Monday, March 18, 2013

Understaffed Newsrooms Having Negative Effects

This is not substantially different from the newsroom I started in years ago.
Some of us have been screaming bloody murder about newsrooms cutting back on personnel in general and veterans specifically for years and now we have this, telling us it's not only happening, but that it's bad.

Yes, it is bad when we sacrifice one of the basic foundations of liberty because older journalists cost more than young ones--although they are most often eminently more qualified. Young journalists--and you see them up close, in person and in all their inadequacy nightly on television--not only rarely get it yet, but their opportunity to understand what they're doing is diminished every time a veteran gets axed because some HR idiot thinks they're too old and making too much money.

That nearly happened recently to a good friend of mine at a nearby newspaper--whose name shall remain anonymous--but his publisher intervened on his behalf with the new owner of the paper. The HR department was going to dump my friend (a veteran of nearly four decades) because he had an accident and couldn't perform a certain part of his job for a few months. He was perfectly capable of doing almost everything he had been doing, but HR saw an opportunity to trim some salary and shot for it. Good for the publisher, who proved to have some heart and to have the best interests of the paper at heart--I hope.

The Pew Research Center study tells us that newsrooms have cut their staffs by 30 percent in the past few years and that. "There are now less than 40,000 full-time employees working in news, the lowest since 1978." You can certainly see the effects of deep cuts in this market at a local daily. Small publications are dying, too, but most of them have so little to do with journalism that it's difficult to put them into the same story. They're something else entirely, even though their chasing of the ad dollar--and throwing out all journalistic ethics in that pursuit--is affecting real journalists and real journalism.

You're seeing ads on the front page, ads for stories, influence in coverage and all the things that simply didn't happen a couple of decades ago, but are prevalent now.

The report says the result of the newsroom cuts "adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands." I'm not expecting it to get any better any time soon and my guess is that newspapers will be the first to go all-online, followed by magazines.


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