Friday, March 27, 2009

Employed by a Dinosaur?

If you’ve seen my Facebook page you know we got some more bad news yesterday at work -- a pay cut and about 100 layoffs. I’m still employed, thankfully, but a couple of coworkers whose company I’ve enjoyed were let go, and I don’t yet know who else may have been affected.

I’ll try not to get all soapbox-y about the newspaper industry. Our slow strangulation is not a new development. We’ve been losing subscribers for years and years, not just since the Internet boom or the beginning of this recession.

But I do think we’re in a very unusual time right now. I’m not sure people realize how much the welfare of our communities and our nation is jeopardized by the death of newspapers.

The newspaper is literally the only place in most cities where real journalism is practiced. All that news people hear on the radio and see on local TV, and talk about around the water cooler, began in the newspaper. As a reporter I attended many, many government meetings where I was the only press person there -- TV reporters do not make it standard practice to do beat reporting, let alone anything investigative.

Now that our print business, which sustained all of our operations with its lucrative advertising sales, is dying -- what’s the solution?

The current argument is that newspapers made a mistake giving away their content for free on the Web. There’s a move afoot in the industry to consider charging for some Web content, on a “pay-per-view” kind of basis, where you pay more the more you read.

The problem is, this shifts our costs to the readers -- and that has NEVER been our business model. Advertising paid the bulk of our costs, not readers. It’s those ad dollars we need to get back, somehow, because I’m not sure readers would ever be willing to pay the true cost of their news -- particularly younger readers, who seem to think stuff on the Internet should be free. Real news gathering -- maintaining foreign bureaus, employing people who are specialists in fields like medicine or nuclear proliferation -- is expensive.

Personally, I don’t think we ever will get those dollars back. Our old business model is dead. I really have no idea what that means for our future, or the future of our democracy. Maybe we and other journalism outlets will evolve to fill the gap. Maybe the gap will never be filled.

(Photo: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, March 2009)


  1. i hope you will do okay. xxxooo

  2. I'm glad you survived this purge. Maybe you should be looking around for another place to practice journalism. Layoffs and paycuts would scare me if I were you!

    It's a real sign of the times when newspapers are going out of business.

  3. Advertising has made the news available for little or no cost to the reader. It seems to me that the news will morph to a fully online business. I am perfectly willing to pay to read my paper online.

  4. Dearest Steve: I am come to u via Reya. Enuf said. Same wavelength, etc. I am in north Cali, it is late, I had a very busy day, and I have to work tomorrow. Early. So I will probably come across as bitchy. I'd prefer pithy, but too tired and late to argue.

    I, too, am sorry to see journalsim go the way of the dinosaur. But maybe journalism is just in a state of karmic evolution. Investigative reporting and citing references seems to be coming extinct. I certainly don't agree with that. When did that start to disappear? With blogging and twittering? Blogs are filled with so much opinion but, beyond that, few want to commit to the journalistic code. No one wants to take responsibility anymore whether it be a positional stance or a global statement. Bless you for your humble work.

    I read the post on Shadows and Light. Return to the Primordial Soup, I will. Legacy, Shmegacy, if the populus carries the energy of that for more than a day or two, I will be surprised.


  5. so glad to spend time catching up with you a bit Steve. now i remember why i've not yet ever quite given up blogging...

    i wonder how many - which - of our C20th "fundamentals" will survive long term and which wont? Its hard to imagine real journalism not surviving in some form.

    The most-read newspapers on the commuter trains in london at the mo. seem to be a few free newspapers which are presumably sustained entirely through advertising... Not that they have a quality of journalism to match the broadsheets, but its an interesting phenomenon.

    i hope you're going to be ok though, it is strange and stressful wondering if your 'career' is going to somehow end or disappear.

  6. Rachel Maddow did a piece on her show last week about the importance of newspapers in democracies. It's part of the system. Without them, what's going to happen?

    My roommate's architectural firm has laid off more than 2/3 of its staff. He's still employed, though currently he's sitting at a desk surrounded by empty desks. It is not a happy time for him.

    Sending you love and good energy.

    I LOVE the picture. Wow.

  7. Hi Steve,

    Just catching up...will e-mail later. Take care!

  8. I buy several newspapers everyday. Sometimes more than several.

  9. i hate tv news, still prefer to read it.