Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Newspaper Layoffs as the Dead Tree Publications Slowly Die

image: could the headline on the left be a big part of the reason why the Grand Rapids Press is in deep financial trouble?

You have to wonder how long it will be before smaller newspapers give up trying to hang on with reduced content and simply fold altogether. This article doesn't say how many employees the two Michigan papers in question had to start with, but I can't imagine that this layoff notice doesn't represent a significant decimation of their respective work forces:
The Grand Rapids Press and the Kalamazoo Gazette will lay off more than 200 workers combined as part of a massive corporate overhaul, according to letters sent to the state early this month.

The Grand Rapids Press will lay off 146 employees in January, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) letter sent to Manager of the Workforce Investment Act Stephanie Beckhorn on Nov. 2.

According to another Nov. 2 letter, the Kalamazoo Gazette will lay off 77 employees.

The 223 positions being terminated range from officer managers and clerks, to press operators and technicians, to sales people and editors.

Both layoffs will be effective Jan. 2, 2012.
It is likely getting to the point where these smaller papers will be reduced to mostly featuring wire service content with little local news whatsoever. Which, of course, will make it much easier for corruption among municipal government officials to thrive.

Unlike with the decline of hard copy books, this development is not nearly as distressing to me. Newspapers might have had a chance to save themselves these past 10 years has they continued to play their traditional role of being a watchdog against government abuses. Instead, most became companionable lap cats, rarely questioning the status quo while focusing on the same utterly irrelevant, celebrity-obsessed trivia as television. By doing so in the Internet age, they managed to make themselves completely irrelevant to the point where I won't miss them when they're finally gone.


  1. Hello Bill. I enjoy your take on our wretched condition and tend to agree with your analysis. But please show a little sympathy to the poor printers of the world. We worked our tails off for years at a very demanding trade and now have been been treated by technotriumphalists as retro dreck. We are still alive and still need to eat. I agree that newspapers have become lapdogs. The pressmen don't control content and now the unfortunates of the Grand Rapids Press will join the ranks of the unemployed, no doubt to be retrained as male nurses or lap dancers. Hal2000 didn't cut our air line, but it would have been quicker and more merciful if he had.
    Thanks for your well written and thoughtful blog.

    Ken Davis

  2. Hi,

    As a reporter for one of those small papers, I think you need to be more specific: The papers that print "utterly irrelevant, celebrity-obsessed trivia" are usually the ones that belong to the major corporate chains. Some of us DO try to focus on local issues and to bring big-picture stuff to the local level, although that can be challenging b/c we're often seen as a stepping-stone to elsewhere.

    Small-paper reporters often don't stay long enough to develop the decent institutional knowledge needed to SEE local gov't problems or understand the players involved. They often come right out of college and, quite frankly, know nothing except the mechanics of news writing (if we're lucky). But they're dumped into a job where they're expected to be able to cover everything from local gov't to schools to crime to arts to whatever comes up at random, typically with a very small staff of colleagues who are equally overstretched and don't have time to actually train them properly.

    The big papers have no such excuse — they're just unwilling to pay for the time needed to conduct good investigations. That's usually b/c they're now parts of huge conglomerates with too many interlocking fiscal conflicts of interest &/or too dependent on corrupt advertisers to challenge them.

  3. @Ken Davis - my apologies if I didn't make it clear that my anger was directed at the management of the newspapers who were the ones who drove the industry into the ground with their bad decision making. Sadly, like many other industries the workers in the newspaper business are the ones who are suffering from the bad management of their bosses. I do very much empathize with the people losing their jobs because of all this.

  4. @gus - you are absolutely correct. My particular ire is actually with the Washington Post, whose editorial board has been completely captured by the neocons and which cheerleaded every belligerent move of the Bush administration yet is still laughably called a "liberal media" bastion. Just like with the radio business (which I covered a few weeks back) and the television news, consolidation into large chains is the very worst thing that ever happened to the newspaper industry.

    I actually miss being able to blow a couple of hours on a Sunday morning perusing through the Sunday edition. What a sad state of affairs. :(