Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More bad news @ Houston's only daily newspaper

Though it has a monopoly in the nation's fourth largest city, the "complex and competitive" media environment requires job whacking, the paper's publisher tells the troops.

Don't you wish some day you'd see one of these letters where the grand newspaper poobah comes out and says management is top heavy, full o' too much deadwood, so just the jobs of editors and meeting attenders will be eliminated while rank 'n file gatherers of the nuts and berries that go into a newspaper will be increased.


PDiddie said...

Tried to post this over at blogH, but their screwy forum kept logging me off.

You worked in the bizness, Banjo, so you know why this happens. I used to work for a handful of Hearst newspapers, on the ad side, between 1981 and 1992.

The profit margin of an urban daily like the Chronic probably still averages something around 20-25%. As circulation and subsequently advertising continue to erode, expenses have to be reduced in order to sustain that margin. Newspapers don't cut staff to stay in business; they cut staff to maintain the highest profit margins for any business you can think of. Smaller "community" newspapers run higher margins; the Plainview Daily Herald ran 30% in 1987 and Hearst budgeted 33% in 1988. When the Beaumont Enterprise was sold to Hearst in 1984, the publisher at the time -- who was also the president of Jefferson-Pilot Publications, the seller -- bragged to the Hearst guys that he was running that newspaper at a 40% profit margin.

"A position-elimination program" is the only way left to Sweeney and his brethren at newspapers large and small, all across the nation, to preserve their bonuses and ultimately their own jobs.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the printed newspaper as we all know it will be read only in a museum by the next generation. As a kid, I grew up sitting on my dad's lap reading the funnies with him. When I was a teenager he would announce, as I ambled into the kitchen in the morning: "the Astros won last night". That just doesn't happen any more. Kids get what little news they care about anyplace except from the newspaper. They're too busy texting to get ink on their fingers.

And I have no idea who's willing or capable of absorbing the cost of gathering news in the future. Those profit margins provided all the staffers to work city hall, the courthouse, the football games and so on. Newspapers have been paying that freight -- to go out and get the news and then get it to us -- for well over a hundred years. But they don't want to do it any more.

That's where the breakdown will be -- make that, 'is'. The one between the truth and the spin. If nobody wants to pay to collect the news, and everybody just prints or posts the press release, and something like net neutrality stifles the blogosphere ...

We can all whine about bias and lack of coverage and cutbacks, but when the newspaper business finally quits or goes under, there's precious little in terms of infrastructure in the news business to fill the void.

Mike said...

Yup. This is why so many of us who were in the biz got out of it (some sooner than others). It's not that we didn't love the work. There's just not much to pin your future on, especially when even large dailys would rather hire an inexperienced college grad at a pittance rather than an established reporter because they just don't have the budget for it.

Anonymous said...

Amen, p!