The day the music died
The newspaper business continues to collapse, with big chunks falling off this week. The Newhouse newspapers have announced that large numbers of staff people will have to take buyouts, or else. Apparently, or else what has not been announced in all cases, but today at the Newark Star-Ledger, they said they would sell the paper unless the news staff was cut by a third. No doubt a similar threat hangs over the O and all other Newhouse papers. (They also announced this week that they're closing their bureau in Washington, D.C.)
Meanwhile, there's serious trouble a-brewing at the Portland Tribune, where the paper version's been cut to a weekly and marching orders have been issued to pump out more material daily on the internet, but with fewer resources. Confirmation of some prominent personnel changes is reportedly just around the corner. (Indeed, the big one was made official this afternoon, but there is likely at least one more in the works.)
My first real job in this world was as a reporter for a Newhouse newspaper in New Jersey, The Jersey Journal (still there, but probably doomed now). I learned more about writing, and life in the real world, in that three-year period than at any other time in my life. It was during that time that I decided to get out to the West Coast, to see what was there, and to go to law school. The original plan was to stay media-connected -- either as a lawyer for journalists or as a journalist covering law. That program faded, but I never lost my affection for the men and women who deliver information to the public. As much as I may disagree with their editorial positions from time to time, it pains me to see them out of their jobs.
Who killed their industry? Bill Gates started it with his infernal computer in people's houses. Whoever got this World Wide Web thing going accelerated the process. After a while, the public decided it could get information delivered to their desks for "free" -- so long, of course, as they paid their monthly tribute to Comcast, Qwest, or AT&T. Paid newspaper readership has been on a steady decline after that change in attitude. Kids today are simply never going to subscribe to a newspaper.
But Craigslist was probably the real death knell. Without the huge nickel-and-dime revenue that the papers got from people selling houses, cars, and garage sale junk, and from people looking for employees or employment, suddenly you can't keep the lights on at a newspaper.
Other industries have it coming. Higher education is holding out, but it won't be able to do so forever. It may come after my career, but a lot of graduate school is going to be on the internet, like it or not.
This week, it's the newspaper folks hearing the bad news. My heart goes out to them and their families as they figure out what they are going to do next.