We continue to be amazed at the willingness of news organizations to employ the same tactics of obfuscation and doublespeak that their reporters spend their days combatting. Witness this press release from last week:
The Deseret News today announced a bold new direction to provide innovation and leadership at a time when daily newspapers throughout America are struggling to define a course for the future….New initiatives, includ[e] the creation of Deseret Connect, a broad and uniquely qualified group of story contributors, a new Editorial Advisory Board and the expansion of the news reporter base…These initiatives will increase the depth and quality of the Deseret News’ daily newspaper. As part of these changes, the organization also announced a reduction in workforce.
But this is no ordinary reduction in workforce. This is a 43% reduction in workforce, or 57 full-time and 28 part-time employees, according to Editor & Publisher. Among the victims are Editor Joe Cannon and Publisher Jim Wall. In the worst spinmeister fashion, the publisher doesn’t even touch upon the layoffs until 700 words deep in the release. That news is preceded by five bullet-pointed items peppered with words like “expansion,” “more,” “launch” and “new.” In other words, this is a major cutback spun as an expansion.
We actually see nothing wrong with what Deseret is doing. It’s combining editorial staffs with affiliated broadcast subsidiaries and shifting its focus toward digital delivery. Makes sense to us. It also makes sense that a large layoff may be needed to get costs in line with the new revenue reality. But why bury the lead so deep in the story? Why not come out and admit that tough times demand tough action?
In any case, other news outlets took care of asking the hard questions, including Huffington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Salt Lake Tribune. Charles Apple says he hears the layoffs include the entire design staff.
Salty Words for USA Today Reorg
“It is odd that the best-read print newspaper in the country would walk away from that pre-eminence and embrace technologies in which it lags the field,” writes John K. Hartman, journalism educator and author of two books about USA Today, in an opinion piece in Editor & Publisher. He’s referring to the Gannett flagship’s bold announcement two weeks ago that it would restructure itself around online delivery to mobile devices, lay off 9% of its staff and de-emphasize print.
In a commentary bluntly titled “USA Today Setting Itself Up For Failure,” Hartman argues that not only is USA Today’s strength in print, but that is the only area in which it has innovated. He points to the decline in the national daily’s once market-leading sports coverage at the hands of ESPN and chides publisher David Hunke for betting on online delivery when USA Today isn’t even in the top 10 news sites in the world (It’s actually #21, according to Alexa, placing it behind such competitors as Drudge Report and the Times of India). In the professor’s view, a media company with such little online visibility is crazy to place such a big bet on a digital strategy.
He’s right, but what else is USA Today going to do? It’s already an also-ran on the Web and its print business is declining like everybody else’s. Mobile seems to be an open field at this point, so Gannett is making a play for the only opportunity it has to establish market leadership. There’s also a possibility that a genuine reader-funded subscription model could evolve in the mobile category. That has failed to happen online. USA Today is playing the only hand it’s got.
Part of the problem of analyzing strategic moves like Gannett’s is framing them in the context of a publication’s previous success. Will USA Today dominate the mobile market? Of course not. No one will. The barriers to entry are too low. But can mobile delivery become a growing revenue source to complement a modestly successful Web presence and a profitable print product? Sure it can.
Hartman is critical of USA Today for fumbling away its leadership in sports coverage to ESPN.com, but the reality is that broad-based media will always lose out to narrow, targeted media. The best strategy for a comprehensive news site is to be everywhere but expect to lead nowhere. In this age of hyper-focused media, that’s not a very comfortable position, but it’s about the only hope a brand like USA Today has got.
Also in the realm of church-owned newspapers, the price for the floundering Washington Times is $1.00. At least that’s what a Unification Church-affiliated buyer could pay, according to a memo released to the media. The selling price probably reflects a bit of a family discount, since the buyer is Doug Joo, an ally of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church owns the paper. It’s not like the one-buck price is a bargain; the buyer has to assume all the paper’s unspecified financial obligations. The Washington Times has cut 40% of its staff this year.
Journalism schools are teaching more bells and whistles and less journalism, or at least that’s what some journalists and educators think. About.com’s Tony Rogers cites of some trends that make traditionalists uncomfortable, including the University of Colorado at Boulder’s recent announcement that it is considering dismantling its 700-student journalism school in favor of an interdisciplinary communication program. Roger spoke to several journalism educators who said schools are increasingly stressing video cameras and Photoshop over the essential tools of good reporting. As a result, there are jobs for journalists with good public affairs reporting skills sitting open. While not denying that multimedia skills are critical, educators say the balance is getting out of whack, and we’re producing less capable journalists as a result.
Newspaper publishers probably welcome any help they can get these days, even if it’s from the company that perpetuated the largest oil spill in history. BP bought newspaper ads in 126 markets in 17 states in the three months after the spill, according to the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce. BP dropped over $93 million in advertising during the three months after the spill began. That’s about three times what it spent in a comparable period a year ago. Most of the newspaper ads were targeted at the states most affected by the spill.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 at 3:45 pm and is filed under Best/Worst, Business News, BusinessModel, Education, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, NewMedia, Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.