It has been a trying week at my newspaper The Spokesman-Review. It didn’t start out that way. Last weekend, co-worker, Multimedia Producer Brian Immel and I drove down to Portland, Oregon to give a couple of presentations on multimedia storytelling and editing at the NPPA’s Flying Short Course. On the six-hour drive home, conversation turned to innovative ideas about how we could improve our new website that was just about to launch. As the sun set in my rearview mirror, Brian said to me, “Attending a conference like the Flying Short Course makes me appreciate our situation at The Spokesman Review even more.” That workshop glow didn’t last long. By Monday there were rumors and rumors of rumors regarding layoffs.
Like every newspaper in the country, the economic fundamentals are in freefall. On Wednesday, my editor Steve Smith gathered the entire newsroom together and read off the names of twenty-one of my co-workers, which including Brian Immel, to be laid off. Audible gasps could be heard with each name called. Then Smith promptly resigned. He said he simply had had enough.
Four to six managers are also going to get the axe in the next two weeks. Until someone tells me for sure, I could be one. By my best guesstamate, we will have lost roughly 35 percent of our total newsroom staff in the last twelve months. This is the forth round of layoffs in seven years. I have to wonder if it will ever stop. I am beginning to feel like that frog in the slowly heating pot. Will I get out before boiling myself to death?
I am trying to understand the economic reasons for continued layoffs within our industry. Blame happens. That is a constant. We are one of the only industries I know that believes it can get away with giving the customers less while at the same time charging them more for a diminished product. That model, my friends, is so broken.
Most newspapers are clamoring to change their newsrooms from a print centric model to a web centric workflow. In the past year, with support of a sizable capital budget, I trained and outfitted a dozen newsroom personal with video cameras, computers and audio recorders. All learned to edit video in Final Cut. A newsroom reorganization plan was just put in place. A brand new multimedia centric website was ready to launch this week. Then the layoffs hit. A sizable portion of those new reporter/video uber journalists ended up on the layoff list. Most were twenty-somethings who had little seniority.
Now faced with this new newsroom reality, I personally plan to refocus my creative energy on what I do best. Telling compelling stories for our readers and viewers of our website and newspaper. If needed, I will train the next wave of video journalists—god knows there will be lots of spare computers and video cameras available. Still, I just have to think of the lost opportunity of what could have been. I grieve the lost of these young co-workers who were not given the chance to make a full impact with their video storytelling skills or innovative ideas. Even sadder, many say they will never return to newspapers. The bitter pill of their short newspaper experience has left such a bad taste that most have rinsed and are mentally ready to move on.