No question, a bad week for some traditional media heavyweights:
It’s been an especially rotten few days for people who type on deadline. On Tuesday, The Christian Science Monitor announced that, after a century, it would cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc., the Olympian home of Time magazine, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, announced that it was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. And Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, compounded the grimness by announcing it was laying off 10 percent of its work force up to 3,000 people.
Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it.
It goes on. The day before, the Tribune Company had declared that it would reduce the newsroom of The Los Angeles Times by 75 more people, leaving it approximately half the size it was just seven years ago.
The Star-Ledger of Newark, the 15th-largest paper in the country, which was threatened with closing, will apparently survive, but only after it was announced that the editorial staff would be reduced by 40 percent.
And two weeks ago, TV Guide, one of the famous brand names in magazines, was sold for one dollar, less than the price of a single copy.
There does not seem to be much mystery or even debate on what the problems facing the news business might be… Sites like Craigslist cut the bottom out of the lucrative classified ads moneypot almost instantly. Nobody in the industry seemed to have seen Craigslist coming. People are consuming their news in new media forms, and old media is having trouble making these channels pay out the way the old print-object-to-sales models did… And the army of bloggers have made the “MSM” seem somehow out of step in an editorial sense as well, somehow less important, less relevant.
It’s not just privately held old-school newspapers that are in crisis. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC are both supported by public funding, and both have made aggressive and (in my judgment) progressive steps to adjust their practices to the new media reality. Yet the CBC’s latest attempt to make its radio programming relevant has prompted a backlash from its core audience (and while I am less-opposed personally, I will say that accidentally listening to Tonic was a smooth jazz nightmare from which I feared I would never awaken). These changes have resulted in precious little love from the Canadian hipster digerati (a revolutionary movement with a population well into triple digits). The recent Brand-Ross phone row (disclosure: my son Harry and I maintain a private Manuel from Fawlty Towers fan club) — with the revelations of wild money paid out for expensive shock jocks working so very hard for cheap laughs — suggests nothing so clearly as a certain desperation all round: “There has been a trend in broadcasting to promote marketing figures to run channels and large editorial departments – the thinking goes, at least partly, that marketing skills are needed to “punch through” and have impact in our digital age. These figures, however, are left exposed when questions of editorial judgment arise.”
These convulsions might provoke some smug celebration from some blogvangelists, but not me. For one, I see little in new media prepared to replace the kind of detailed investigative reporting that old media is already abandoning as a cost-saving measure. And I see little reason not to expect similar forms of unexpected competition and crises of legitimacy in the future for higher education. Such crises might hit the academy in a nearer-term future than even those of us with apocalyptic temperaments might expect…