Downsizing the news and pretending to increase quality
By Walter Brasch
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Aug 21, 2008, 00:08
Executive management at the Allentown Morning Call
recently laid off more than two dozen persons from its newsroom, most of them
veteran reporters drawing higher salaries. Management plans to cut 35�40
positions, according to a letter sent by publisher Timothy Johnson. The cuts
are about one-fourth of the news staff. The remaining reporters are being told
to write more stories under the same deadline constraints. Coverage of local
meetings has been put into secondary importance; bureaus have been combined.
The Morning Call is not alone.
About 85 percent of all dailies with more than 100,000
circulation, and about half of all dailies with circulations under 100,000,
have cut the number of reporters and editors, according to a survey conducted
by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. During the first half of
this year, newspapers laid off or froze more than 6,500 news positions. This
was the biggest loss in three decades, according to the American Society of
With the layoffs, news quality has suffered. A newsroom
filled with younger reporters -- they aren�t paid as much as the senior
reporters who were terminated or laid off -- leaves a newspaper vulnerable to a
newsroom with less knowledge of the community and how to gather, report, and
write news. Almost no newspapers have proofreaders. About 40 percent of all
newspapers report they have fewer copyeditors today than just two years ago. No
proofreaders means more typos. Fewer copyeditors means sloppier copy, more
factual error, and a lot more stories that are incomplete.
During the past few years, newspaper owners demanded and
were getting a 20�40 percent profit, among the highest for any industry -- and
that includes Big Oil. With newsrooms and the news product already lean, the
owners kept taking and taking.
And now there�s an economic recession. Subscribers are
questioning their annual $150�$250 investments. Businesses are folding, and the
ones remaining are reducing newspaper-advertising budgets.
Go to any journalism conference, and you�ll see a lot of hand
wringing. Reporters and editors are whining about how bad it is. They rightly
blame owners and publishers. But, they also blame readers for accepting
abbreviated news drops from TV and myriad cable networks. They whine about the
Blogosphere and Internet domination. They complain about the short attention
span of their readers. It�s this and it�s that. And so, with the help of $500
an hour consultants who eruditely harrumph their grandeur of divine guesses,
they make cosmetic changes. They follow the 24/7 cable networks and increase entertainment
and gossip. They give us more syrupy �feel good� news. They say they want to be
�relevant.� Editors at the Morning Call, like many newspapers, are placing light features and how-to
columns higher than hard news. Some changes improve the product, most are Band-Aids.
A decade ago, the American Society of Newspaper Editors published a study that
revealed Americans wanted less, not more, sensationalism, gossip, and celebrity
news. Apparently, no one was listening to the people.
The system is broken, and it�s the owners� fault. They have
already �maximized profits� by low salaries and minimal benefits, giving
veteran reporters �involuntary terminations,� significantly reduced employee
education programs, cut the number of pages, reduced the page size, and
increased the use of material provided by syndicates rather than local news
staff. These latest cuts are deep into the muscle. Owners of the Morning
Call, like owners at hundreds of
other newspapers, apparently believe that reducing quality improves profits.
The owners of the newspaper industry need a course in Basic Journalism 101.
Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and president of the
Pennsylvania Press Club. He is senior author of the critically-acclaimed �The
Press and the State,� and author of ��Unacceptable�: The Federal Response to
Hurricane Katrina� (January 2006) and �Sinking the Ship of State: The
Presidency of George W. Bush� (November 2007), available through amazon.com. You
may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org
or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com.
- A quality news product
will increase circulation.
- Increased circulation will
bring more advertising.
- More advertising brings
better profits and allows even more news quality.
- Cutting reporters,
benefits, employee training, and news coverage is not the way to save
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