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Are newspaper layoffs repeating the history of other failed industries?



It's always nice to get name checked in a bigshot writer's column. And yesterday's reference by New York Times media writer David Carr to this humble space was a surprising and welcome bit of attention to the still-depressing layoff of 18 journalists at the Tampa Tribune last week.

Carr quoted one of many comments posted here last week from a frustrated reader promising to drop his Tribune subscription upon learning valued voices such as Dan Ruth, Phil Morgan and Rosemary Goudreau had been shown the door.

Comparing the layoffs and similar moves at Sam Zell's Tribune Co. newspapers to now bankrupt retailer Circuit City's 2007 plan to save money by firing its best employees, Carr concluded newspapers "won't stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve."

Carr's thoughts are not new. Indeed, they formed a major plot point in the final season of HBO's excellent crime drama The Wire, which aired back in January. But the column made me think of a few other things I'm seeing at news outlets, thanks to the widespread job cuts.

First, experienced reporters aren't the only ones leaving newspapers. Talented younger journalists with options in other fields are reconsidering the wisdom of staying in an industry with as much trouble as newspapers face these days. So newspapers are seeing a talent drain at both ends of the spectrum.

I'm also seeing an odd dynamic at some newspapers where the reporting staff is getting younger and the older journalists are in management -- leading older writers to worry whether they can keep working in the industry without making the jump to management. Before long, I wonder if we'll reach a point where only the best writers can keep doing the job as they age, creating a bit of a generation gap between writers and editors.

It's also tougher to develop talent, with fewer slots available for those who might need a little seasoning before they're competitive with their reporting colleagues. As Carr noted Sunday, it all adds up to an industry watching its future fade -- nibbled away in bits by cost-cutting that makes future investment difficult.

The open question: Will anyone figure out a new way to pay for big reporting staffs before newspapers shrink too much?


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:53pm]


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