Friday, January 29, 2010

‘Supply lines of local news are being cut’

Endless newspaper layoffs have cost readers “tens of thousands of years of community knowledge,” says media sage Ken Doctor in an important new book.

As if the loss of community wisdom and lore were not bad enough, it is unclear where local news will come from in the future, warns Doctor in “Newsonomics,” which is being published next week and can be ordered here.

“For truly local news, our supply lines are being cut,” writes Doctor, a former senior editor at Knight Ridder who is one of the top thinkers (and worriers) about the ever-changing media landscape. He writes the popular Content Bridges blog.

“Profound changes” in publishing economics in the Internet age “have forced a basic redefinition of local news,” says Doctor, noting that the number of journalists in the nation’s newsrooms has fallen by at least 12,900 individuals, or a depressing 22%, since 2001.

Most of the jobless journalists, he adds, were devoted to reporting on local news. And many represented decades of irreplaceable experience.

“Disproportionately, the older, more experienced (and most highly paid) staff is targeted for buyouts and layoffs,” he writes. As a result of the brain drain, he adds, “we can estimate that readers have lost tens of thousands of years of community knowledge.”

But it is not clear whether – or what – will compensate for this loss.

“The biggest local news companies – the newspapers – are downsizing rapidly, and, I believe, permanently,” says Doctor. “The smaller local companies – the start-ups – are finding innovative ways to get bigger. The big question: Will these two trend lines meet, and, if, so, where?”

19 Comments:

Anonymous Mike Donatello said...

“We can estimate that readers have lost tens of thousands of years of community knowledge.”

Um... how, exactly, would we estimate that?

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It isn't "community knowledge" that's being lost, but journalistic opinion. That's not nearly as valuable.

The members of the community still hold all their knowledge, and now have the means to share it via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The only thing that has been lost is the gatekeeper/opinionator role of the former information elite. And its loss is a good thing.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, read the paper -- any paper -- and you will see. Silly, sloppy errors, mislocated communities, misspellings of quirky local street names, and historical ignorance. There is a learning curve to reporting, and it will be a decade before these fresh-out-of-college kids get it right. I fear that readers won't be there by that time.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my old newsroom, we lost more than 1,300 years of experience (from folks with 1 year in the business to folks with 30-plus years) following 3 rounds of layoffs and a round of buyouts over three years.

Replicating across our local chain of eight newspapers (including a metro), we probably come pretty close to 10,000 years of experience in local journalism gone.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Jim Donnelly said...

Agree, it's a long-term disaster, although in its blind rush to cut costs, my former paper was packing its staff with just-grads well back into the 90s, exponentially cutting both bodies and knowledge in a metro market. The readers were already fleeing in droves when I hit the gates. It doesn't take a lot of sustained blundering to ruin even the best brand's reputation. Go ask Toyota.

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote: "The members of the community still hold all their knowledge, and now have the means to share it via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc."

Yeah, that's the ticket - Twitter me my news a few words at a time. Facebook and blogs as sources of journalism? Are you kidding me? Hurry up, Anonymous, I think you're missing an important IM! OMG!

9:30 PM  
Blogger James said...

In some communities, there are plenty of members who have the knowledge, and some may feel like sharing it. But many are older and/or don't want to self-publish.

Furthermore, many people have few ties to their communities or move too often to really know much about the place they just left, much less the place they're at.

While tapping their experiences and observations can still be helpful, that's basically opinion, minus the journalism. And most people don't have much original to say, especially without it being their job to think/find stuff to say.

That new world is not a bad thing, but let's not kid ourselves and pretend it's the same as what we've had. Or that it's necessarily better. It's just different.

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Martin said...

The right-wing wingnuts even have found the Newsosaur. No place is safe.
Ironic that Anonymous posts his screed against news ("It's just elitist opinion!") with neither facts nor his name. Hmmm.
It is a loss for each community where this experience has evaporated. Only a Twit-head would think unedited, unaccountable spigots of information could replace by-lined, sourced, here's-my-phone-number journalism.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a difference between 'twenty years of experience' and twenty years spent doing things the same way you did them your first year on the job.

For many years, I have seen a lot more of the latter sort of journalism than of the former in my local newspaper (AJC).

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Shelby said...

Here are some awful truths about what America is losing: 1) They don't know what they're losing, 2)they don't care now and, 3), they won't care in the future because of #1.

The comment by "Anonymous" is typical of "netophiles" who have no conception of what reporting is, compared to "bloggin." This person actually thinks that what some anonymous source decides to "post" online can be taken as be a true and accurate account of anything.

Please.

Recently in my hometown newspaper, The Times-Picayune, reporters have been exposing a huge scale of cronyism pay scale corruption in bedroom community governments. The reporting, complete with documentary evidence, has prompted citizen outrage, a series of resignations and a federal probe.

