Job cuts at the Journal
If you saw the brief in today’s paper, you know that we let five members of our newsroom go during the past three days as part of a cost-cutting plan. It is difficult and dreary work.
The five positions were our NFL reporter, our outdoors columnist, our film critic and two people who prepared photographs for publication, known as scanning technicians. Good people all. We didn’t make these decisions lightly.
Newspapers—and other media companies—are in a tough environment. Advertising is moving online, and circulation is struggling. For publicly traded companies, there is pressure from Wall Street to keep profits up. Cost cutting has hit virtually every newspaper I know of, and it forces newsroom managers to make tough choices on what to keep and what to forego.
It’s usually the lesser of two evils. Consider, for example, our film critic. We were one of the smallest newspapers to have a full-time film critic, and we enjoyed that distinction. But there’s plenty of excellent film criticism out there that we can use for nationally released movies. We’ll still occasionally review movies with a local tie-in. By contrast, nobody else is covering the local board of education or the city council. It’s unique content. So in making our decisions, we were guided by our belief that what we can do best is cover Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Northwest North Carolina. That’s where we think our future lies, being a metro paper with a strong community focus.
And we’ll keep covering the NFL and try to offer some outdoors coverage, although probably not at the same level as before. Sometimes quantity equals quality. Sometimes it doesn’t. Having fewer bodies forces you to choose and sometimes be smarter in how you approach coverage, dispensing with the routine and focusing on trends and bigger pictures. That’s the goal.
Coverage has to change to reflect the world and the resources we’re given. My first job at the Journal was covering aviation. That beat no longer exists. But we have made room for pro basketball and hockey and technology and so on.
I know this makes it sound bloodless and clinical. It isn’t. These cuts hurt, and I’ve grieved over them.
Newspapers are a business to some as much as a calling for others, and the two can’t always be reconciled. It’s easy to forget that fact, particularly in flush times. There was a lot made in the trade press last week about Dean Baquet, the editor of the LA Times, getting forced out for refusing to go along with budget cuts. That raises interesting questions about leadership. I think everybody who is running a newsroom in America has asked themselves what would they do if they were in Dean Baquet’s shoes. My answer: I don’t know. We each have our threshold for when we think cuts are too deep and alter the mission of the calling that is journalism.
I haven’t given up. Journalism is in transition, from print to digital, and given a choice and a chance I want to see what comes out on the other side and play a part in shaping that future.