An unemployed press cannot do its job

A sign held aloft by a lot of newspaper men and women nowadays.
A sign held aloft by a lot of newspaper men and women nowadays.

Sadness and time for reflection this weekend.  Two more of my longtime friends lost their jobs in newspapers.

Both came to work at their papers Friday morning to computer-generated notices telling them to turn in their photo equipment and ID cards at the end of the day and take any personal belongings home when they left the offices for the last time.

Both are victims of the bottom line decision making that now replaces news judgment in the profession that, except for a short venture into the dark side of politics, has been my life’s pursuit for more than half a century.

They received “severance” packages that give less than a year of support while seeking employment in a profession that’s not hiring.  The American Society of News Editors says 2014 was a double-digit year in losses of newsroom jobs — 10.4 percent or 3,800 jobs.

This year began with 32,900 full time journalists working at around 1,400 papers in this nation.  That’s a drop of more than 23,000 plus men and women who were part of the 56,000 working in the same jobs in 1990.

The National Press Photographers Association says those working “photojournalists” today earn, on average, $30,000 a year.  They are not along.  The Social Security Administration reported in October that 51 percent of working Americans make less than 30 grand each 12 months.

Those who monitor the future of news say newspapers, by its very name, is dying.  People don’t read a paper.  If they seek news they do it online.  TV news is declining.

But online news is more partisan than objective and is a package that is more dazzle than depth.  Online stories are usually shorter and less detailed and the emphasis is more on speed to “get it first” than “get it right.”

And the online news model is driven by the bottom line, not the tenants of “news” that once defined the profession.

It all comes down to money.

Politicians keep claiming the American economy is “recovering.”  More jobs and more income, they say, is “on the way.”

Recovering for whom?  On the way where?

I’m fortunate to still be working as a contract reporter and photographer for the newspaper chain that owns The Floyd Press and many other papers in Virginia and elsewhere.

What I make from contract work is no where near a “living wage.” I’m also “semi-retired” at 67 with Social Security and other income from retirement benefit programs.  Amy and I can, and do, live on less because we can.

Many others — including a lot of friends in the profession that I have called mine for most of my life — cannot survive on what little they need to survive.  They are casualties of an economy that is out of control and a government that has ground to a halt in political partisanship.

Even worse, the people who need to be working for the newspapers and other news outlets that can keep an eye on such problems and scandals are out of work,

That, ladies and gentlemen, is chaos.

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