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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More Dying Newspapers

The next two weeks at the San Francisco Chronicle are going to be bloody.

The paper announced recently that it would lay off 100 of its 400 editorial employees, including 20 in management. The first casualty was announced this week: Rosey Rosenthal, who has served as managing editor, the paper’s #2 position, will be gone as of Friday.

The deep cuts will complete a winnowing of the news staffs of all the Bay Area papers, started in the fall when Dean Singleton’s Media News bought out the former Knight-Ridder papers, the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times.

Rosenthal bemoaned the newspaper industry’s knee-jerk reaction to cut reporters as a way to reduce costs, saying it would come back to haunt the papers in the future.

"The reality is that in the last 10 or 12 years, the biggest creators - the journalists - have not been part of the conversation, the decisions," Rosenthal told Editor and Publisher. "Most newsrooms are getting smaller. The industry for 12 years has been in retreat."

Rosenthal also said he was not sure what impact the coming cuts would have on the paper, or why it has had to resort to such measures given the quality of work his staff produces. "I don't really understand it," he said of the Chronicle's poor financial situation. "I don't know why it has been such a difficult situation for the Chronicle on the business side."

Newspapers are cutting staff because readership of papers is declining and advertising dollars are drying up. More and more people are getting their news from the Internet – websites, blogs, podcasts, etc.

The irony is that news aggregators like Google and Yahoo! News gather stories written by trained journalists and clump them together on one page. But if there are fewer reporters getting those stories, who will produce the news?

UC Berkeley Journalism Professor Neil Henry posed this question in a recent op-ed piece for the Chronicle. He essentially accused Google and Yahoo of stealing content and challenged the companies to “pay up" by donating funds to train young journalists. (Like those Henry teaches at the J-School.)

"Not long ago, billionaire real estate executive Sam Zell, who earlier this year purchased the Tribune Co. family of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, made this point quite bluntly,” Henry wrote in his opinion piece. “He likened Google and Yahoo to modern- day pirates ripping off treasure produced by others. According to the Washington Post, Zell told a gathering at Stanford University in April, "If all the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be? Not very."

This is an important point. You would think the news aggregators could pay a licensing fee to post content. It would be a way to sustain their lifeblood – the reporters who get the stories – and probably could be incorporated into their business models.

Who will make that happen? It’s not really part of the dialogue or the thinking. If Google founder Sergey Brin can invest $3.5 million in his wife’s fledgling startup company, why can’t he tell Google to put a similar amount back into the news business?

If that kind of thinking doesn’t catch on, the next set of headlines will be about a new round of staff cuts. Pretty soon there won’t be anyone to report the news.

4 comments:

Gary Lang said...

The green text looks great on a dark page, but is almost unreadable in Google reader which shows your text on a white background. I suspect this would be true for almost any RSS reader.

The posts on the death of media distribution - in your case printed material - are a fascinating focus. More!

brettdl said...

I disagree somewhat with Rosenthal's comment that journalists have not been part of the conversation. He's right on the face of it, but he should have said, "journalists have chosen to NOT BE A PART of the conversation."

Journalists have had a head-buried-in-the-sand attitude toward technology since the first Atex machine was brought into the newsroom. Journalists' passive-aggressive approach toward the oncoming locomotive has been frightening to watch.

I know this as a journalist and newsroom tech support guy during my career. Unable to sway a single editor in 20+ years on the need to change, I got out of the business.

Anonymous said...

I find most major newspapers such as the LA Times and NY Times, fail to report only the news. These papers are stilted to the liberal Democratic point of view. I have to go elsewhere to find a different point of view that doesn't always agree with the liberal agenda. If more of these papers would report more information that might even contradict their liberal stand, they would certianly be more entertaining and educational to read. As it is now, these papers are just a megaphone for a one sided view of the world. The silent "majority" is going somewhere else to get its unbiased news. I can't stand reading the LA Times, but do look at it online, just to get a different point of view. Wouldn't pay money for it though. lol.

Anonymous said...

I find most major newspapers such as the LA Times and NY Times, fail to report only the news. These papers are stilted to the liberal Democratic point of view. I have to go elsewhere to find a different point of view that doesn't always agree with the liberal agenda. If more of these papers would report more information that might even contradict their liberal stand, they would certianly be more entertaining and educational to read. As it is now, these papers are just a megaphone for a one sided view of the world. The silent "majority" is going somewhere else to get its unbiased news. I can't stand reading the LA Times, but do look at it online, just to get a different point of view. Wouldn't pay money for it though. lol.