There was a lot of support here for the Klan and we fought hard against it, and I think we succeeded for the most part.”

Mark Brown, the fourth-generation owner of the Vindicator: ‘Fighting the Klan would have to be number one because that was a core social justice issue.’

Mark Brown, the fourth-generation owner of the Vindicator: ‘Fighting the Klan would have to be number one because that was a core social justice issue.’ Photograph: Jeff Swensen/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The demise of the Vindicator is especially galling given the multi-award-winning newspaper had marked its 150th anniversary with a look back to the first edition. That first copy, a print of which hangs on the wall at the newspaper’s Youngstown office, was four pages long. It carried a story about a boy who had his teeth kicked out by a horse, an article on a farmer who had two sons: one “an early riser” and the other “an incorrigible sluggard”, and a report on the water depth of the Mahoning River.