The profession that I dedicated most of my life to pursue took another hit today with the Los Angeles Times announcing massive layoffs and cutbacks, just two months after digital news outlet Buzzfeed announcing it was shutting down.
It used to be that newspapers were the endangered specifies of the news universe, but the cutbacks are occurring in broadcast and internets as well.
The LA Times seemed to reverse the madness when billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the paper in 2018. He added 150 positions and some thought he had a plan that could save the paper. The layoffs announced today eliminated half of those new jobs and, if the paper’s problems continue, more layoffs will come.
The Washington Post, facing declining advertising and dropping circulation hoped billionaire Jeff Bezos would save the day when he bought the paper and added new reporters and other staff,, but he has eliminated 60 positions since November of last year. Billionaire Warren Buffet said “newspapers are vital to communities” when he bought Media General, owner of the Richmond Times Dispatch and many other newspapers, including The Floyd Press. He later purchased the chain that owned The Roanoke Times, but layoffs came instead of growth.
Buffett changed his mind and declared newspapers and other news outlets “are no longer viable” and sold the chain to Lee Enterprises, which now owners the Press and other weeklies in Virginian, along with the Times, Times Dispatch and dailies in Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Bristol and other locations.
But layoffs continue. The Times in Roanoke is down to less than half the staff it had just a few years ago and the Press has just one full-time reporter, its editor. I continue to provide news and photos to the paper, as a contractor, but less often than in the past. The Press was my first full-time newspaper job, while in high school before a went on to dailies in Roanoke, Illinois and Washington, DC, over 40 years. I retired back here in 2004 but then-editor Wanda Combs asked me to start photographing local sports and cover courts and county news.
In broadcasting, National Public Radio laid off 100 employees in February and has cut back on its heralded news operation. CNN fired its president and has cut back on news and production staff. Vice Media, heralded at the “future of news on broadcast and other mediums, declared bankfuptcy in May and Pulitzer Prize winning Internet news service BuzzFeed shut down in April.
Polls show that fewer and fewer Americans get their news from once-tradtional sources, depending more and more on social meida which if rife with propaganda and outright lies. Reports Pew Research:
The portion of Americans who often get news from television has also decreased, from 40% in 2020 to 31% in 2022. Americans turn to radio and print publications for news far less frequently than to digital devices and television.
And the news sources they depend apon? Propaganda outlets like FoxNews, which is paying close to a billion dollars in judgements for broadcasting lies about the 2020 presidential elections and other falsehoods.
When newspapers began to decline in circulation and advertising, I noted in a column 25 years ago that I might outlive my chosen profession. Today, at age 75, I may be in a photo-finish to make that worry real.
I hope not.