The cuts of the last three years, plus generally improving economic news, have led some to believe that the worst is behind print newsrooms.
Consider this a wake-up call. The worst is not behind us. Not unless we proactively chart a new course.
Print circulation continues to decline, advertising tends to follow suit and there’s no convincing evidence that online dollars are flowing in fast enough to fill the void.
If you don’t believe this, consider yesterday’s news:
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lays off six, including four copy editors, a manager and a photographer.
- Gannett announces that janitorial services at several properties will be outsourced to ABM, a facilities management group.
- AOL’s online Patch operation lays off 20 by consolidating regions.
If that wasn’t enough, check out this morning’s story on Poynter.org that highlights the drastic changes in copy flow under way at the Bay Area News Group (which includes the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News) and the Denver Post.
If you’re still unmoved, look at the first quarter earnings for major media companies announced in the past month. Generally speaking, the newspaper divisions all are losing money.
I recently mused to a high-ranking media executive outside my company that I wondered where it was all going.
The response was brutally and beautifully blunt.
We know where it’s going. I just don’t know what anybody can do about it.
Even those companies that have been hiring (MLive in Michigan, for instance) appear to have created openings by shedding legacy print jobs (in Grand Rapids, for example) and coming at things from an online perspective.
They’re the new competitors, and they do so with fewer costs. If today’s Patch announcement is revelatory at all, it’s an indication that even they still hadn’t streamlined enough.
This isn’t to say all is lost. It is to say that tough decisions remain.
Many large Metro newspapers continue to serve two or more masters — time- and cost-intensive print products that bring in a large but shrinking share of the income and less costly but lower-revenue online operations.
What to do?
Clearly, we need to reduce redundancies. Newspaper newsrooms are competing with online-mostly operations like MLive (in Michigan), Patch or Huffington Post or a hundred local blogs, none of which go through the laborious processes that print products do. We need to streamline the often repetitive methods that helped us soar in a previous era but which weigh us down today.
We need to maintain the quality and credibility standards that have made our brands stand apart.
We need to increase the amount of unique content that makes us relevant. We need to seek out the hard and important things that we can do and no one else can replicate.
We need to work harder. All of us. We can’t afford down time. We need to work every minute as though our jobs depended on it.
We need to cut to the core and prepare to cut more.
We can’t be coddled into thinking that the building isn’t burning just because nobody on our floor is yelling “fire!”
Ask the janitors.