Jeff Jarvis, in a post on his Buzzmachine yesterday, effectively supported the proprietors of US newspapers in the sacking of increasing numbers of journalists. The row started when Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post worried that cuts â€” Los Angeles Times staff reduced by a third in four years â€” would mean the ability to conduct investigations which hold politicians to account were being jeopardised.
With 800 editorial staff after the cuts, the LA Times staffing, like that of most US newspapers, looks extremely generous by UK standards. Last week I wrote: “Investigative reporting has for far too long been low on the agenda of British newspapers with too few reporters for this time consuming and expensive work.”
Jarvis had a different perspective writing under the heading Killing the crap to save the news about Kurtz”s comment:
I think what he should lament is the refusal of newspaper editors to wake up and smell the latte: all the wasted froth that squanderes their budgets.
Kurtz responded agreeing that some newspapers were overstaffed but adding:
Many of the corporate executives ordering these cuts don’t care about finding innovative ways to cover the news; they just want to please Wall Street by getting the payroll down.
Jarvis came in again yesterday under a headline of Trimming newspaper fat v meat writing:
But shouldnâ€™t it be up to the editors of these newspapers to find those innovative ways to cover the news and to help the institution and its value survive the transition to the new world? Instead, we see editors stomping their feet, refusing to cut back as if there is no need to, as if itâ€™s just some big, bad, greedy biz guys â€” instead of a post-monopoly market reality â€” forcing them to fire.
He has not been alone. Jack Shafer in Slate compared editors fighting redundancies to a city government finding they have a revenue shortfall: “Instead of trimming the bureaucracy across the board or zeroing out the Parks and Recreation Department, it announces that the best way to balance the budget is to close several fire stations.” Maybe there is some truth in that but, personally, I value the parks and recreation department.
Some in the US have a revolutionary agenda of laying waste to journalism as we know it in the belief that something will emerge to replace it. Jeff Crigler is one of them, who writes in the News2020 blog:
All due respect, but Kurtz isn’t answering the real thrust of the journopopulist argument, which has never claimed that “any one blogger” could match a newspaper’s best efforts.
The idea, or at least one idea that’s being kicked around, is that communities of bloggers–or teams of citizen journalists, or wise crowds or open-source reporters or whatever term we eventually settle on–can contribute something that might very well match what a newsroom can do. Might even best it, when the team/crowd/open-source community is fired up and firing on all cylinders.
Now that is something to appeal, whatever “journopopulist” may mean, to media employers: get the volunteers in. One has to look to revolutionary France or Russia to find people with similar convictions that sweeping away the old will produce something better. It may do eventually but history tells us it takes a long time.
There is a blind zealotry abroad. They have clearly not seen what has happened in Britain, particularly outside London where the regional press has been pared to the bone. The Gloucester Citizen which has had to move its main office to the neighboring town is just one example. Weekly and daily newspapers are left with tiny, poorly paid staff who fight to do more than keep the adverts apart which is what the owners appear to see as the limits of the job. The editors of these papers have no way of finding the “innovative ways” to cover the news that Jarvis wants.
He seems to fail to see the connection with the direction that continuing job cuts will take the American papers when he comments approvingly on the decision of the Daily Express in London to outsource its City pages to the Press Association agency. He wrote (also yesterday):
If you donâ€™t want to go to the expense of having a business section, if itâ€™s not core to what you do, then you can link to one. And that forces you to decide what is core. What is it that just you can do and that canâ€™t be outsourced?
What he fails to see is a once great newspaper brought to its knees: a paper that in the past would never have dreamed that something so important as City reporting should not be done by its own staff. This may be a stage in the death of the Express but many other British newspapers are already outsourcing pages.
This is how PA describes the service:
Camera-ready news pages
This service is primarily for daily and weekly newspapers and offers quality pages using PAâ€™s news content. Why tie up valuable manpower on national and international news pages when our dedicated team can do the job for you – often at lower cost?
That really is commodity news and logically there is no reason why the service should not be moved to India to sit alongside the call centres where staff are cheaper still.
There are dangers in comparing American and British media and the way they work. Americans reporters are more deferential to their politicians while the British reporters have constantly challenged ours. But the Americans have been more effective in mounting investigations into theirs.
American newspapers â€” and broadcasters â€” are going to have to become slimmer and fitter but it would be a terrible mistake if those cuts went so far as those which have afflicted much of the British press. When you have too few people it is impossible to be innovative â€” and that, I agree with Jarvis, is essential for those who are to make the transition to the new journalism of the internet.