This is not a scoop. Many of us have known this already: Journalism as we’ve known the craft is in serious trouble.
I noticed an article in The Nation that takes note of the recent sale of the New York Daily News, a newspaper that has won the Pulitzer Prize. It has just laid off roughly half of its newsroom staff.
The Daily News, though, is merely the latest in a long and growing line of once-great media organizations feeling the pinch, feeling the burn and feeling the pressure to find a business model to operate in a changing media climate.
It makes me grateful for my own departure from the craft I enjoyed and loved for so many years, even under the painful circumstances that brought it about. I resigned in August 2012 after being “reorganized” out of the job I did there for nearly 18 years. Yes, I’ve commented already on that. The truth is that in a perverse sort of way I am glad it happened, given the misery that has been inflicted on many of my former colleagues who have remained at their post.
John Nichols’s story in The Nation can be read here.
It’s a fascinating description of what has happened to a craft that brought many of us into it back in the day. Many of us answered some kind of call to make a difference. We wanted to help shape the world, to chronicle the news in our communities.
One of the dirty little secrets about newspapers is that they used to be a highly profitable business. Yes, they were labor-intensive. Newsrooms were full of reporters who covered various beats. They had editors who sought to improve the quality of the stories they would tell. There were photographers who provided visual images to to accompany the printed word.
With all that manpower on board, newspapers often operated at incredible profit margins, often exceeding 30, maybe 40 percent.
Those margins shrank in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Newspapers then had to reduce the overhead to maintain their amazing profitability. Believe me, I had a front-row seat as this happened, not just in Amarillo, Texas, where my career ended, but in Beaumont, Texas, where I also worked for nearly 11 years.
I went to work at the Amarillo Globe-News (which also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for Meritorious Public Service) in January 1995. When I got there, the paper published two editions daily — morning and evening. It had a combined daily circulation of more than 60,000 copies; its Sunday circulation hovered close to 80,000.
Those numbers have plummeted. So has the newspaper’s revenue and so has its labor force. It now publishes a morning newspaper with a staff that is a tiny fraction of the staff it used to employ. It has no staff photographers; its copy-editing functions have been centralized; it no longer prints the paper in Amarillo.
This circumstance is not unique to Amarillo, Texas. It has happened in communities across the land.
Am I sad? Of course I am. Am I glad to be gone from that madness? Boy, howdy!