Thursday, June 23, 2011

"So, Aunt Bobbi, What's A Newspaper?"

Our (formerly) local paper, the Indianapolis Star, continues to staff-slash its way to profitable irrelevance acceptable loss/service ratio inevitable, unstaffed collapse.

The newsroom was already a ghost town five years ago, the last time I saw the place. It's only gotten worse. Earlier this week, the Thing Formerly Known As "The Paper" (previously, "The Morning Paper") announced 81 positions were eliminated, pow, 62 by layoff and the remainder by not filling open slots -- and most of them were not "assistant janitor" or even "junior copyboy."

Y'know those "layers of editorial oversight" that sometimes fall down pretty badly on things techy and/or gunny? You're about to find out what errors they were catching; the Star's eliminated copy editors. --And still the sneering continues from the deck of the sinking ship: money quote, from a purported newspaperperson in comments: "'...copy editors' (that last line of defense which separates us from the animals in the blogosphere)." Um, dood? Your bosses don't care.

Long-time local print media veteran Ruth Halliday* has more and more. And -- aw, just go there and scroll back; it's fascinating and horrible in a kind of slow-motion train wreck way.

Over at Retrotechnologist, on the sidebar I bemoan visiting the newspaper building when they were hacking out the old presses and carting them away as scrap. They'd built a nice, modern, high-speed, full-color printing plant up across the city/county line, ditched a lot of the older pressmen and the building was never, ever going to rumble and shake to the sound of NEWS! It was going to be gleaming, up-to-the-minute and clean. ...And sterile and dull.

They (or, more correctly, their corporate owners) ripped their own heart out; they stepped way, way back from their product and never embraced the new forms (old-media websites almost uniformly suck and newspaper websites tend to suck worst of all); and what did they have left? How could they compete? Sure, taking the presses far, far away was just a symptom (and what the Star was running were, frankly, relics); but I think the same spirit that would've kept 'em close, no matter how awkward, would've worked to keep the paper afloat by coming up with product people would want to read, instead of subscribing out of habit and to have something to wrap garbage in.

They called me after I let the newspaper subscription here at Roseholme lapse and wanted to know why. "My cat died," I told them.

"How's that?"

"See, she would only pee on newsprint, and your paper was cheaper than buying it at the art-supply store--"

"But-- Culture! Sports! Weather! Current events! ...The funny pages. Er, page!"

"Mister, did you ever hear of a thing called the World Wide Web?"

I wish we had a paper that offered in-depth reporting and interesting editorials, that sent reporters and photographers to places no one else would or could go; even near the last, they ran a good series on Indiana's abuses of Asset Forfeiture that was worth reading. But those days are gone, Gannetted quietly to death--. Oh, it's "garroted," isn't it? I keep getting those two confused.

They only had one unique product to offer, in-depth, dependable local news and info, and they're giving up on it.

Will the last newsroom employee out please unplug the coffeepot and turn off the lights? And -- oh, yeah -- us animals would like to welcome you to our jungle.
*Lookie here, Ruth's politics and mine diverge sharply on a number of issues and we're probably both too sentimental about oldstream media; but she's an honest, old-school reporter and strings words together better'n most. And you'll note what her response was, when jettisioned by a panicking media dinosaur: she got herself a blog.


Windy Wilson said...

"My cat died."
Perfect. I think I'll steal that the next time the Left Angeles Times decides to call me begging me to become a subscriber again (it's been 4 years; why don't they get a clue?) They might have better luck by becoming a weekly and cutting out the national and local politics in favor of a bigger food section than they've had since 1990

Drang said...

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (a name too good to mess with), same deal. So far as I can tell, they kept the leftist windbag editor, and the rest is farmed out to syndicated columns and AP/UPI. The only reason I keep them bookmarked is for the Mallard Fillmore strip; I couldn't believe they were running it when it started, and I still can't believe it's there. (Although they dropped it from the print edition after the strike of whenever it was, and even when it was in the print edition, it was buried in the classifieds, not on the comics page.)

Anonymous said...

The rise of the Internet was a factor in the demise of newspapers, but it was/is a contributory factor, not the main problem.

What killed them was allowing themselves to drift into being a pure propaganda arm / self-validation exercise for leftoid Democrats. Rightists started shunning them; independents and leftoids figured out that they could get the same thing from the local DNC and not have to pay for the subscription.

Lack of in-depth local news is a consequence of that. Newspapers live on scandal. When they refuse to report and/or downplay any scandal involving Democrats, they've tossed out half or better of the potential news stories most likely to attract readers.

Personally, I don't think the shift was planned. It happened a little at a time, as the in-group picked new entrants from People Just Like Them. It happened, and they're dying of it.

Anonymous said...

Our local fishwrap has read the writing on the wall and is trying to go the "mostly local news" route. Problem is, there's a FREE paper in town that pretty much does that and has a good rep for doing it well. If I wanted to know what specific idiocy the city council or county commissioners are up to, I would go to the free paper, which usually has very lengthy, detailed articles about council meetings rather than a half paragraph blurb.

I often muse about movies from the '40s and '50s that featured fearless, crusading reporters risking their lives to uncover crime and corruption or working tirelessly to free a man wrongly convicted of a crime. Days of innocence! Imagine Jayson Blair in "Call Northside 777" or Pinch Sulzberger in "His Girl Friday". Bah.

Sabra said...

I decided to not renew my subscription when I discovered the telemarketers trying to talk me into it (about a week after it went started, mind) were from out of state. Given that my city has a very large number of call centers, the decision to move those jobs as well ticked me off.

Localization is the only thing that will save any papers, but the metro rags have all abandoned that. We went to a tiny town just southeast of here earlier in the week and bought the La Vernia News and the Wilson County Times. I believe both to be dailies.