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December 1, 2008
Ailing Newspaper Industry Cutting Off Its Own Limbs to Try to Survive
“Made in America” took on new meaning after a Maureen Dowd column in the
Sunday New York Times revealed that one of the nation’s newspaper
chains is looking to consolidate operations, and perhaps outsource them.
Consolidation is not a new thing in the newspaper industry. As family
papers have been eaten by chains, which in turn were eaten by
progressively bigger chains, management looked for ways to make
operations run more efficiently and cost-effectively.
has been driven by news like last week’s ad revenue projections, which
estimate that the industry as a whole lost about $2 billion over the
third quarter. With all eyes riveted on the credit markets, what’s gone
unnoticed is the death of the industry that informs us.
Dowd’s column included the revelation that the chief of one of the
nation’s newspaper chains – MediaNews Group – is looking for a rather
creative way to cut personnel costs. They are considering consolidating
the chain’s copy desk operations – where stories are edited and placed
on pages – to a single location.
There’s nothing especially novel or new about this. The logical first
step upon purchasing a new group of properties is always to find ways to
save money by consolidating redundant operations. Most of the time, the
chain consolidates close to its main headquarters. MediaNews, according
to Dowd’s column, has already outsourced much of its newspaper
operations overseas, and wouldn’t rule out creating one news desk for
all of MediaNews’s papers . . . overseas.
years, those who’ve remained working at local newspapers have taken some
solace in thinking that there was no way to outsource the work of a
local newspaper to foreign shores. Those days were apparently an
case for not doing so is an obvious one, and one illustrated by one of
the first publications to outsource its reporting.
Dowd’s column also told the story of a news site in Pasadena,
California, which a couple of years ago decided to hire freelance
writers in India to do everything from updating the community calendar
to covering city council meetings. The meetings are streamed over the
Internet, and a correspondent in India writes a news story according to
her column, after noting that the Indian correspondents missed two
Pasadena City Council members walk out in protest, Dowd asked, “How
significant is it?”
answer is that it is very significant, the least reason for which is
that a potentially important news story went unreported. The second
obvious reason is that someone living in India knows none of the
important cultural or historical issues that might make a seemingly
innocuous news event a really big deal to local people in Pasadena. The
same can be said about trying to outsource news desk operations across
the ocean. What makes a local newspaper important to a local community
is that it caters to the people living in that community, something that
you can’t achieve on the cheap.
this represents is individual newspaper chains faced with a very ugly,
Managers and owners who look to outsourcing say it’s necessary in order
for the publication to come out the other end leaner and more reflective
of a modern publication.
Unfortunately, the meat and fat were cut away long ago, and what remains
are the essential ingredients for the thing to sustain its own life.
Offshoring elements fundamental to the news process – that is, news
gathering and reporting, editing and page design – is a desperation
move, a sign of how sick the entire thing has become.
Offshoring them isn’t a sign of a company losing unnecessary weight to
become leaner and scrappier, but a sign of an industry so sick that it
is cutting off limbs in vain hopes of saving the rest of the body.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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