Man, I didn’t think there was anyone left at the Chronicle to fire – and here I read that they just canned 151 more people?
Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings & general slow self-asphyxiation. Surprise! He just got canned in the latest round of layoffs, and has written an impassioned letter questioning what’s left of journalism these days.
In his letter, Vigil does raise a valid point, about how journalists are encouraged to criticize every other leader besides the guys in charge of the media companies that they work for.
Hereâ€™s my stupid question: Why is it that journalists are allowed (and even encouraged) to publicly challenge, question and criticize everyone elseâ€™s boss — except for their own?
If we as newspaper journalists arenâ€™t allowed to place the same kind of public pressure on our own authorities, who will? Does anyone truly believe that the leaders of The Chronicle and other dying newspapers across the country donâ€™t deserve the same level of scrutiny?
It’s long been a truism in the industry that the story that the press covers the least (and the worst) is themselves. The fruits of that neglect are now becoming clear to all of us.
What would have happened if, back in the 80s, the industry had really done an in-depth investigation of what was plainly obvious to anyone working in & around papers that were being snapped up by chains like Gannett? Every journalist I knew then talked about how being bought by Gannett meant that the paper was stripped of everything that made it distinct, and the best talent was shipped off to toil at the USA Today, while the newly installed publishers were under tremendous pressure to “make their numbers,” and sought to do so by widening circulation by any means necessary. This model was quickly copied by other large & rapacious chains, who took advantage of the relaxation of media ownership rules to start a feeding frenzy on small papers and TV & radio stations.
Which meant that smaller staffs were whipped like dogs to produce copy that could be wrapped around the ads. That fat colorful graphic packages were produced to “engage” the readers and give them the sense that they were actually learning something from the paper, while longer investigative projects – and particularly those troublesome community-defending “crusades” were quietly taken out back and shot.
Yeah, I know, there are always exceptions to these broad generalizations. I am quite certain that a lot of the smaller papers that get consumed by the big chains continued to do the best they could with what they had.
But the problems only accelerated in the 90s, and I recall very little mention of it at the time. Perhaps we had become inured to it by that point. It was the inexorable trend, so we might as well figure out how to exist under it.
What would have happened if, sometime in the 90s, reporters and editors had started making it as much of a priority to report about what was happening to the news business … maybe some fraction of the news hole that was allocated to oh, say, the O.J. Simpson case?
Again – I know – long analysis stories about the consolidation of news outlets hardly grabs the same numbers as the White Bronco freeway chase.
At some point in the last 20 years, the news business started turning out products that the citizens of the United States decided they could pretty much do without. There were mutterings about it, but nobody really started screeching until we found ourselves stuck in this blind alley from which there seems to be no exit.
One last happy graf to leave you with:
The prestigious stock-rating firm of Morningstar says that two big newspaper chains, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises, may be worth zero. “McClatchy stock could be worth nothing,” says Morningstar, adding that Lee Enterprises “shares could lose their entire value.” Fair value of each is listed at $0.00. Both are deep in debt.