A friend sent an email:
We were talking with a couple who are journalists for the Idaho Stateman (another McClatchy paper). We had several conversations about the state of the newspaper business. In fact, both of them were in the process of re-tooling just to stay employed at the paper. The husband moved into management to head up the online division. The stresses they operate under would probably sound familiar.
Like everyone else, I worry about the consolidation of the newspaper business into basically three hands: McClatchy and Murdoch and Sam Zell. For over a century, Mencken-era journalism was dependent on the nobless oblige of the wealthy families that owned and operated this country's newspapers (Bancroft's, Graham's, Sulzberger's, and their counterparts at the local level). Local ownership sold out years ago, and now we are beginning to see the same thing at the national dailies (e.g., Bancroft's selling their stake in the Wall Street Journal to Murdoch). Let us all hope for the sake of the country and the 1st amendment that the Sulzberger's do not sell off the NY Times.
Jeffrey Brown (NewsHour) recently did several pieces on the state of the newspaper business.
Check out the links. Let me know what you think.
Here's what I think:
Thanks for the links. These are fascinating conversations. What's most fascinating to me is that they don't happen in the newsroom. There's not enough time. Journalism is really vital to our democracy. When countries go over to dictatorships, the first thing the do is squelch the media. Journalists keep politicians accountable for their actions.
What makes journalism strong is the believability of their stories. The people who ensure that strength, that truth, are the editors. Inexplicably, newspapers are killing off editors. Even if they go to an online venue, without editors, their product will erode.
I got my termination papers today (that's what it said: "terminated.") The reason given was "position eliminated." My job title when I left was copy editor. I was also a section editor and a columnist (two columns, actually). My books editor position will not be officially replaced. My copy editor position was spread over four part-time and/or temporary copy editors.
The wealthy families actually gave the journalists far greater freedom than the big companies do. The big companies are ad-driven. They run newspapers like they'd run a widget factory. The wealthy families didn't need to be ad-driven. They were truth-driven. Other newspapers gave journalists an edge of competition; with the mergers, there is no compelling drive to get the story. And with reduced staff, their jobs tend to focus on reporting news, with very little room to investigate news.
Yes, it's a very dangerous situation.
I'm going now to brush up my short story for a fiction contest. Less dangerous.