But finally a good reporter looked at things more closely. Andrew Ross Sorkin’s December 8th article in the same paper is called “Workers Pay for Debacle at Tribune.” It is a dispassionate and detailed look at the whole mess that billionaires are far too willing to engage in at the expense of the workers who make media properties valuable in the first place.
Shame on you, Mr. Zell! So you stand to lose $315 million. Boo hoo! As Sorkin’s article states pointedly: “It is unclear how much he’ll lose, but one thing is clear: When creditors get in line, he gets to stand ahead of the employees.”
Outrage is what is called for, not some neutral view that the newspaper industry is challenged. It would not be half as challenged if grave dancers of the sort Mr. Zell represents were not allowed to create such massive havoc.
Jeff Jarvis, whose BuzzMachine blog is one of the best there is, went to town in a September 17th entry sparked by the lawsuit of the journalists at the Los Angeles Times against their controversial new owner, Sam Zell.
I think you could say that he really let the journalists have it.
The second paragraph gives you a taste of his current state-of-mind: “Journalists are such a whiny bunch, always complaining, constantly blaming someone else for their problems. But friends, as the Rev. Wright would say, the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Later in the entry the attack resumes:
“When the paper failed even at covering its own hometown industry, did you jump in to fill the void? No.
“When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.”
He finishes this scathing attack on journalists with “Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.”
At the same time he presents the most emphatically damning statement about the future of newspapers:
“Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die (emphasis mine). The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire Ã¢â‚¬â€ and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them.”
I wrote the 27th response to Jeff’s entry:
“That is the most refreshing and to-the-point article (OK, blog entry) I’ve read in the midst of these endless months of hand-wringing, tear-jerking and self-serving twaddle. It’s strong stuff, but exactly what needed to be said. Sure, some folks can take some small issue with parts of it. But they should read the entire indictment and respond to that. You’ve finally said what needed to be said. For this I thank you. I’m going to send my readers to it from my blog.”
This marvelous document appears on the Tell Zell: What You Really Think blog, “courtesy of Andrew Spencer, now 10. Sent in and used with the permission of his mom, Gail Gedan Spencer, a blogger and copy editor at the Sun”
I’ll just note a small part of her commentary, and encourage you to visit the site.
“I’m sending you something that I’ve had taped up at my work station for the past few years. It’s a worksheet on careers that my son did in first grade. As you can see, a love of journalism must have passed into his DNA from my husband and me. It’s hopeful and sad at the same time. (He now has more sensible career goals — cartoon voice artist or professional sports team mascot.)”
I don’t think we should despair about the future of newspapers. I think we should keep the faith.
Of all media industries assaulted by changes wrought by the Internet, it’s a toss-up as to which is considered the more beleaguered, newspapers or music. Not an enviable prize for which to compete.
Certainly both receive plenty of coverage of their varying woes — their problems are not well-kept secrets. But I’ve not seen such a damning indictment of the newspaper industry as the one appearing in today’s New York Times. In an article titled “Newspapers’ New Owners Turn Grim,” journalist David Carr focuses in particular on the wealthy (and dare I say egotistical?) individuals and/or their private equity firms who convinced themselves in the last several years that newspapers looked like a good bet for the future.
Opinions are apparently rapidly changing. According to an article quoted from The Baltimore Sun, Sam Zell, “the motorcycle-riding real estate mogul who took control of Tribune in an $8.2 billion sale in December, ‘The news business is something worse than horrible. If that’s the future, we don’t have much of a future.’”
Brian P. Tierney, who bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News in 2006, is quoted in The Times article saying “I’m an optimist, but it is very hard to be positive about what’s going on.”
David Carr notes that the newspaper industry has not yet hit the bottom of the rocky shoals. Last year overall newspaper revenues dropped by about 7 percent, he notes, but meanwhile publishing, like so many other industries, is only now confronting the second whammy: the U.S. recession. He quotes one (anonymous) analyst predicting a 15% revenue drop in 2008.
Further, newspapers are undercutting their own chances of bouncing back after the recession because in order to weather the current downturn they’re cutting staff, undermining the quality of their product, and any likelihood of readers (and advertisers) rushing back in the future.
It’s a terribly grim picture of this once-grand industry.