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Late Night: Journalistic Speculation

This entire piece on the Times-Picayune is worth reading but I wanted to pull this part out: 

We know that the Times-Picayune was still profitable under the business model it was implementing previous to the Newhouse cull.  Most of us believe that while not perfect, the staff of the TP was exceptional on the whole in comparison to other metropolitan newspapers in the U.S.  I believe that the TP was providing all of the essential elements of a journalistic entity that I listed above…and usually doing that rather well….sometimes exceptionally.

We had it nice, Nawlins….we really did.

I think it is very apparent to this community that Newhouse’s decision was not based on the quality of the product they were providing.  This decision was clearly a financial decision.  In fact, it’s even worse than that….it was a speculative, financial decision.

Emphasis mine, because it clarifies something I’ve been writing about for a long time, which is that newspaper companies have been deliberately undercutting the print portion of their product for at least the past two decades. I’ve watched it happen from the outside in, as it is now in New Orleans, and I’ve experienced it from the inside out.

I’m not just talking about the really obvious shit like not filling reporter jobs, or making reporters take pay cuts, or generally treating the newsrooms like dirt. The newsrooms can take it. I’m talking about the undercutting of home delivery, a total lack of customer service, juggling editions and routes such that half the subscribers get news from three towns over, and all the kind of stuff that understandably drives people who pay for your shit absolutely insane. Looking back, it’s astonishing how many papers managed to make money not because of their medium but in spite of it.

So now Newhouse and others are betting that the paper’s gonna go away, probably because for years consultants and academics and other critters who have just about as much connection to the journalism experience as they do to NASA have been saying the paper’s gonna go away, and that plenty of people still like and would prefer to buy the paper makes no difference at all to them. Some of that betting, done loudly and in public and with disdain for the paper itself, becomes self-fulfilling, like if all you do is tell me your product sucks, I am not, shall we say, gagging to go buy me some.

(Which is a cousin to that other favorite newspaper argument these days, FUCK YOU FOR NOT BUYING A PAPER AND READING A BOOK AND WRITING ON A TYPEWRITER, YOU INAUTHENTIC FUCK. That’s even more of a winner when it comes to getting customers on your side.)

They’re speculating on the future. They’re speculating that print really is dead, and kids really don’t read, and it really all is over so we should just slice our wrists and have done with it. Which might be understandable were they actually slicing their own wrists instead of making staffers at profitable operations wield the razors at gunpoint.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.