Journalists seemingly like nothing better than to ruminate over the decline of our industry. Romanesko is often little but layoff and buyout notices. Fading to Black documents much of the same. It is almost all we talk about – and sure the bad news is true and close to home. A former colleague reminded me of that via a Twitter this week regarding the handful of buyouts we are now in the middle of.
It is a personal tragedy for the people who lose jobs. It is painful and destabilizing for those left behind. It certainly is not the best news for readers. But what does any of it have to do with the decline of journalism?
Maybe not a great example, but the six years I spent at AOL were filled with almost monthly mergers, reorganizations and layoffs – much of the tech industry is the same. And, the comparison stands not because AOL is in decline but because that is what companies in tightly competitive markets do – they fight to compete.
Right now newspapers are adjusting to an awkward reality in which they are not the only information game in town. As a one-time near-monopoly the industry grew staffing, grew profit margins and ignored innovation. Well, payback sucks. Today’s downsizings are nothing more than 30 years of pent-up economic corrections crammed into a 2-year crash course. Emphasis on ‘crash.’
The problem with newspapers right now is not that no one wants news. Rather, it is that fewer people want it once daily in print. That is not a problem with journalism, it is a problem of weaning journalism from an aging delivery platform paid for via an outdated business model.
So, print circulation is down, profits are down and newspapers need a bit of time to regain their equilibrium. This is true not just for income v.s. expenses but also for print v.s. every other distribution platform out there. As an industry that has been around for 400 years, 5 or 10 years of chaos once in a while can’t be completely unexpected.
The question really is, once the current recession passes and papers start filling the occasional job again, what will the titles be for those first few new hires? If we have learned from the pain of this transition we will be hiring people with skills that cross disciplines: multimedia journalists, database editors, interactive designers and the like.
Newspapers are certainly not going to look the same in 5 years. We may even lose a few along the way. But as long as there is a need for news, someone or something that fills the need will take their place. And that ‘something’ will be hiring journalists. In the meantime we need to stop worrying so much about the decline and start worrying more about the recovery.
Every crash has a bottom, but it’s often easy to miss amid all the screaming on the way down.