Bulletin! The news business continues to die

Every week brings news of another newspaper laying off staff. They are not alone. Digital outlets are shutting down or declaring bankruptcy. Same for broadcast news outlets.

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.

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1 thought on “Bulletin! The news business continues to die”

  1. Yup. Newspapers were always in the business of delivering advertising and business data, while –as a bonus– giving the public “civic news” and watchdog reporting along with gossip and entertainment, to get them to read the paper and give it value to the advertisers.. .The combination empowered newspaper owners, famous ones like Pulitzer and Hearst, but also hundreds of lesser lights in cities large and small. If they wanted they could be community leaders with varying degrees of public spirit, civic responsibility, ego inflation, greed, and self-deception… which in a few cases survived the capitalist consolidation into newspaper chains, corporations that gave way to more diverse and greedy umbrella corporations far removed from local community service and responsibility.

    But even the newspaper companies that got to the World Wide Web early and with some vision sat back while their visionaries were either clueless about where the profits would come from on the internet, or pwrhaps some walked off with the profit-making part of the business, or looked the other way while it migrated from digital native computer bulletin boards to independent entrepreneurs like Craig Newmark with his classified ad system, Craigslist. (He has repented somewhat and contributes to journalism education , but even for the best educated, journalism jobs are pretty hard to find without that huge corporate infrastructure of the past.)

    Community and subscriber supported operations, especially nonprofits, seem to be the only hope, but I worry that they will need university-size endowments to weather corporate political attacks on attempts to find and report the truth about corporation and political corruption. It was certainly schizophrenic how the old newspaper corporations funded investigative reporters who looked into the moral shortcomings of other corporations.

    This North Carolina zine just profiled a onetime newspaper insider who web-spun himself away with a fortune from the automotive advertising business, and now gets to play with his toys in the mountains. I hope that between his automobile purchases he writes a few healthy checks to support non-profit online news reporting.


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