Tag Archives: newspapers

Journalism craft in serious trouble

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!

What will become of ‘newspapers’?

I feel the need to put the word “newspapers” in quote marks because of a trend I am sensing.

It is that “newspapers” as we have known them — and some of us have revered them — are on their last legs. At least that is my sense.

Friends ask me all the time, even though I’ve been out of the full-time newspaper game for nearly six years, what I project for the craft I pursued for nearly four decades.

The term “newspaper” will become obsolete. Media organizations are going to have to come up with a new name for their method of distributing information and reporting on the news of the day. As a matter of fact, many newspapers no longer refer to the place where reporters and editors work as “newsrooms”; they call them “information centers,” or terms such as that. News “copy” is now called “content,” and newspapers themselves are now referred to as “the product.”

When will this occur? I don’t know. I fear the pace of that day’s arrival might be accelerating. The Salt Lake Tribune recently announced widespread layoffs; it is just the latest major metropolitan daily newspaper to scale back its work force in the face of plummeting circulation and advertising revenue.

So many others have gone through it.

The Amarillo Globe-News is one of them. I worked there for nearly 18 years. Then I quit in August 2012 in the midst of a company “reorganization.” Just this past year, the paper quit printing its daily editions in Amarillo; it’s being done in Lubbock, at the presses of another newspaper under the same corporate ownership.

Then in October of this past year, Morris Communications sold its entire chain of newspapers to GateHouse Media. The consolidation has continued, with the Lubbock and Amarillo newspapers operating under a single senior management team: a regional publisher and editor, both of who split their time between Amarillo and Lubbock.

Do you see a trend here? I don’t know where this will all end. I probably shouldn’t even care — but I do, having devoted my entire professional career to newspapers as we all knew them, grew up with them, loved them and hated them.

I will mourn the day they disappear.

Pain continues in newspaper industry

My heart sank again this week when I learned of the huge layoffs at the Salt Lake Tribune, once known as one of the nation’s better newspapers.

The paper released roughly a third of its newsroom staff. Many of those who were let go are among the best journalists in Utah.

Is any of this new? Sadly, no. It is happening across the country. Major metro papers are feeling the pain, along with mid-size papers and the mom/pop shops.

The culprit? The Internet!

The solution? It’s harder to identify.

Media outlets, namely newspapers, are continuing to struggle to find a business model that fits in this new Information Age … or maybe I should call it the “Disinformation Age.”

The Salt Lake Tribune is suffering from plummeting revenue as readers no longer subscribe the printed paper and advertisers look for other outlets to hawk their wares.

This sickens me.

I came of age professionally at a time when newspapers attracted young Americans who wanted to do good things. They wanted to make a difference in their communities. I admit to being smitten in the early 1970s by the reporting performed in Washington, D.C., although I had begun my college studies before Watergate and the fallout it produced.

There’s no intent to disparage the quality of the reporting being done now, today, as it regards what is happening in D.C. Newspapers are continuing to report and they’re continuing to fulfill their mission.

Since newspapers and other media are for-profit organizations, they need to make money to survive. If readers stop reading, and advertisers stop advertising, then it follows naturally that newspapers are going to struggle.

That story is unfolding in Salt Lake City and in communities across the land. It’s happening in Portland, where I grew up reading a newspaper that achieved the greatness to which its publisher and editors aspired. It’s damn sure happening in Beaumont and Amarillo, Texas, where I toiled for three decades; both cities’ newspapers are decimated shells of their former selves.

Newspaper owners, I am saddened to say, have yet to adapt to the changing business climate that has stripped them of their livelihood.

There will be more sad stories to tell.

‘Do you miss what you did?’ Yes … and no!

People who know me through the work I did for nearly four decades ask me the same question, albeit a bit differently, all the time.

“Do you miss it?” they ask. “It” is my career in print journalism. It was my craft for nearly 37 years. It was my identity in three communities where I worked: first in Oregon City, Ore., and then in Beaumont and Amarillo, both in Texas. People who said they “knew” me actually only knew my work. My picture appeared in newspapers alongside my columns; my name appeared on editorial page mastheads.

Did they “know” me? Not really.

But the craft I enjoyed so much is changing rapidly. Newspapers no longer distribute as many copies each day. Publishers say they’re committed to what they call “the print product,” but many of us believe differently.

The changing times have claimed many talented print journalists. One of them recently called it a career. He walked away from a job at a major metro daily newspaper to take a job with a public television station.

The bad news is that the newspaper has lost an astonishing talent. The good news is that this young man is going to continue a new form of journalism, which he will meld into TV production.

His story will end up well, no matter where his life’s journey takes him. He’s got a long way to go before it’s finished.

But as I grow older and am farther removed from the career I enjoyed for so many years, the less connected I feel toward those who still practice this noble craft. Sure, they remain friends. I have many of them scattered throughout the country.

However, as I count the number of people with whom I have shared this craft — and this includes men and women who are much younger than I am — the list of former print journalists is outpacing those who are still hard at it.

I remain proud of the career I pursued. I also am proud of those who continue to fight through the amazing change that is occurring within the craft.

