HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 2, 2009, 5:39 p.m.

Newspaper staff cuts: Good news?

At the risk of being burned at the stake by my fellow journalists, I wanted to pass along a thought that occurred to me recently about the wave of layoffs and mass firings that has been rolling through newsrooms across North America — namely, what if this is actually a good thing? Please, hear me out before you arrive at my doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

In order to agree with me, you would have to admit that there are a lot of newspapers (and I know of many personally) that haven’t been moving quite as quickly as they might towards an online future. To a large extent, these papers have been insulated from the need to change by a healthy cash balance, a lock on local advertising markets, a magnanimous owner, a sense of entitlement, etc. (feel free to pick more than one).

What better way to force some change than by administering a large but hopefully non-lethal shock to the system?

With the advertising-revenue wolf clearly at the door, managers at these papers can and have moved swiftly to shed entire categories of sub-editors, to reconfigure the desk system, to merge Web and print duties where they might not have been merged before, and so on — many of these necessary and even crucial changes. Even papers with strong unions have been able to accomplish this, because the economic necessity is so obvious.

Many corporate executives argue at times like these that strong medicine is required, and that they have no choice but to engage in massive layoffs. Such excuses are often seen as disingenuous explanations used to cover up other agendas. But what if in this case those hidden agendas actually achieved a useful purpose — namely, the acceleration of evolution in the stodgy old print media?

The only flaw in this argument — one I am willing to admit up front — is that this presumes that newspaper managers and executives actually know what the proper course of action is, and are only cutting those staff and duties they no longer require, while strengthening those areas of the paper that need more resources. The reality, of course, is that many newspapers are cutting in what are arguably the wrong places, or pushing forward with a completely unrealistic view of what their paper’s strengths and weaknesses are.

I will admit that my theory requires a certain willing suspension of disbelief. And I’d like to note that I feel nothing but sympathy for the tens of thousands of journalists who have been and are continuing to be laid off. But in some cases — not all, I will admit, but some — those layoffs could be a case of radical but necessary surgery to help the patient survive.

POSTED     Feb. 2, 2009, 5:39 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
The FT is a leader in crossing over from print — digital subscribers now make up 70 percent of its paying audience, a number that keeps growing.
A farewell to #content: Optimism, worries, and a belief in great work
A few thoughts on the state of media (and meta-media) from our departing staff writer.
On convening a community: An excerpt from Jake Batsell’s new book on engaged journalism
“An engaged journalist’s role in the 21st century is not only to inform but to bring readers directly into the conversation.”
What to read next
750
tweets
Snapchat stories: Here’s how 6 news orgs are thinking about the chat app
From live events to behind-the-scenes tours, The Huffington Post, Fusion, Mashable, NPR, Philly.com, and The Verge tell us how they’re approaching Snapchat.
611New rules governing drone journalism are on the way — and there’s reason to be optimistic
They’re more permissive than some had expected: “Under this regulatory framework, every newsroom will have drones and people certified to fly them. They’ll just be part of the equipment.”
483Internet birthed the radio star: Local newspapers are hoping online radio can be a growth area
Despite slow audience and revenue growth, a handful of newspapers are optimistic about the future of Internet radio.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Miami Herald
The Dish
SeeClickFix
The UpTake
The Bay Citizen
The Christian Science Monitor
Placeblogger
Tumblr
Gawker Media
Conde Nast
Flipboard
Dallas Morning News