We are in the midst of a digital revolution and instead of constantly being disrupted by our numerous online competitors, we decided to re-invent ourselves. It is useless to bemoan the digital revolution and the unintended consequences that have come along with it; the trick is to turn that trend to the advantage of our papers, our readers, and our communities. This is a difficult task, and it is the one we are deeply engaged in.
In Michigan, this led to what amounts to a scorched-earth policy for Advance’s news gathering assets: Last November, it confirmed it laid off nearly half (550) of its 1,200 employees. About half those layoffs were later offset with the new hires. But the cuts, nonetheless, are real and substantial.
In New Orleans and across its Alabama properties, the cuts were similarly dramatic.
Now, the way Advance went about this was ham-fisted and needlessly obfuscated with digital hoo-hah slathered with a layer of sentimentalist goo about Hurricane Katrina and the good old days in Biloxi.
But these, one assumes, are staffing levels appropriate for this particular model. Advance has done the math, and this is what the free online model pays for.
The financial prospects of Advance’s model are uncertain. But what it not uncertain is that it requires cuts now.
Advance officials describe its moves as inevitable, but Advance itself has chosen this particular path, and done so voluntarily. If this free model were the only one available, that would be one thing. But since it isn’t, and since it, as Advance tell us, requires dramatic cuts, and requires them immediately, AND since the model is based on click and post volume, the free model should be opposed.
This is not a cost-free experiment. Once the newsrooms are degraded, there is no clear path to redeeming them.
And if you think, this brave new click world is theoretical, you should at least pay some attention to Times-Picayune staffers and former staffers who have worked under the changing regime.
Here’s former reporter Sheila Grissett, for instance:
“I’m old-school, and when you tell me that I must post a partially reported piece of news - even if it’s wrong and can later be corrected - because some people somewhere want to see something new, anything new, each and every time they click, that was my line in the sand .”
Oh, and did I mention that Paton publicly endorsed Advance’s moves?
All of this puts JRC’s second bankruptcy into sobering perspective.
But the real problem with JRC’s model, as with Advance’s, isn’t merely that it has failed to prove it can support quality journalism. The problem is, it is designed for the opposite.
Digital first? Absolutely. But this version? No, thanks. The costs are too high, and it’s not even working financially. And what if we learn, in the end, that it wasn’t even necessary?