The residents previously thought they lived in parishes that were models of clean government compared to the ugly big city next door. Having this news dropped like shrapnel into their Special K was impossible to ignore, and woke them up

This kind of journalism takes sources and institutional intelligence that can only be acquired through beat reporting - which takes expensive staffing.

The good residents of those communities would still be blissfully ignorant that they were being fleeced if not for the investment in this type of reporting. And when it is gone, they will never know their pockets are being picked.

People like "Anonymous" who think this will be carried on by unpaid or part-time bloggers is living a dream.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Until newspapers construct firewalls around their content, the Google's of the world will be the only ones to profit. And guess what, most local newspapers don't need out of market readers anyway.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Denise said...

I wrote a one-act play about this. The locals take over the paper. They take their family to visit the shell of a newspaper office where these stories are kept in bound editions of the paper. Here are the stories that were never assigned nor followed up. This is a white space in the paper. The stories that were missing facts also are followed by white space, which the families are invited to clarify. Around the perimeter where these large collections of bound newspapers live are the editors, who also are depicted in gray. Only when they see stories they had missed or assigned, corrected, made factual, will they be allowed to step onto the Great Mandala of Life, and proceed to the next step: Whatever that is in your belief system.
And no thanks, I don't want to learn TwitterTalk to learn my local history.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Folks, let's try to keep it civil here. Let Jeff Jarvis be the Glenn Beck of journalism 2.0 commentary. I come to Newsosaur for reasoned discussion backed by numbers. I'd hate to lose that. Alan, even though I am using it, you might consider ending anonymous commenting. I am hoping more media will do the same.

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shelby: political corruption and nepotism in New Orleans? Who would have thunk it?

4:12 AM  
Anonymous Ydobon said...

Patrick,

Perhaps you'll find this criticism more credible.

"The John Edwards Affair" at Recovering Journalist, Aug 2008.

"The other problem this story highlights, sadly, is the liberal media bias that's often alleged against the press and almost always denied. Sorry, folks–it's very real. You hate to believe that journalists would lose their objectivity and blunt their news judgment to protect a Democrat. But it's hard to believe that the media would have been as unaggressive about this story if it had involved, say, Dan Quayle or Newt Gingrich, two other national figures who now are private citizens (the "private-citizen" defense has been much quoted among the newsies who passed on chasing the Edwards story)."

"This is a pretty shameful episode, and it illustrates why so many people mistrust or don't believe the press. Many years ago, a smart editor told me, "They really hate us out there." Incidents like this are why. Alas, a lot of journalists still don't get it, ... With large chunks of the news business crumbling around us for other reasons, this kind of bumbling and excuse-making on a big, obvious story doesn't help at all." - Mark Potts.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

The exploits John Edwards is not news. Sex secrets are not news. They may be interesting to some in passing, but only serve to take the public's mind off real news. We still need the 5 W's & 1 H asked, answered and checked. Don't put up age barriers here. Whatever happened to the newspaper's morgue?

6:44 AM  
Blogger ian said...

In the short to medium term, I think there's an opportunity for local broadcasters to fill in some of the local news void. I don't mean more local TV news, but rather expanded websites with extra video as well as as text and photo content. Broadcasters have suffered in the recession, but their revenue picture is generally much healthier and the chance to do integrated broadcast/Web ad campaigns is an opportunity, particularly if they can show that their sites have something special that is drawing local audiences.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did all of those journalists die? Who says all that experience has been lost. It's a shame that their old employers couldn't make it work but welcome to the real world. Just because Burroughs, Bull, Sperry aren't around doesn't mean that those people disappeared. In their place, they started companies, went to work for Digital Equipment and then later Microsoft and then later Google et al or maybe they are independent computer consultants. Society doesn't owe journalists full employment anymore than a laid off factory worker, a mainframe programmer or any other job that has had profound change.

It's time for journalists to move beyond the "denial" stage of grieving. Is a metro newsroom Utopia? I doubt many would describe it that way. There's other ways to do their work. Mark Potts wrote a piece once on ways a journalist can use their skill even if they don't want to take an entrepreneurial path and stay in journalism.

For a profession that is supposed to be resourceful, there's sure a bunch who aren't being resourceful about the next opportunities. They are everywhere.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Stan Spire said...

Getting back to the first comment by Mike Donatello: How did Doctor calculate that thousands of years of community knowledge were lost? Numbers and calculations can be tricky.

If the market for journalists wasn't so competitive, I could've landed a job at a big newspaper and ended up writing an article that won a Pulitzer Prize. There has to be at least a million other people like me who could've won a Pulitzer in the same situation.

Due to the tight job market, there has been at least a million Pulitzers never awarded!

9:44 PM  

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