They still are answering a noble calling, which is to report the news fairly and without bias. Whether they report for a newspaper, or for a public TV station, or for an online “publication,” they are performing a priceless public service to a public that still relies on them for information in its purest form.

Do I miss working in that environment? Yes — even though I spent the bulk of my career writing opinion. Do I miss the media tumult that broke out just a few years before my career came to its sudden end? Not in the least.

Those who are still hitting it hard have earned my respect and admiration.

Those who have gone on to — as they say on occasion — “pursue other interest” have my best wishes.

My own future lies with this blog.

Saluting the good editors out there

The blog attached here hits me at a couple of levels. One of them saddens me; the other offers me a chance to salute my former colleagues who get too few accolades.

https://lacksalot.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/regretting-the-error-a-life-in-newspapers/

The blog talks about a “life in newspapers” and the mistakes that get made whenever you produce that things that ends up — or used to end up — on people’s front porches every day.

Like the writer of the blog I’ve attached, I also spent a life in newspapers. My lifespan lasted 37 years. It ended suddenly nearly three years ago. I’ve moved on.

But as the blog notes, mistakes happen when you produce a newspaper. Hey, we’re all human, right? As one of my former editors used to say, the fact that a paper gets shipped out daily “is nothing short of a miracle,” given all the things that can — and sometimes do — go wrong.

My two takeaways:

* Newspapers as we’ve known them are fading away. They’re being produced these days with fewer people. The Denver Post recently announced more buyouts and layoffs of newsroom employees. That means the newspaper will continue to go to press each day, but fewer people are on hand to shepherd that process.

What does that mean? It means more pressure is being applied to those employees. More pressure means more stress. More stress means shorter attention spans. Shorter attention spans means more errors, such as the one noted in the blog about the “amphibious” baseball pitcher. The operative word should have been “ambidextrous.” You and I know the difference between the words’ meaning. But when you rely too heavily on computer spell-check technology and less on human knowledge of the English language, well, you get that kind of mistake.

There’s more of that going on. It’s happening everywhere, such as at the newspaper where my career ended.

It saddens me terribly.

* Good copy editors are invaluable and deserve more praise for doing a good job. When a newspaper publishes what’s known as a “head bust,” the copy editor responsible for approving that page gets the heat. Yes, that shouldn’t happen. But for all the head busts that see print, we never see the mistakes that are caught and corrected. By whom? The individuals with the responsibility of ensuring that mistakes do not find their way into the finished newspaper.

Too often, we take those individuals for granted. We expect them to do their job, which is not an unreasonable expectation. But when they do their job well, we need to appreciate all they do openly.

I’ve had the honor of editing news copy during the length of my career. I’m doing it now, as a matter of fact, while helping a friend produce a weekly newspaper. It’s a blast and I’m having fun.

The stress, though, is palpable.

As the newspaper industry that we’ve known is evolving into something we cannot yet define, we’re putting more stress on fewer people.

We need to sing the praises of those who do their job well.

 

This news was no surprise, but it still hurts

Have you ever heard of a development you more or less knew was coming but were still unnerved by it when it arrived?

It happened to me today with word that the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for 17 years and 8 months before quitting under duress, is shutting down its presses and will be printed at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 120 miles south.

The A-J is a sister publication of the Globe-News, both of which are owned by Morris Communications out of Augusta, Ga.

Where do I begin in trying to assess what this means to what’s left of the Globe-News’s readership base?

A lengthy essay in today’s G-N by the publisher, Lester Simpson, seeks to cast this news in highly positive tones.

It’s positive, all right, if the intent is to make the G-N even more profitable than it already is. It will do so by cutting production staff, tearing out its presses and perhaps selling the material as scrap or to someone who can use the antiquated equipment. There will be cost-sharing with the A-J in trucking the papers from Lubbock to Amarillo for distribution.

What are the negatives?

Let’s start with deadlines. Simpson said the paper will continue to guarantee home delivery by 6 a.m. That means the deadlines will be set earlier in the evening, given that it will take two hours to transport the papers north on Interstate 27 for delivery. What happens, then, if news breaks at, say, 10 p.m.? It won’t be reported in the next day’s paper, given that the paper likely will have been “put to bed,” to borrow a time-honored term.

The Globe-News used to pride itself on delivering the latest news possible to its readers. That promise, it seems to me, no longer will be kept.

And what does that do to the readership base that still depends on the paper? Well, by my way of thinking, it gives those readers one less reason to subscribe. That will be revenue lost. Advertisers who buy into the paper do so with the hope of reaching more  readers, not fewer of them.

Simpson writes that the company remains committed to print journalism. It’s also seeking to enter the digital age, right along with other media companies. And what are those companies doing to compete with each other — and with other media? They’re reducing the number of days they deliver the paper to home subscribers.

Therein, I believe, lies the next step in the Globe-News’s evolution from a once-good newspaper to a still-undefined entity.

The publisher doesn’t address the next step, of course, in his essay. I wouldn’t expect him to do so.

However, that’s the trend. In my time as a Morris employee, I didn’t see much evidence of a company willing or able to resist the national media tide.

Many folks knew this day was coming. It still is a punch in the gut.