Creative Loafing Takes Mainstream Media-Size Hits for Downsizing
When I interviewed Creative Loafing CEO Ben Eason a few months ago, I told him that his own unique brand of corporate speak was not going to allay critics concerned that the Tampa company's purchase of the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper alternative weeklies meant a more corporate environment.
Now, in the wake of criticism over the company's decision to lay off some of the paper's most impactful investigative journalists in four newsroom layoffs at the Reader, and news that five newsroom position will be cut in Washington, Eason is facing new charges of corporatism. The reductions reminded me of the time years ago that his company's local paper (then called the Weekly Planet) eliminated a good portion of its reporting staff to save costs.
It may not be such a good sign that a memo on the layoffs which Eason asked be kept "inside the family" was leaked to Poynter's media-focused blog Romenesko within days. Noting that it is easy to blame CEOs for making fiscally necessary staff cuts -- something quite a few alternative newspapers have done as mainstream newspapers cut staff in recent years -- Eason's memo reads like the kind of corporate-speak that alt newspapers sprung up to fight.
We all know newspapers are facing challenging times. But Creative Loafing must also be careful of playing into critics' assumptions that their approach may degrade the two storied alternative newspapers they took over.
Here's Eason's memo, fresh from Romenesko's web site --
Please keep this note within the family. I wanted to check in with everyone on the company and what I'm seeing out there in the world of journalism, media and the economy. I want to thank everyone for the tremendous work that has gone on within the company since the merger. There has been an enormous amount of things to get done – integration of systems, shared services, bringing together of cultures, etc. – and I'm very pleased with the progress that has been made. There is no question in my mind that we’re on the right track with regards to the future. We've still got some projects left in this integration but the staffing decisions, where to place certain services, etc. are behind us for the most part. We all still have to perform in our jobs but the structural parts are done.
Our little company is in the news today in the New York Times as representative of the ills of journalism in the modern age. The references are to some painful cuts that both Erik Wemple and Alison True have had to make to bring the Reader and City Paper into profitability. These decisions were not made lightly and I believe Erik and Alison have made them with the future in mind for all of us and are as committed to serious journalism as they ever were, as is this company. We’ve also had people leave in Atlanta and have eliminated a few unfilled positions in our other markets.
The simple economic fact is that a large part of the print newspaper industry’s profitability has been tied to highly lucrative classified advertising and this has been used to support journalism for the past 50 years. Unfortunately, the classifieds models are shifting and this is rocking the economics of papers all across the world. (One bright spot in the past 4 months has been the stabilizing of classifieds at the Reader!) The display business has been strong but is getting hurt a bit right now by the effects of the housing slowdown - this will pass. While it is easy to blame mean and nasty CEOs for trimming budgets, the fact is that our journalism, advertising and our content needs to be and are being re-conceived. We need to continue to build new web/mobile products, reshape our organization, and order our spending and investment decisions so that we build our Web businesses more rapidly while also ensuring the sustainability of our newspapers. We also have to use the creativity and entrepreneurship that is within the company and our industry to forge the new models for journalism and local publishing."
For more, click here to read the rest on Romenesko's site.