Friday, January 2, 2009 at 9:31 a.m.
I've been documenting the downsizing of newspapers here for the past couple of years, so I guess it was bound to happen. My newspaper, which has largely avoided the carnage, has been cutting not just empty positions, but people. And the bloodletting has happened at several other newspapers owned by our parent, Village Voice Media.
Just before Christmas two of our best, Managing Editor Edmund Newton and Music Editor Jonathan Cunningham, were told their positions were vanishing due to budget cuts. Before that, Art Director James Lowe's employment was terminated when his position was combined with our sister paper in Miami.
The good news is that Cunningham is taking another position in the VVM chain, as music editor at Seattle Weekly. But Newton, a talented and veteran journalist who has been a rock for the staff during a rather turbulent couple of years, and Lowe weren't so fortunate.
The timing was terrible, but when exactly is a good time to be told you're losing your job? Rather wait until just after Christmas?
That's what the Village Voice chose to do. Voice Editor Tony Ortega, who was editor here at New Times Broward-Palm Beach before leaving for New York in 2007, called iconic columnist Nat Hentoff and told him he no longer had a job on December 30. Also given pink slips were Lynn Yaeger and Chloe A. Hilliard
. At the same time, the OC Weekly in California, another one of our VVM papers, laid off Managing Editor Rich Kane, Clubs Editor Nate Jackson, and staff writer/columnist Vickie Chang
. On top of that, the VVM paper in Kansas City, The Pitch, cut the jobs of three newsroom employees, including much-decorated food writer Charles Ferruzza.
It adds up to a very painful week. Those left behind can only hope the economy stabilizes and a rather risky strategy works. The Village Voice Media company
, which includes 15 weeklies, is doing what every other desperate newspaper company in the country is doing: fleeing to the Internet. The newspapers have shifted a large amount of editorial resources (aka reporters' time) to the Web, initiating staff blogs that include an editor posting all day and staffers contributing regularly as well (our staff blog, The Juice
, edited by Thomas Francis, is an example). For a primer on the "uberblogger" strategy, read this piece
(on a blog, of course) from Westword's Michael Roberts.
"We've gone from selling a weekly to a daily model," VVM COO Scott Tobias tells Roberts. "We're selling 24/7... We feel like we're going from a print product to a web platform with a print piece."
There you have it folks. I don't write for a newspaper anymore, but a "web platform with a print piece." The semantics don't bother me in the least, though. The death of newspapers as we know them doesn't really concern me that much either. Newspapers are just vehicles for what really matters: good journalism and a viable business model.
Good journalism takes time -- and nobody can properly report many high-quality stories posting on a blog all day. Fortunately, our staff writers still spend the vast majority of their time writing those cover stories that make NT unique. My editor, Eric Barton, tells me both he and the company are dedicated to making sure we continue to produce great long-form journalism, and that is encouraging. We may be somewhat diminished in that regard, but we're still firmly in the game. I feel like I've struck a decent balance between the Pulp and the column -- and this new superblog-newspaper mix may be the right balance chain-wide.
Here's a truism from Bertolt Brecht: "Grub first, then ethics." All of that high-falutin' stuff about journalism goes overboard if you don't have another kind of black ink: profits. Every newspaper company in America is sinking more and more resources into the Web, but what will come in return? Some reports indicate not much in the way of revenues
. Projections that I've seen show that online revenues won't equal print revenues for at least another decade. The newspaper industry almost surely has a lot of dicey years ahead of it regardless of the overall economy. Miami Herald Editor Anders Gyllenhaal calls the printed newspaper the "mothership." I hope that in the rush to try to capitalize on the Internet, and as the thing that comes on the doorstep and in boxes on the street gets whittled down to a stub, we don't sink her before her time. Because we may all go down with that ship.