Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hung with new rope

With a short weekly calendar, an early deadline and a small news hole, I breezed through production day at the Outpost -- a mere 18 1/2 hours. And that included time to write a column on the demise of newspapers (it should be up on the web in a few hours).

And it just now occurred to me that I forgot to include my snapper ending on the column, so I will put it here:

To some extent, newspapers are killing themselves and don't even seem to know it. The new issue of American Journalism Review has an article about two married journalists with a combined 50 years of experience who were recently laid off by the Missoulian. Pamela J. Podger writes about she and her husband, John Cramer, were both laid off just nine months after moving to Missoula from the Roanoke Times.

"We've always been frugal -- we bought our little fixer-upper house on craigslist and are doing most of the work ourselves," she writes.

Craigslist is, of course, the wildly successful free online classified ad service that contributed to a 17 percent decline in classified ad revenues at Lee Enterprises during the quarter that ended June 29. And Lee Enterprises is, of course, the owner of the Missoulian.

UPDATE: Here's the link.

6 comments:

Mark T said...

Why do they let the best ones go? Why not last-in first-out? Here in Bozeman, it was Scott McMillion that got let go - their best reporter.

KIrk Dooley said...

In two weeks, the local paper here in Mesa, Arizona -- the East Valley Tribune -- is going to change from a daily paper to a four-day-a-week one. It will consist of two sections, a news section split between Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler and Queen Creek, and a combo sports-arts section that will be with all four local editions. It will also be in a tabloid format, as opposed to the tabloid local news section and broadsheet national news and sports the Trib does now. Editions will print on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. (However, stories will be constantly updated on the paper's website, eastvalleytribune.com.)

The other new part of the business plan is that the paper will be free. It will be delivered to homes in selected areas of the communities it serves, and will be available at various convenience stores and racks around town. (This change will not come without great pain, however. Over 40 people were laid off, including the paper's executive editor, who took early retirement.)

On a side note, I may be a dinosaur, but I miss the afternoon/evening newspaper. When I was a kid in the early 60s (that's the 1960's, by the by), my folks took the evening edition of the Billings Gazette until Lee Enterprises shut it down around 1967 (I believe). When we moved to Spokane for 9 months in the fall of 1969, we took the Spokane Tribune. When I moved to Arizona permanently in 1978, I subscribed to the Phoenix Gazette (and also subscribed to it in the early 90s), and when I went to school in Flagstaff I took the Arizona Daily Sun. All afternoon papers, and all gone except the Daily Sun, which is now a morning rag. (The suspects in their collective demises were named Cronkite, Huntley, Brinkley, Rather, Jennings and Brokaw, although each of these gentlemen would be the first to tell you that you'd be better off reading a newspaper than watching the evening news any day.)

The news in each of these papers was timely (after all, who actually has time to read a morning paper during the week -- you usually go through it after you come home from work), and the quality of the writing was usually superior to that of their morning siblings (the Spokesman-Review in the case of the Spokane Tribune, and the Arizona Republic in the case of the Phoenix Gazette). They also provided steady employment to kids who didn't have to get up at an ungodly hour to deliver their papers. (Since forcing kids to work at 5 in the morning is considered child abuse these days, adults deliver morning papers -- and not always as well.)

Ed Kemmick said...

In this case, it was last-in, first-out. The couple had 25 years of experience, but as the woman said, the Missoulian hired them nine months before they were laid off. And if I'm not mistaken, the husband was immediately hired by the paper in Hamilton, also owned by Lee.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone who would disagree that the Billings Gazette isnt the paper it was in the 1960's or 1970's? I read both the print and online editions as I do the Outpost. The Gazette just doesnt cover local news like they did 35 years ago. I dont need the Gazette for National News. There have been a few investigative stories in the past couple of years but nothing like there was 30-35-40 years ago.

David said...

Ed, Correct on both counts. Well, almost. They had 50 years of experience between them -- I'm not sure whether it was 25 apiece. And the husband was hired by the Ravalli Republic perhaps not immediately but "soon" after the layoff, according to the story.

Dennis Gaub said...

David,

Frankly, aren't you glad we no longer draw a payecheck from our former employer?

Read this at a pretty good blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur (http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/):

" How debt did in America’s newspapers
The stock of Lee Enterprises was worth about $1.5 billion when the company borrowed almost an identical amount of money to buy the Pulitzer newspaper group in the summer of 2005. Today, Lee’s shares are worth only $13.5 million.

That’s right: $13.5 million. Thus, the stock in this once well regarded company has dropped by more than 99% in 3½ years, vaporizing more than $1.5 billion in value as investors fled in fear the company would default on its debt and render their shares worthless."

That Pulitzer acquisition looks to be one of the all-time newspaper industry duds.