Sunday morning quarterback
When I started writing about last week's layoffs, I had simple purpose: To give an account of what was happening in an often overlooked corner of the Singleton empire, and one that has little capacity to report on itself.
When the first eight comments came in, I knew I had record-breaking traffic. After all, my daily readership generally hovers in the single digits.
Predictably, this number jumped when Kevin Roderick at LA Observed linked to the blog, but I've been more impressed at how the Singleton staff (former and current) has seized the comments section to air its grievances, mourn its losses and, in some cases, savage its perceived oppressors. I've done little more than provide a forum, which I'm happy to do.
But people are paying attention. So, what do we do now? How do we make the jump and continue to give this story the attention it deserves?
For one, I'd suggest we avoid getting bogged down in insider-y gossip and vitriol. Isn't that what the Unisys messaging system is for? We should also avoid boring readers with tales of how much we hate our bosses and instead put our collective wisdom on display.
After all, these papers, as ragged as they are, are on the front lines of the journalism wars. They are standing at the very crossroads many media observers fear the newspaper industry could be approaching - and they've been waiting there for a while.
We saw waves of devastating cuts long before Thursday's pink slips went out. The newsrooms have struggled to cover growing cities with fewer and fewer reporters (the Pasadena Star-News now has six and a half reporters for more than a dozen cities). We've applied the gimmickry of the Readership Institute and Newspaper Next to little or no avail. We've tried to "innovate" without any investment, suffered an unforgiving economy, saw our futures mortgaged for the next good deal, and watched as our top editors were asked to put business first. We have been asked to go "hyperlocal" without any resources and under the direction of an out-of-state management team. Any discussion of newsroom standards seems to be drowned out by a debate over how best to market a failing business. (I say "we" only because I'm a former Singleton employee.)
So let's drag it all out into the light, without fear or favor, and without becoming overly fixated on the men who happened to be here when the beast began to slouch.
One of my projects in the coming days will be to go through the many comments and pull out some of the gems for consideration. Here's part of an entry from now-former Sun columnist Wes Hughes:
It’s hard to look at the Universe when your own little world is in flames.
These last few days have been difficult for all of us but unless you were one of those hit, it’s no different from what is going on at every newspaper in the United States from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times and from the Chicago Tribune to the Miami Herald.
We are all in a state of despair, whether we are in or out, whether we are here or in the East someplace. The newspaper world has been turned on its head and we are powerless to do anything about it.
From what I’ve been reading, the situation is worse in the MediaNews landscape than other places. It was precipitated by Wall Street, which waterboarded Knight-Ridder until it panicked and put itself up for sale and dissolution, which tempted a smaller McClatchy to get greedy and develop a critical case of dyspepsia. To get relief, it put some of its new properties on the auction block, and Dean Singleton, who didn’t have enough toys in his playroom, snapped at the bait (excuse my atrocious mix of metaphors). That was all well. The country was in the midst of a real estate boom and everything was fine, lots of ad revenue coming in. But that boom turned into a burst bubble and ad revenue went south, and those notes were coming due.
If the mortgage is due and you don’t have enough income, what do you do? You cut to save what you do have. And that‘s pretty much what happened to us.
We have to control our pain and start working on the future. Don’t shoot the messengers. We should know better, because as journalists we are the messengers. We bring the bad news to the world and sometimes it hates us for it.