Newspapers Aren't Dying, They're Committing Suicide, PART 1

IowaScribe By IowaScribe, 6th Jul 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

The downsizing of newsrooms began with the elimination of full-time photographers, and was the first step by corporate-owned McPapers toward the mass suicide they are now committing.

Newspapers Aren't Dying, They're Committing Suicide, Part 1

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A very well-written article and analysis of the decision by the management geniuses at the Chicago Sun-Times to hit the delete button on their entire staff of photographers:

Link: ALEX GARCIA: The Idiocy Of Eliminating A Photo Staff

Excerpt: "The reason why this is bad management and not smart Machiavellian management is because although you've saved your bottom line, you've exposed your naked disregard for your customers.
"The photographers they fired were not button-pushers, they were journalists and trusted members of their communities."


My Take
The same applies to small-town rags. The downsizing of newsrooms began with the elimination of full-time photographers, and was the first step by corporate-owned McPapers toward the mass suicide they are now committing.

The medium-sized Iowa newspaper I used to work for has a century-long history of outstanding photo-journalism. When I started working there nearly 13 years ago, there were two full-time and one part-time photographer on staff, and they were still making the transition from film and darkroom photography to digital photography. The six-day-a-week paper was then a mixture of half digital and half film, as the darkroom was slowly being phased out and turned into a storage closet, which is what it had become within one year of my working there.

The photos were excellent. Main art in the A-Section was almost always at an award-winning level and the main art in the sports section was as good as any in the Midwest. The parent company had opened up its checkbook and sprung for some state-of-the-art digital photo equipment, and the photographers happily supplemented it with their own equipment because they loved seeing their top-of-the-line photos published each day, and they loved when their photos were quickly picked up by the AP or the Iowa Newspaper Association and digitally distributed, because it meant additional publicity for them and for the newspaper, and often, it meant a few extra bucks in their pockets.
They told a story of their community, week in and week out, through their photos. They captured the joy of the county fair or the local baseball team's winning streak; they captured the horror of a deadly tornado or a downtown business fire. They were known and beloved in the community, and were good at hearing good news tips and bringing them back to the reporters and editors.

They were full-time photojournalists at their best.

Then the corporate genius McPaper Company bought the paper, and everything went to hell.

Within a year, 2.5 photographers became 1 photographer. That one photographer was expected to shoot all the news stories each day, all the local sports action each night. And, for some reason, that one photographer was put in charge of the Web site.
And, of course, that one photographer couldn't be allowed to work more than 40 hours per week, because corporate masters refused to recognize any state or federal overtime laws or regulations. Reporters and editors and sometimes even advertising salespeople were expected to pick up the slack. Photo correspondents were hired, paid per published photo as independent contractors. Some of them were very good, but they had no loyalty to the newspaper or the community.

A few years later, the photo staff was reduced to none. The reporters and editors were now expected to take all the photos as a part of their reporting duties. Of course, the number of reporters and editors had been reduced as well. So one reporter found herself on the "cops/lifestyles/features" beat. Another found himself of the "school district/photo editor/downtown business" beat.

Sports reporters were now photographers, too, not just for sports, but for everything. They also were occasionally asked to cover city council and school board meetings -- as reporters and photographers.

They weren't given any new photo equipment, however. All they had to work with was the same digital camera equipment that had been given to them years earlier, when the newspaper first made the switch from film to digital. One decent camera, fought over by the entire newsroom.

Commonly heard in the newsroom daily: "Do you need the good camera tonight? Who needs the good camera tonight?"

Also often heard: "Where the hell is the friggin' good camera? How the hell am I supposed to take an action photo with no camera?"

In fact, the newspaper was using the same photoshop technology -- about 12 upgrades behind -- that they had been using way back when they had gone digital. (Also using the same pagination technology in 2013 that they had been using in 1998, but that's a whole other article.)

Photo correspondents were still used, but sparingly, and the wonderful idea of using photos sent in by community citizens on a regular basis was implemented. As citizens (and not journalists), they did not understand that they were getting ripped off by their local paper, when the paper used photos that at one time the paper would have paid good money to use.

One of our brilliant publishers (the paper went through six publishers in my 12 years working there) often made the comment that photographers were now unnecessary -- digital cameras and camera-phones, and the like, made photographers obsolete. Any nitwit can take a photo, he said.

So nitwits took photos, and those photos often became main art, and that main art absolutely sucked, by anyone's standard. Because that's what happens when nitwits take photos.
Gotta save some money for the corporate board. Gotta make cuts, so that profit margin gets closer to the unrealistic expectations our investors were given.

This has not been helped by subsequent publishers, who insist that all they want to see on the front page are photos of little kids or puppies or kittens. News? Journalism? They don't give a frog's fat ass about news or journalism. More little kids with Kool-Aid mustaches! More puppies! THAT's what sells papers!

Great front page photos were once an everyday thing at that (now a five-day a week, and sinking fast) paper. Today, they happen about once or twice a year, like a lucky half-court shot at the buzzer. The rest of the time, the photos are awful -- plain and simply, awful.

They are photos taken by people not qualified to take photos, using obsolete equipment. And the photo orders are given by publishers (not editors) who are not qualified to give orders, because they aren't qualified to even work at a newspaper. They know nothing of journalism, and they don't care about their communities. They care about the corporate board, 2000 miles away.

And when I look around at other newspapers of similar size, I see the exact same thing at those papers. It's just another of the many ways papers are killing themselves. It has nothing to do with the Internet, or bias, or economic downturns, or anything else people often try to blame for the approaching death of newspapers.

It's a blatant disregard for the customers and communities they profess to serve, as well as for their employees.

Newspapers are not dying a natural death. Newspapers are committing suicide.

Tags

Death Of Newspapers, Iowa, Iowa Scribe, Iowascribe, Journalism, Newspapers, Newspapers Committing Suicide, Newspapers Dying

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author avatar IowaScribe
Iowa Scribe, is an established writer, editor, author, poet and playwright who is currently trying to pay the bills as a scribe in his home state of Iowa. See more of his work at www.iowascribe.com

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Comments

author avatar Connie McKinney
7th Jul 2013 (#)

I think I can guess the corporate folks involved: Gannett. I used to work for them. It's so sad how they've ruined once great newspapers. Good analysis of a very sad but true situation.

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