Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Armageddon not yet

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Here’s a man who will make Tina happy. Rick Edmonds, who penned today’s Poynter centerpiece, claims -sorry, says- that it’s not yet Armageddon in America’s newsrooms. And, he’s got data to back it up.
An ASNE survey he cites shows that most of the staff cuts last year were concentrated in about 90 dailies. In other newsrooms, staffs stayed about even, with one layoff here and one hire there. Business as usual.
So why the frenzy? Well, as Mr. Edmonds – I believe in NYT style, it’s more polite – puts it eloquently, “like a plane landing without crashing, keeping staffing steady doesn’t really qualify as news.” So the LA Times, Merc, SF Chronicle, even Santa Cruz Sentinel, make the headlines and the blogs, and Tina’s Houston Chronicle doesn’t.
I may, too, be guilty of overestimating the drama, but when you’re looking at several friendly people losing their jobs, it’s hard not to. Plus, I’m French, therefore hardwired to believe that a good unemployment rate is around 9 percent. (I found out Americans have different standards on that, and many other, topics.)
I have one major qualm with the ASNE survey: it doesn’t count newspapers with a circulation of 50,000 or less. Aren’t those the basic fabric of American journalism? The source of information for every single community out there? Mr. Edmonds estimates, though, that staffing has remained about even in those newsrooms and concludes that job security is better at smaller newspapers than major metro. I won’t make the mistake of assuming that every single small paper in the country is in the Sentinel’s position, but there are quite a few papers out there that are being bought and stripped of all their fat (and a bit of the bone and muscle once the fat is gone) – if only in Singletonland.
Mr. Edmonds is far from stupid, I’m sure, and acknowledges all this. In fact, his editorial is a pearl of restraint and balance… which is probably why I come out of reading it confused and unsure of his conclusion: am I supposed to be hopeful or go out and buy a rope?
A final note on Mr. Edmonds’ editorial. “On an apples-to-apples basis,” he says, “the running total since 2000 is probably a loss of between 3,500 or more newsroom jobs.” It’s not the end of the world, I agree. But it’s also the equivalent of every J-school graduating class since, say, 1999. Try and fit them all on the quad.
(Note to alumns: we only have half a quad these days.)


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Monday, 11 June, 2007 at 20:02

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