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Despite the efforts and recognition, the company remained unable to cope with its financial debt and Journal Register declared bankruptcy for a second time in 2012. The company was purchased by an arm of Alden Global Capital and renamed 21st Century Media. That company was merged with MediaNews Group. Both are managed today by Digital First Media, which was formed in 2010, drawing on Paton's digital emphasis.
Print circulation at The Oakland Press in 2005 had started slipping, with audit figures showing daily circulations at about 65,000 Monday through Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday; 77,000 on Thursdays; and about 79,000 on Sundays. Daily circulations in 2010 held relatively close. By 2015, after Glenn Gilbert left the paper, print circulation dropped to 37,824 for daily editions and 49,626 on Sunday. One year later, in 2016, daily circulation is down to 23,730 and the Sunday circulation has dropped to 36,349, according to AAM audits. Its sister publication, The Macomb Daily, has a Sunday edition circulation of 42,236.
As circulation and staff declined at The Oakland Press, so did its position in the local marketplace.
"In the past, they were certainly a competitor. They had many automotive ads, and the mom-and-pop shops. They might not have been thought of as a competitor, but anyone who takes a dollar is a competitor," said Jim Sherman, president of Sherman Publications, which operates a group of weekly newspapers that includes The Clarkston News, The Oxford Leader, The Citizen in Ortonville and Goodrich, and the Lake Orion Review. "Recently, they aren't a competitor. I'm not even sure they have sales reps that go to the north. I used to get excited about what is going on, but we aren't finding them out there in the marketplace."
The decline of the paper, Sherman said, isn't just bad for The Oakland Press and its staff, but can have a negative impact on his own business. Further, he said it's disappointing to see another paper struggling.
"It's not good for me for those guys to be small. People want to talk about the health of your product, and the health of my product is pretty healthy," Sherman said. "Those guys not being healthy makes us have to answer questions and listen to people talk about digital. Nobody has made money off of it."
Glenn Gilbert said the focus on digital was so overwhelming that he had stopped keeping track of circulation figures at all. When current editorial director Don Wyatt asked him about The Oakland Press circulation numbers as Gilbert was leaving in 2014, he said he had no answer for him. For the staff in the newsroom, their value too began to center on their digital capabilities....continued on page 15