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Comic strip not representative of the Tribune

Tom Batiuk, author of the syndicated comic strip “Crankshaft” published regularly in the Tribune Chronicle, often strays from humor in his comic strips to bring attention to important, even sometimes tragic, issues.

Through the years, the Akron native has explored issues like adult literacy or Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He often makes mention of historical events about World War II, including the Battle of Normandy. In his comic strip, Batiuk, a 1969 Kent State University graduate, even has made mention of the May 4, 1970, fatal shooting of four Kent State students by Ohio National Guard troops.

These issues make some of his strips poignant and meaningful.

Likewise, I’d like to believe the direction Batiuk took in the Crankshaft comic strips last week is intending to bring attention to an issue that is important to our newspaper readers, but I fear that might not be the case. And even if it is, the comic strip’s implications may have been misinterpreted by our readers who might believe, somehow, he was trying to send a message about the future of this newspaper. Let me be clear: On this issue, Crankshaft is not speaking about or for the Tribune Chronicle.

If you’re not a regular Crankshaft comic strip reader, let me bring you up to date. Batiuk started his characters down a path last Monday of discussing a newspaper that had ceased home delivery a couple days a week. The family of the curmudgeonly main character, Ed, explained to him the newspaper had stopped home delivery on Mondays and Tuesdays. “It’s the newspaper’s way of trying to wean us off of it,” said his daughter, Pam.

In subsequent strips, Ed’s son-in-law, Jeff, says eliminating some delivery days is part of the newspaper’s plan to cut costs. “They’ve laid off most of their reporters. So now they’re starting to lay off their readers,” Jeff says.

In an apparent attempt at humor, Pam says the cutbacks are even affecting the comic strips. “Two characters were just laid off from ‘Mary Worth.'”

But this matter is not a joke.

The future of the newspaper industry has triggered much debate in recent years. Indeed, some newspapers have struggled financially. Many newspapers nationwide have made cuts in daily home delivery in order to remain viable.

No doubt, Mahoning Valley residents are very familiar with these types of struggles after witnessing first-hand the demise of The Vindicator under its previous ownership. That newspaper had announced it was closing its doors in the summer of 2019 after failing to make ends meet for many years.

Of course, the Tribune Chronicle was able to take over publication of The Vindicator, making that newspaper strong and viable and helping to further strengthen the Tribune Chronicle.

Absolutely, closures of daily newspapers have a serious and damaging effect on communities. Credible news, like that provided by the Tribune Chronicle and all reputable newspapers, is essential to democracy.

There can be little debate that newspapers, particularly local newspapers, are the backbone of regional journalism. Through our award-winning community journalism, the Tribune Chronicle covers the lives of our residents, local politics, environmental and health issues, high school athletes and entertain in ways no other medium even comes close. Our stories keep local politicians accountable to their constituents – our readers.

Indeed, studies have shown direct correlations between newspaper closures and increased government costs to taxpayers brought about when the watchdog function of the Fourth Estate crumbles.

But let me be clear. Last week’s implications in Crankshaft’s comic strips do not apply to the Tribune Chronicle. We have not cut our reporting staff. To the contrary, we actually have added a significant number of reporters and newsroom employees in the last few years.

We still print and deliver our newspapers every day, and hope to continue to do that for the foreseeable future. We are healthy financially, and we have no plans to, as Crankshaft’s characters put it, implement cutbacks.

We believe strongly in our news product and will continue to do our jobs of bringing you the news every day, just like we have for hundreds of years.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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