Thursday, July 02, 2009

More newspaper troubles

The Gannett Co., the country's largest newspaper chain (84 dailies including USA Today, plus 850 nondaily papers and 23 TV stations), is laying off 1,400 employees. The ongoing layoff count company-wide can be found on Gannettoid.com, which shows that most papers in the chain have had several round of layoffs in recent months. I have a friend who works at the Indianapolis Star (for the moment, anyway) and has hung on to her job so far, but her paper's union just voted down a 12 percent pay cut request from management by a vote of 97-9, because they knew perfectly well that such a concession would not avoid further big layoffs.

Robert Phelps, an old New York Times hand, thinks the industry has some kind of future, once people realize the blogosphere has no quality control or original sourcing:

What you have there now is almost an unedited cacophony, a Tower of Babel, with everybody saying what they want. They get they’re reporting from where? Because they read the newspapers mostly.

I think that the public will realize eventually — they’re going to zero in on things they can trust. And the advertisers will learn that. There’s a lot of advertising that when the economy improves will go back to newspapers. It won’t be as much. There’s no question about the Internet reach. I’m sure newspapers won’t be the way they were.

I think they’ll discover that the missing ingredient on the Internet is the lack of editing. It’s a tough thing to fight because people want something for nothing

I wish I could believe him, but I'm afraid it's wishful thinking, for these reasons:

  1. People are willing to pay only when they have no choice. They'd rather have a crappy product for free than a good product that costs something. Everything was swell when newspapers were the only game in town -- there was room for scads of papers in New York alone, and they all charged something -- but not any more.
  2. Cynicism alert: Most people can't tell good journalism from poor journalism, and most of those who can tell don't care, or are willing to trade quality for cost (see above). As either P.T. Barnum or H.L. Mencken said, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

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