It doesn't give me pleasure to write about the further decline of Salem, Oregon's one and only daily newspaper, the Statesman Journal.
I'll end this post with a poignant anecdote from a New Yorker story about the death of newspapers. It isn't pleasant to watch the demise of someone that you care about. But turning our head away from reality isn't good either.
So building on previous blog posts I've written about how this Gannett newspaper has been steadily tumbling down the slope of journalistic excellence (recent posts assembled here), here's Five Reasons Statesman Journal Has Hit a New Low.
Introductory note: as mentioned above, the most recent issue of the New Yorker has a great piece, "Does Journalism Have a Future?" It talks about how BuzzFeed, among other online news sources, pioneered the use of lists -- which metrics show site visitors love. So I figured, what the heck, might as well jump on the list train.
Download Does Journalism Have a Future? | The New Yorker
(1) Additional firings are disturbing. Gannett recently ordered large layoffs, a.k.a. firings, of staff at its newspapers. I've heard that three newsroom employees at the Statesman Journal were fired: Carol McAlice Currie (opinions), Gary Horowitz (sports), and Amy Read (online/social media).
Currie and Horowitz no longer appear on the newspaper's staff roster, so it appears to be correct that they've been let go. I assume the same is true of Read.
This significantly diminishes the Statesman Journal's ability to practice quality journalism, coming as it does on the heels of previous layoffs. Every business needs to cut fat. But the Statesman Journal has been cutting bone and muscle for a long time.
(2) The three people will be missed. Above is a screenshot of a profile of Currie. At the time the profile was posted, she'd worked at the Statesman Journal for 21 years. The next screenshot shows that Horowitz also worked at the Statesman Journal for 21 years. Read's profile says she began working at the Statesman Journal in 2002, 17 years ago,
So these aren't "cub reporters" who were fired.
They are some of the most competent people at the Statesman Journal, having a combined 59 years of journalism experience with the newspaper.
About ten days ago my wife and I spent a pleasant couple of hours at the French Press coffeehouse talking with Currie about a possible opinion page project. We found her wonderfully open, informed, and pleasant. Firing her is a big loss for both the Statesman Journal and subscribers.
Another gripe: to my knowledge so far the Statesman Journal hasn't reported on the firings or honored the lengthy service of Currie, Horowitz, and Read with a "we're sorry we had to let them go" story. The story could explain why this supposedly was necessary. Or, if it wasn't necessary, why the Statesman Journal is forced to follow Gannett orders.
(3) Pettiness about blogger moi. Back in December I submitted a guest opinion to the Statesman Journal about the Broadway Commons boycott caused by the Salem Alliance Church's mistaken view that homosexuality and same-sex sex is a sin.
When January came, I told Carol McAlice Currie, the opinion page editor before she was fired, that I was going to share the opinion piece on one of my blogs, since it didn't appear the Statesman Journal was going to publish it. Currie emailed me:
My executive editor scuttled your guest opinion for a variety [of] reasons, mostly because you have a blog/existing outreach for your ideas.
Cherril Crosby is the executive editor of the Statesman Journal. On behalf of bloggers everywhere, it irks me that Crosby is discriminating against us.
Hey, Ms. Crosby, I've been blogging regularly since 2003. Not only have I earned zero money from the approximately 5,850 blog posts I've written, now on three blogs, every year I pay Typepad to continue to use my blogging platform.
Fairly often Statesman Journal reporters learn of a potential story by reading my Salem-related posts. Often journalists and opinion writers have blogs. Bloggers are supportive of newspapers. Newspapers should be equally supportive of bloggers.
After all, as newspapers steadily disappear, other sources of local news are going to become more important. Yes, I regularly criticize Gannett and the Statesman Journal. But that's because I care about newspapers. If I didn't care, I wouldn't criticize.
(4) USA Today section goes away. As part of what I interpret as the Statesman Journal moving closer to being online only, recently the USA Today section in the newspaper was deleted except for a single page of national news. Along with other subscribers, I got a self-serving email from the Statesman Journal (probably written by Gannett) which said in part:
We know that the world is more connected than ever. News and information doesn't have boundaries thanks to the power of the internet and the growth of social media.
We hear consistently from readers that they crave a robust local news report, but also want more exposure to stories happening at the national or international level.
...We will continue to provide a daily package of national and international news in the daily print edition, although the current free-standing compact USA TODAY section will no longer exist.
Well, if the Statesman Journal actually was giving subscribers "a robust local news report," losing the USA Today section wouldn't have bothered me and my wife as much. But when the paper does a crappy job covering local news, then ditches a section of national and international news, we consider that a loss.
And, no, we won't be accessing USA Today via the online offer provided by the Statesman Journal. I subscribe to both the New York Times and Washington Post online editions, and my wife prefers CNN to USA Today.
(5) Timeliness is missing. There are some good reasons why the Statesman Journal should go fully online, even though many subscribers hooked on the print edition likely will hate this. One reason is that anyone with a smartphone or computer can learn about "breaking news" (I hate how CNN and others overuse that term) soon after it happens.
Case in point: sitting in our bathtub, last Thursday night I learned via the Oregonian's iPhone app that the Oregon men's basketball team had suffered a painful loss to Washington. On Friday the Oregonian ran the story on the front page of Sports in the print edition.
Apparently because the Statesman Journal is printed in Eugene, our local newspaper didn't have a story about the Oregon loss until today, Saturday. When I saw the dramatic headline in today's Sports section (see above), at first I thought oh, no, the Ducks have lost again.
But then I realized that the paper was reporting on Saturday what happened on Thursday night. Now perhaps there was an earlier online story about the Ducks' loss. I just find the online Oregonian easier to use, with better sports reporting, so that's where I go for breaking sports news.
UPDATE: Just came across a devastating critique of Gannett, "Local newspapers have already been gutted. There's nothing left to cut." This excerpt sounds exactly like what's happening here in Salem.
Gannett is ripe for a hedge fund raid, because cost containment has been the company’s only successful strategy for years. On the print side, Gannett is actively alienating its core readership — still its most valuable source of revenue — by reducing pages, cutting features and moving up deadlines so that virtually nothing that happens after 6 p.m. makes the next day’s paper. That includes sports scores, city council meetings and major news: When Nashville holds local elections this year, those results won’t make it into print for two days.
Lastly, here's how the New Yorker story I mentioned above ends.
Like I said, there's no joy in seeing a once-beloved newspaper become a shadow of its former self. However, much of that diminishment is self-imposed by Gannett and Statesman Journal executives. It gets harder to love a newspaper that chooses to surrender journalistic quality in the face of pressures.
Jill Lepore wrote:
The death of a newspaper is sometimes like other deaths.
The Mrs. and the Miss, a very, very old woman and her very old daughter, lived in a crooked green house on top of a rise and wore matching housecoats and slippers. The Miss followed the Mrs. around like a puppy, and, if you found them in the parlor reading the paper, the Mrs. would be poring over the opinion pages while the Miss cut pictures out of the funnies.
“The Miss can’t think straight,” my father said. “Her head’s scrambled. So be gentle with her. Nothing to be afraid of. Be sure to help them out.” Once when I biked over there, the Miss was standing, keening, noise without words, sound without sense. The Mrs. wasn’t moving, and she wasn’t ever going to move again.
I called for help and held the Miss’s hand, waiting for the wail of sirens. I didn’t know what else to do.