The eulogies for the newspaper industry are starting to become almost commonplace, as the generation that matured and worked during the Salad Days of the 70s and 80s totters off into the sunset. Mark Heisler, the NBA beat writer at the LA Times, has weighed in with a long piece at TruthDig about what the last couple years under Tribune and Zell have been like.
The last round of layoffs at the LA Times was described as particularly hard to handle, as writers and editors who had devoted their lives to the industry were unceremoniously disposed of … reminds me of a scene I saw early in my career as a paparazzi here in L.A., where the workers at Cedars-Sinai hospital played H-O-R-S-E with sacks of squelchy “medical waste” that used to be parts of living human beings, tossing the greasy, bloody offal into the incinerator bin. Something about the blithe way that these people went about their day was just revolting and compelling at the same time.
If that seems a little stomach-churning to you, then you won’t want to read Heisler’s account of how the past two decades have gone at what used to be one of the world’s great newspapers. The waves of clueless management that have run the place into the ground have made the few newsroom survivors pretty much inured to whatever comes next. There used to be outrage, dire warnings of what the future would hold … that because fewer people were out there trying to report The Truth, society would start to disintegrate.
These days, the outrage has fizzled out; the flame wars that used to be de rigueur on all the “Inside the Newsroom” type blogs, defeated by the realization that Nothing Matters, Nothing Works, and Doom Is Certain. Most journalists leave these days, trying to appear chirpy and optimistic about all the exciting new opportunities in store for them at whatever cutrate Content Farm accepts their resume, while the pressroom guys watch their icebergs melt as well…
Heisler’s take is a little less sanguine, and benefits from his decades of experience, watching the entire industry implode:
It shouldn’t be a surprise that bad things
happen when an industry has been under the gun year after year, decade
after decade, century after century.
At 67, one NBA season from retirement (I
thought), the rising tide of BS was enough to prompt me (and, I’m sure,
half of the building, including bosses) to muse about throwing the job
in their faces.
One of the things that Heisler manages to do is to separate out the death of American newspapers from the growth of the internet, which is commendable and rare. Heisler has the perspective of 40-some-odd years in the industry, so he’s seen that things were not exactly going swimmingly, even before we all started installing second phone lines back in the late 90s, to hear the “SQUEEE-chirr-[white noise]” as we connected to AOL/CompuServe/NetZero.
I guess what struck me most was the tone of resignation. Every quarter, newsrooms will be cut. Valuable people will have their lives destroyed. Society will get worse. Dog bites man. What else ya got…?