No News will be bad news

March 9, 2009, 4:39 PM UTC

A few months ago, I somewhat confidently predicted that newspapers would survive the current pressure on their business. I still believe that to be true. But recent news about the news is not so good.

Today the publisher of the Miami Herald, among other papers, declared that it would cut 1600 jobs. I’m interested in this phenomenon of companies announcing their various intentions to decruit vast numbers of people. During the French Revolution, did Robespierre put out a bulletin, “12,000  to be decapitated!” I don’t think so. Of course, it would have been in French and therefore incomprehensible to me, which is not unlike most corporate announcements, come to think of it.

But why do they do it? To be honest? I don’t think that’s it, forgive me. I think it’s because somebody in the Wall Street relations end of their business thinks that’s what his audience wants to hear, and that it just might bump the stock for a couple of hours. It certainly doesn’t help anybody in-house. In this case, McClatchy, which owns the papers being affected in this cutback, certainly isn’t going to axe 1600 in one day. This leaves a poisonous aura hanging around the entire company until the final head rolls. Who benefits from that? Frankly, I think it stinks from any vantage point. It’s Management making itself look responsible and pro-active on the backs of suffering employees. Stop it.

As for newspapers, it’s hard to find anything positive to say right now. The Rocky Mountain News is gone. Seattle may lose its paper. Others are dragging themselves along like paralyzed dachshunds on rolling trolleys. Even the newspaper of record, The New York Times, is grasping about trying to figure out how to succeed. Like everybody else in business, their stock is taking a beating, but that’s not the real story. The stock price never is these days. It’s all about revenue, and that’s the rock that’s lodged in their hard place.

So to transform themselves into a leaner, 21st century beast, the Times made its employees an interesting offer – to retrain seasoned reporters to work on the Web. Let’s forget about the fact that the Web is even less profitable than its brick and mortar counterparts for a moment; it’s clearly going to be where people get at least part of their news until G3 cerebro-cortical implants come along.

Apparently, what the newspaper didn’t tell its tenured reporters was that those who were retrained would have to leave their seniority and all that came with it behind and be hired as newbie Web trawlers. Enthusiasm for the plan seems to have foundered in the wake of this insight. This entire interesting tale is laid out on former Times reporters Sharon Waxman’s The Wrap. Take a look.

Honestly, I don’t know what the bottom line will be in the end. I do know that if I have to get all my news from the Internet, I will cry.