Fight! Fight! Fight!

What a rough day for journalism. The Rocky Mountain News announced today it will publish its last edition on Friday. Many other newspapers around the country are in danger of closing as well, and many are hemorrhaging employees in order to stop the bleeding of money and save their organization. It’s a terrible position to be in, but it’s the reality.

My employer, The Gazette, laid off more than a dozen newsroom people earlier this week as it continues with a reorganization process. I worked a late shift that day and didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye to many friends and colleagues in person because they already had to leave.

Times suck right now to be a journalist. Those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs are now struggling to balance being sad for our former colleagues, being concerned about our industry, and fighting to save our own jobs.

It hasn’t been enjoyable watching naysayers make fun of the situation either. Some are saying we’re getting what we deserve, some say we’ve lost that integrity that got us into journalism in the first place because we’re now worried more about making money than putting out good journalism.

Whatever. The First Amendment gives them the right to say that. My response to it all is, what’s the alternative? Just keep doing things the way we have been, and slowly watch as more colleagues carry their belongings out the door one last time, until the last person turns out the lights for good?

Look, journalists didn’t get into this gig for the money. But journalists are still people who are trying to raise families and pay their rent or mortgage, and the bottom line is, journalism still needs to be a business. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but I accept that premise and am trying to take things from there.

As scary as things are right now, I’m glad that the Gazette is trying something different. You may be taunting us or criticizing us for the hardships we’re dealing with, but at least we’re still here and trying to do something — anything — to not only survive but hopefully move forward in this ever-changing society that’s saturated with media options and struggling with a recession.

The last thing I want to hear about the Gazette (or any other newspaper or news organization, for that matter) is, “Wow, that paper stuck to its guns. It didn’t try to reinvent itself or take any risks; it just did things the good old-fashioned way, and it did it right. It’s too bad they had to stop publishing; I’ll miss that paper.”

I’m proud to be at a newspaper that’s fighting to save its life and going on the offensive. And I’m going to do whatever I can to fight alongside it. Yeah, my future here is in jeopardy. Everyone’s is. But I’m not going to just sit back and watch what happens. I’m jumping right into the fray.

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~ by davidllee on February 26, 2009.

7 Responses to “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

  1. Sorry you have to go through this – but there are a lot of opportunities out there for people with the right attitude, and you definitely have it.

    We’re going to the ‘No News Is Bad News’ forum tonight at Seattle City Hall – it will be interesting to see what comes of it. Hang in there!

  2. My thoughts exactly. I, too, am sick of the mockery and second-guessing of what The Gazette is trying to do. As someone who has faced several sudden job losses (or beheadings) between my husband and me over the past 8 years, I don’t like layoffs to happen to anybody, especially friends and coworkers. But it is disappointing when people, especially those who should know better, jump to conclusions without knowing exactly what is happening here. There are several places I’ve been involved with that I would rejoice if they closed their doors tomorrow, but The Gazette is certainly not one of them.

  3. Well said David. Thank you.

  4. Great post Dave. You said what a lot of us are thinking. I am so conflicted by the events of the last few days. Losing longtime colleagues and friends is hard and any of us could soon be joining them. The leaders of Gazette Communications are taking bold, never-before-tried steps to bring the company in line with what today’s economy can bear. It downright stinks on a personal level. I saw the pain in the faces of the editors faced the newsroom after the news of Tuesday and that pain was REAL. It hurt them deeply. I know that does nothing for those who have, or will still, lose their jobs. But I believe, as you Dave, that the moves they are making will save The Gazette, and other papers down the road who follow their lead.

    I would like to see what the naysayers have to say about two years from now. My guess it won’t be, “I told you so.!”

  5. I wish you the best and have confidence that your positive attitude will take you a long way.

    I have no insight into the specifics of the Gazette situation, but I hate to see layoffs and worry that consistent revenue and cost management principles and best practices from outside of the media industry were not used to minimize layoffs. I’ve seen newspaper management with great journalistic and community oriented skills but less than ideal financial / biz mgmt capabilities that are put in impossible situations and have to take significant and drastic actions versus incremental and less severe measures. I hope this was not the case.

    However, as examples, were actions similar to those below taken before ‘cutting heads’?

    1. Subscriber profitability analysis with actions to ensure subscription revenue always exceeds costs. I.e. variable pricing through geographically banded delivery surchage rates?
    2. “Product” profitability analysis with actions to eliminate products that do not meet return hurdle rates?
    3. Paper pulp derivative contracts to eliminate variability in that portion of production cost?
    4. Contract labor utilization to minimize FTE reductions?
    5. Subscription price elasticity analysis?
    Etc. Etc. Etc.

    I want Cedar Rapids to succeed and believe that we can with the right leadership. I am hopeful that the Gazette will rebound after this difficult period and be in a position to grow again.

    Best wishes.

  6. Well said. I have grown extremely weary of all the negative comments about newspapers in general…but in Cedar Rapids about The Gazette.

    The only reason these people complain is because they have a newspaper to complain about. When newspapers start folding left and right, for various financial reasons, the public will then start complaining that there is no local news coverage.

    Personally, I thrive with CNN, but I haven’t seen CNN…or any of the other major internet news sources…doing local coverage out my backdoor anytime recently. Even with a major natural disaster last summer the coverage left A LOT to be desired!

    I agree, journalists didn’t get into the business for the money. High salaries have never been a part of the newspaper business. I think the public would be shocked to realize how little of a paycheck journalists do work for. But, they continue to do it day in and day out, and all hours of the day and night.

    Thanks for the post! You hit the nail on the head.

  7. Adapt or die. Journalists and the news-gathering organizations that employ them are not news *papers*, and paper is all that’s going away.

    Good riddance, I say. Killing trees that could live for decades to make a one-day product when there are abundant, readily available, non-violent alternatives is as reprehensible as leaving dog poop on a playground when there’s a box of free plastic bags hanging from the fence.

    I write news for a living. I have refused to write for paper publications for over three years, because I no longer need paper in order to earn my daily breadcrumbs.

    And I’m not struggling to survive on “leaner” digital profit margins, another myth of paper-pushers. It takes me 20 minutes a day to cover my shelter, utilities, phone, and food. The rest is fun tickets.

    “Lucky”, am I? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. It’s never too late to get lucky. You just gotta get moving.

    “Move and the Way will open.” — Zen proverb.

    David Hakala
    Denver, CO
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/dhakala

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