The Chronicle’s announcement earlier this month that 100 newsroom jobs will be slashed in the coming weeks in the face of mounting financial woes represents just the latest chapter in a tragic story of traditional journalism’s decline.
Reportedly losing an estimated $1 million a week, the paper’s owner, the Hearst Corp., concluded it had no recourse but to trim costs by laying off reporters, editors and other skilled professionals, or offering buyouts to the most seasoned journalists in order to induce them to leave. The cuts reportedly will amount to a quarter of The Chronicle’s editorial staff…
….The factors behind this shrinkage are sadly familiar: The rise of the Internet has produced sharp declines in traditional advertising revenues in the printed press. Free online advertising competitors such as Craigslist.com have sharply undermined classified advertising as a traditional source of revenue. While many newspapers have attempted mightily to forge a presence on the Web — including The Chronicle, whose terrific sfgate.com is among the top 10 most trafficked news sites in America — revenue from online advertising is paltry compared to that from traditional print sources. As a result, newspapers such as The Chronicle must make staff cuts to survive — and increasingly it is highly skilled professional journalists committed to seeking the truth and reporting it, independently and without fear or favor, who must go.
The average citizen may not realize how severely the public’s access to important news, gathered according to high standards, may be threatened by these bottom line trade-offs.
When journalists’ jobs are eliminated, especially as many as The Chronicle intends, the product is inevitably less than it was. The fact is there will be nothing on YouTube, or in the blogosphere, or anywhere else on the Web to effectively replace the valuable work of those professionals.
I can’t disagree more with what Neil is saying in this first part of his Op Ed, though I do agree with some of his conclusions (more on that later). I can’t tell you where I heard this, but trust me, it’s from a good source: Up until recently, the Chronicle had 400 journalists working at the paper. FOUR HUNDRED! When I wrote for the LA Times, I often wrote two stories a day. Is the Chronicle pumping out 800 stories a day? Is it breaking all sorts of amazing stories and being a leader in the community with those 400 journalists? Hell no! 400 reporters and what is the paper DOING with them? Not much, I’m afraid. The paper should OWN the Valley Tech story. Does it? No. It should OWN the biotech story. Does it? No. It should OWN the real estate/development story. Does it? No. It should OWN the California political story. Does it? No!
Why? Well, maybe it has THE WRONG 400 journalists working for it?! And the wrong tone/approach/structure? Just maybe?
Neil goes on to write:
I see a world where corporations such as Google and Yahoo continue to enrich themselves with little returning to journalistic enterprises, all this ultimately at the expense of legions of professional reporters across America, now out of work because their employers in “old” media could not afford to pay them…..
….the time has come for corporations such as Google to accept more responsibility for the future of American journalism, in recognition of the threat “computer science” poses to journalism’s place in a democratic society.
It is no longer acceptable for Google corporate executives to say that they don’t practice journalism, they only work to provide links to “content providers.” Journalism is not just a matter of jobs, and dollars and cents lost. It is a public trust vital to a free society. It stands to reason that Google and corporations like it, who indirectly benefit so enormously from the expensive labor of journalists, should begin to take on greater civic responsibility for journalism’s plight. Is it possible for Google to somehow engage and support the traditional news industry and important local newspapers more fully, for example, to become a vital part of possible solutions to this crisis instead of a part of the problem?
I agree with Neil’s sentiment, and in answer to his question, yes, I do think it’s possible, and I agree that Google and others should be more engaged in helping shore up and – GASP – evolve the fourth estate. But assuming the way to do it is to support more of the same – the approach that gave us a bloated newsroom that puts out a product fewer and fewer people want to read each year – is to ask for tenure over evolution.
I’d love to see Google and Yahoo and others lead here. I do think they have a responsibility. But not because they are responsible for “killing newspapers”. Rather, because they are responsible for leading, period, in a world where they are the premiere corporations of the information age, an age that requires analysis, transparency, and, well, simply good journalism, unfettered by traditionalist packaging presumptions.