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January 26, 2015 / jeffnward

Another reason newspapers are dying

As I sit back and watch the ongoing print media carnage – Sports Illustrated just laid off the last of their photo journalists (does that mean they’re just called “Sports” now) – publishers’ capacity to consistently make abysmally poor choices continually confounds me. C’mon man! Even that proverbial broken clock is right twice a day.

In yet another effort to outdo themselves, their latest form of mismanagement is to ask newsroom staff, and especially reporters, to make a massive investment in a company that plans on making absolutely no investment in them.

Many reporters haven’t seen a raise since 2008 despite being asked to take on an ever increasing workload that makes it more and more difficult to do a good job. And as the good reporters inevitably leave as a result, these publishers somehow think that their greatly diminished talent pool will somehow bring their former readers back.

But if you’ve taken a good look at what passes for writing in the local newspapers these days, you can clearly see that isn’t the case.

Because what they’ve ended up with is the latest form of low-paid stringers who don’t have the slightest idea what’s really going in in local politics or anywhere else for that matter. Who else would be willing to work for that miniscule amount of money?

So what you end up getting is one paper reporting that the Kane County Board’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee had new co-chairs which certainly ain’t the case. That same group got the age of a Kane County Board member wrong too. But what’s even worse is, the general level of the writing has gotten so bad that reading a paragraph three times is no guarantee that you will truly understand the author’s intent. Don’t even get me started on all the misspellings and absurd grammar usage.

And the bizarre irony is, if you speak with the reporters who’ve moved on, they will defend that newsroom dynamic to their dying day and go as far as threatening me with death if I use their names to make this point. But then they’ll let something slip like, “It’s finally nice to be working at a job where your bosses truly appreciate your talent.”

So much for maintaining a zealous defense!

Ah! But one reporter finally had the nerve to lay it on the line and the ever vigilant Jim Romenesko picked up on it. Again, I would encourage you to visit JimRomensko.com as often as possible because you’ll find stories like this one. All the featured reporter did was ask his new bosses for an eminently reasonable 3 percent raise and I’m sure you can already guess the ending.

The last line of the reporter’s response to Romenesko is something that’s needed to be said for a long, long time. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s time for newsrooms to unionize.

Goodbye local newspapers, you’re not even going to survive on the Net.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter resigns after publisher says no to 3% raise

Investigative reporter Thomas Caywood received only one small raise in his seven years at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, while his paid vacation benefit went from three weeks a year to two. Invited by new owners to stay at the paper, Caywood told Telegram publisher James F. Normandin that he’d stay put if he received a 3% raise and went back to three weeks paid vacation.

Tim Caywood

Tim Caywood

“The meager raise would barely be noticeable to my finances,” he told the boss, “but it’s vital to me that I see some tangible evidence of this commitment to quality journalism of which you and [T&G owner] GateHouse speak.”

The publisher said corporate wouldn’t let him negotiate, so it was take it or leave it.

“I left it,” writes the 44-year-old reporter.

He resigned last Tuesday without another job lined up.

I asked Caywood about his resignation and he responded via email [with my boldface]:

To answer your questions from yesterday: I have a reasonable savings and no major debt, so I’m not in any immediately jeopardy of destitution. I’ll be looking for work, of course, but I can get by without it for many months with a some austerity measures. I’m not married and don’t have any children, so I was only putting myself at risk when I resigned.

I didn’t leave the Telegram & Gazette with any hard feelings and my departure was not intended as some kind of provocative “fuck you” gesture. The publisher is a likable guy, and our meeting was cordial. I wish him and all my former colleagues well under the GateHouse ownership. I loved the job and was one of the T&G’s most-ardent promoters and defenders in the city. But I just couldn’t avoid any longer the unwelcome truth that I valued the job more highly than the company valued me.

5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. The Observer / Jan 26 2015 4:09 pm

    Nothing new here. I saw it twenty-five years ago when Shaw Media bought the CHRONICLE chain of newspapers.

    Within two months, the good photographers and reporters were running out the doors like the place was on fire, and an incompetent advertising manager was promoted to the title “Publisher.”

    As you know, Jeff, the rest is history.

  2. Vicky / Jan 26 2015 7:54 pm

    This is nothing new, as it is happening in many areas of work. People deserve to be paid fairly and with respect. We need a return of unions

    • jeffnward / Jan 27 2015 4:33 pm

      Vicky,

      You certainly are correct, but this malady is far more virulent in newsrooms!

  3. Dave / Jan 27 2015 8:05 pm

    Jeff, its not just newsrooms, its true of any industry in which both revenues and the labor force is shrinking, says a veteran of the 1980s & 1990s steel industry. The reason why the impact of this sort of trend on the newsroom might seem particularly vicious is that those to whom its happening now are quite accustomed to putting their story in the print, and have the channels available to place it in the public’s view.

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