Because so many of my friends are current or former newspaper journalists, every other conversation I've had lately contains the word "layoff." Things have been bad for a while now, but now they're really bad. When I was in the D.C. area two weekends ago, I talked to a friend who had just been to a going-away party for his former colleagues at the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. That paper has cut 40 percent — four, zero — of its newsroom staff. The bad news hit close to home this week, as the Tallahassee Democrat reported it had let 16 staffers go. Yesterday, a friend at the Cleveland Plain Dealer sent an e-mail saying her paper had just laid off 27 people, though she was safe for the time being.
This should be obvious, but a vital press is so important to our society. I am a fan of many good blogs and online information sources, but Gawker is not going to tell you if your school system is hiring uncertified teachers or if a county commissioner is greasing the wheels for a lover's rezoning request. It's not going to tell you what up-and-coming local band is playing this weekend, or if a beloved community outreach program is shutting down for lack of money. The New York Times can tell me what's happening in the Kinshasa, but it probably isn't going to tell me what the water management district is doing. That's a job for the local press.
That's why it's so galling to see the statements from newspaper publishers saying they're going to "continue providing high-quality news and information for our readers." Newspapers have been pretty lean and mean for a while now. Please don't tell me that gutting your staff isn't going to hurt your ability to put out a decent newspaper. That's just insulting, and no one believes it anyway.
While some of the comments about this on Tallahassee.com are mean-spirited and unfair to the good people who are still at the paper, there are some thoughtful posts about the value of local journalism. At least some readers are concerned, and rightfully so.
Times are hard everywhere. I hope someone comes up with a business model that works, and soon.