Today brings news that at least three major metropolitan dailys, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as the Boston Globe, plan to slash their payrolls in an effort to stay profitable even as their readership continues to flee.
One can always hope that in making these cuts--4% a the Times and 16% at the Inquirer, and whatever the planned figure is at the Globe--they will move to improve the publications by cashiering the laziest, least principled journalists and the ones who have spent their days sucking up to the wealthy and the powerful.
Alas, this much to be desired result seems wildly unlikely. First of all, all three publications will first offer voluntary buyouts to employees, to get people to agree on their own to quit.
While that could lead to some salutary departures of some of the highly paid senior staff who have long since ceased being real journalists, the likelihood is that many of the three publications' better reporters and editors, seeing the grim handwriting on the wall of a dying enterprise, will take the opportunity to grab a big severance check and move on to better venues, leaving the papers worse even than before. That’s something that, in the case of the Inquirer, is hard to imagine, and that in the case of the Times, requires some effort (I can’t speak for the Globe, as I don’t read it often, though I know it, too, is a shadow of its earlier self).
The real joke is that cutting staff is not going to save any of these sinking garbage skows. The Times has become such a sad joke--still calling itself the nations's "paper of record," with that silly motto "All the news that's fit to print," but routinely failing to cover the important news of the day. The Inquirer, meanwhile, actually made a conscious decision a few years back to reduce its coverage of the city of Philadelphia, its home, in favor of doing puffy stories from bureaus in the burbs. The hope was that by offering the supposedly more conservative denizens of suburbia "news-lite" features about their communities, the once famous muckraking journal would gain readership where the moneyed classes lived. Knight-Ridder management cynically decided that the largely minority and poor dwellers of the gritty city that is Philadelphia, and their magnificently corrupt city government, weren't worth the effort, since advertizers don't really care about those readers anyway. In the end, the effort has been a predictable disaster: the Inquirer offers little news of significance concerning the city, and little news anyone cares about concerning the suburbs, so readership is down everywhere.
The new personnel cuts will only make these journalistic embarrassments even worse and even less critical to the daily life of the people in their circulation areas, which will lead to a predictable further decline in circulation and to future cuts in personnel. Nor are these likely to be the only papers making such a move. With most newspapers now in corporate clutches, and with the managers of the media conglomerates demanding unattainable profits, the downward spiral of jobs and the abdication of any sense of journalistic mission will only accelerate in newspapers across the nation.
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