Man, times are tough. You’d think the Apocalypse has set upon newspapers. In the last year alone, my newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, has been visited by the layoff demons twice. In their wake lies a devastated a newsroom that will soon be but a shell of its former self. A parade of newsroom cakes and goodbye beer bashes will fill out my social calendar in the next few weeks. As a manager, I will find out what my own fate will be on Wednesday.
Last week was by far the hardest seven days I’ve spent in my twenty-three year journalism career. I was confused, disoriented, angry, depressed. Seven of the 21 people laid off last week were coworkers I had trained to shoot and edit video for our upcoming (now delayed) new website. They were young and talented. All understood that video was going to be an important part of our digital future. And now they will all be gone.
Maybe this was all a failed strategy on my part. I wanted nothing less than to change the culture of this newsroom. I found reporters who wanted to learn video and then I got them the gear and the training needed for them to be successful. A recent reorg of the newsroom was set to unleash all this new video storytelling potential. Then bam, in the reading of a layoff list, it was all gone.
The challenges that face every newspaper in the country are fierce. The death spiral is still in play. If we don’t stop it soon, the very foundations of a free press could crumble. That scares me even more than losing my job. We simply need to figure out a way to keep these institutions in play long enough for the economy to bounce back. I do not believe now that the Web will save newspapers. On the contrary, the Web will eventually transform them into something totally different from what we have today.
My video strategy was just a bit in front of this transformation. Most of the time I felt like the Pied Piper, blindly leading those who would follow me. My only solace was my editor-in-chief Steve Smith’s support of everything I did. His demand that the newsroom become web-centric and was inspiring. But where Steve tried to make change at a breakneck pace, I tried to use baby steps in my approach. In the end, Smith resigned because he didn’t feel he could continue to lead a newsroom devastated by such egregious cuts. What he leaves behind is a group of passionate people fearful of what lies ahead. Managing Editor Gary Graham has been named the new editor-in-chief. Graham has one hell of a job ahead of him. Still, even with all the turmoil of the last week, I remain hopeful. Hopeful I can get back to my roots of just being a storyteller. Hopeful we can all pick up the pieces of what’s left and reinvent ourselves once again into something that will resonate with readers of The Spokesman-Review and viewers of our website. Video is still a core value that I will push. This time though, I will it keep it mostly in the realm of myself and the remaining visual storytellers of the photography (visuals) department.