The newspaper chain that owns The Floyd Press as well as the Roanoke Times, the Richmond Times Dispatch and many other print media outlets around the nation fired 181 people this week and eliminated another 108 jobs that were vacant.

Gone are 10 full-time positions at the Roanoke paper and 33 in Richmond.

“Like it or not, profitable news organizations are necessary to practice exceptional journalism,” said Terry Kroeger, president and CEO of BH Media, the newspaper group of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway operation.

While the move did not affect any full-time positions at the Floyd paper, belt-tightening can be expected across the chain that employs 4,450 people in the news operations.  Expect fewer pages and shrinking news space.

As a contract reporter and photographer for the Floyd Press and who also works from time to time for other BHM outlets, I feel deep sadness for those I know and work with who will now be looking for work.

On the flip side, a longtime friend got a good newspaper job last week as one of the 60 new reporters, editors and photographers hired by The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the billionaire who also owns Amazon.

The Post and The New York Times are among the few newspaper outlets who are expanding their staffs and operations.  Such job opportunities are extremely rare in the newspaper world and some of us who have spent most of our lives in the print media world wonder if he will outlive the profession we love.

I manage to stay busy free-lancing for news operations — print, broadcast and online.  In some months, print news provides most of my income.  In others, the bulk of funds that provide food and shelter come from Internet news sites.

When too many news consumers turn to social media gossip and partisan news operations for “information” the news business and the nation as a whole suffers.

The Times is also shutting down three “community publications” that served Roanoke, Salem and Botetourt counties because they weren’t making any money.  They were inserts to the daily paper.

When I worked for the Times as a reporter and photographer from 1965-69, it and its sister afternoon paper, The Roanoke World-News, were owned by the Fishburne family and boasted a Sunday circulation of more than 100,000.

Landmark Communications in Norfolk acquired the paper in 1969 and then BH Media bought it in 2013.

The World News, like most afternoon dailies, stopped publication in 1991.  For a while, the surviving paper was called The Roanoke Times & World News.

Latest figures show a daily circulation of around 60,000 daily and 85,000 on Sundays, down from the glory days but still better than many other dailies around the country.  The Roanoke paper was ranked fifth in adult newspaper readership among dailies in America in 2011.

I decided at age 10, when I sold my first news photo to The Farmville Herald in Prince Edward County, that all I wanted to do with my life was report for a newspaper.

After more than 50 years in a profession I love, I see it shrinking and dying and under attack from those who often deserve the pain of the bad news that focuses on their misdeeds.

Legendary Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne once wrote that it was the job of a newspaperman to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

The Washington Post now displays a simple slogan under its masthead: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Time to turn on the light and keep it burning bright.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I can’t help but wonder whether local ownership would have made for financially healthier and journalistically better small papers than the Berkshire-Hathaway “oracle of Omaha” is providing… after buying up — what is the latest total? Almost 40! — so damn many Virginia and North Carolina papers that I do think he ought to change the name to Appalachian-Hathaway.
    http://www.bhmginc.com/our-properties/

    But with chain ownership I am guessing the first profit-motivated cost cuttings involved getting rid of “duplications” in printing, copy editing, design and layout, and sapping the quality of journalism by cutting any competing newspapers’ staff, especially reporters at the two state capitols, and maybe regional ads sales.

    All of that would be very expensive to restore if the papers ever tried to go independent again, except, perhaps at paperless blogs with very little in the way of revenue. Welcome to the future of fewer Watch Dogs… and thank you for keeping on, Doug!

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