Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Editors Shouldn't Try To Make Excuses For Layoffs

Trying Times In The Triad for the Greensboro News & Record Leaves Editor Attempting to Convince Readers He'll Do More With Less
Pink slips to prevent red ink are becoming common in newsrooms nationwide, including the Greensboro News & Record, where 18 reporters and editors were among the 41 who were axed last week.
So, at least give editor John Robinson credit for trying to put a smiley face on the bloodletting.
Like others at newspapers that have experiences similar losses, he failed miserably.
On his blog today, Robinson was unconvincing in explaining what happened and how the paper will move forward. Let's parse a few of his missives, shall we?

Talented folks left the building, and we'll miss them. This hard business decision brings us in line with many newspapers across the country.

So what Robinson appears to be saying is everyone else is doing it, so why can't we? Too bad, there's no one to give Robinson the equivalent reply I used to get from my Mom as a kid, some variation of "if everyone else jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you do it too?"
No one's forcing you to lay off anyone John; it was a business decision to prop up profits at the expense of your staff, plain and simple.

I respect the folks who left too much to suggest that we won't miss them in the newspaper. Our challenge is to make sure that we are producing the journalism that helps you understand and engage with the world.

Robinson then says the paper will organize around three themes. The first -- public service journalism -- is what Robinson rightly calls the "core reason we exist." He tells us that means "unique" stories, more investigative enterprise and community news."
But if you just slashed nearly 20 percent of your staff, who's left to do investigative reporting? And if you do free up someone for that, doesn't that mean other important stuff gets left by the wayside?

The second Robinson tenet is "audience-centered" journalism because -- news flash -- people are reading the paper online.
We will move faster to where you are so that we can get you what you need, when and how you need it.

Who's we? And with your staff threadbare, how can they move if they're constantly tethered to their desks?

Finally, he says the News & Record will be about "community building," on the belief that "there's a role for the newspapers to build community."

Of course, the last way to build community is to pull reporters out of those communities, which is what has happened. Robinson says the paper will continue its emphasis on "local, community-level news." But whether there's anything left worth reading about is a larger question that Robinson is in no position to answer.

However, given what's happened at all the other papers the News & Record has imitated, it's not hard to draw conclusions, none of which leave you sanguine about the quality of newsgathering in the Triad.

1 comment:

John Robinson said...

Well, let's parse indeed.

No, I'm not saying everyone else is doing it, so we shall too. I'm telling newspaper readers in the Triad that this is happening in many other places. It's a bit of perspective that's not uncommon in newspapers.

Where'd you get the math? 20% of the staff? You'd better do some recalculation. In fact, you've decided that it's 18 reporters and editors, information that is not in my column or true.

You can still do a lot of investigative reporting if the number of news reporters included in the cuts actually amounts to 3, leaving about 25 others to report.

You used to be a reporter? Really, try to deal with information you actually know, rather than stuff that feeds your imagination.

But thanks for the link.