August 28, 2013

Breathtaking cuts at Gannett newspapers, breathtaking

ELMIRA, New York, USA - The people in charge of the business side of newspapers rode high in 60s and 70s and even the 80s. Profits were huge. Newspapers were a way print money.

Family owned newspapers were swallowed up by well-funded print-predator corporations interested almost exclusively in the money-making aspects of the publications, not their communities or how vital the newspapers were to keeping the people informed.

And then all hell broke loose, profits started to slide, all resulting in an industry headed in a downward death spiral for decades. The Gannett Corporation, once one of the biggest players in the newspaper industry, in recent weeks dumped another 400-500 employees from its newspapers already working with skeleton staffs.

Here's a link to a blog by Gannett staff (and former staff) with details: Gannett Blog

At the same time, the corporation is going to pay $2.2 billion to purchase the television stations owned by the Belo Corporation. It will take Gannett's total TV station holdings to 43.

Television, you see, is the new way to print money.

But the purchase of the television station and the layoffs have no connection say Gannett executives. None. It's doubtful any newspaper reporter or editor still working for the tattered remains of Gannett believe that for a nanosecond.

If they do, they should quit and go to work for Fox News.

Perhaps what has me the most torqued is the ruthless way the corporation is going about the layoffs - in some cases waiting for people to go on vacation, then presenting them with a pink slip when they return. Or maybe it's the corporate doublespeak about how the layoffs will actually result in better newspapers. Frankly, If I read a statement from another newspaper publisher about how he or she is right-sizing their publication, I will barf.

Many people say the newspaper industry's financial woes - decades of declines in paid advertising - started with  the Internet and all that free content. If so, the management did that to themselves. They didn't have to give it away for free.

But a better analysis is that the corporate raiders who bought the newspapers didn't give a crap about the quality of them. And so as the quality declined, readers stop subscribing. Fewer readers meant fewer advertisers wanted to buy ads. That meant less revenue. Less revenue meant more layoffs. More layoffs meant a decline in quality.

And on and on we go.

Don't count newspapers out completely. There are pockets of excellence still. And some weekly newspapers - those not owned by vampire corporations - are doing just fine, maybe better than fine.

But right now many career Gannett journalists are out of work, with even more layoffs likely.

After all, $2.2 billion is hardly small change, even for a media company like Gannett.

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