700 more newspaper jobs cut

Just in case you’re wondering why newspapers are looking so bad, it’s because of greed.

Newspapers insist on a bottom line that’s above almost any other industry, and when it falls below about 30 percent, they make cuts. Big cuts.

Yesterday, Gannett Corp. laid off another 700 people across the company’s newspapers.

When I joined Gannett, at the Journal News in Rockland County, NY, in 1986, it was considered one of the top family-friendly companies to work for. Health benefits were excellent and time off was better than at most other newspaper companies. If you worked hard, you got ahead; there were incentives; there were rewards for people who did good work.

It was an ugly scene at newspapers across the company as people who had been loyal employees for decades were cut loose.

So, why are newspapers losing so much revenue and readership?

The company line is that newspapers are a dying industry because people get their news online.

But Gannett is cutting its online staff too. Here in Asheville there was a separate department dedicated to Web content. That got cut in the last round. The company spent millions on top-of-the-line video equipment and software and training four years ago, and then pretty much abandoned it.

As newsrooms get smaller, the people who are left have fewer and fewer opportunities for any investigative reporting. More time is spent processing press releases and covering events to fill what little space is left.

It used to be that ads filled in the spaces around editorial content; now editorial content is the filler for the spaces around the ads. The ever-shrinking news hole leaves less and less space for real news.

That means government and big business have no one watching what they’re up to. It makes it that much easier for Fox Noise to spread its lies about government takeovers and death panels and how we “need” to gut Social Secutity and Medicaid. They spread the fallacy of us being broke and no one is here to explain that we’re not.

Add that to the consistent de-funding of education over the last 30 years and you have the Koch Brothers’ dream scenario.

Newspapers don’t have to die; they need to become nonprofits. Then Craig Dubow, the CEO of Gannett will have to live on less than $10 million a year and people who cost the company $40,000 can have their jobs back and we can save our Democracy.


Social justice isn’t news anymore

During most of my nearly three decades as a newspaper reporter, I covered social justice issues, religion and nonprofits.

I wrote stories about domestic violence, living wage campaigns, poverty issues, disabilities, and state and federal programs that weren’t doing their jobs.

That social issues/nonprofits beat is going away at the Asheville Citizen-Times as of this week, when one-third of what’s left of the newsroom staff gets the ax.

No one knows how the 30-plus remaining people will put out a newspaper every day. Functions that once required 15 people are pared down to three people now.

It isn’t the fault of anyone locally — Gannett, which owns what’s left of the paper, has made cut after cut after cut. In the last five years, half the newsroom staff has been laid off as some functions have been relegated to a central hub. The page design you see was done in Louisville, Ky., or Greenville, SC. The printing is done in Greenville. Ad design is done elsewhere; in all about one-third of the staff that was here 10 years ago remains to put out an ever-shrinking, ever more crappy excuse for a newspaper.

Craig Dubow, Gannett’s CEO makes more than $9 million in annual compensation; the corporation now is laying off fathers and mothers making under $50,000. A few months ago, they decided to lay off a non-citizen who is here legally, but who has two small children, a wife who can’t work because of visa restrictions and who was not eligible for unemployment compensation, even though he paid the same taxes as everyone else in the newsroom.

What happens now is that news just won’t get covered. What we used to call enterprise reporting — including investigative journalism — just won’t get done anymore. When Republicans in the state legislature cut $60 million from the state mental health system, which is already so bad the federal Department of Justice is investigating it, no one will know how harmful that will be to the population here in Western North Carolina because no one will be watching.

That was the function of newspapers when I got into the business: government watchdog.

But over the years, newspapers have been bought by a few huge — and conservative — coroprations. Staffs have been cut and news has become nothing more than the filler that goes between the ads. They’re not looking for an investigative piece about how the state is not caring for children with disabilities, or how people are dying because state psychiatric hospitals are releasing patients with no discharge plan. Readers won’t know if the state wants to close the places where people with disabilities work under close supervision, leaving both the people with disabilities and their caregivers in the lurch.

Newspapers don’t shame government anymore because they don’t cover government. Instead of the watchdogs of power, newspapers have become lapdogs.

Less than five years ago, I had an editor tell me public policy made his eyes glaze over. This was someone who supposedly was making editorial and coverage decisions.

This layoff is just another nail in the coffin of what used to be a good newspaper. There’s little reason to buy it anymore, yet the executives at Gannett corporate wonder why circulation keeps going down and fewer people want to buy ads. I can’t believe they’re really too stupid to figure it out; I believe it’s because they just don’t care about the people who work for them or the people who buy their papers.

A dozen capable news people will be out of work before the end of this week, and there’s no reason for it other than corporate greed.

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