The bloodletting at Philadelphia's two major newspapers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News (and their web sibling Philly.com), compels me to repost a blog from last year on the societal risk of the persistent cutbacks in journalism, both broadcast and print.
Today, nearly fifty top notch journalists, editors, producers, and photojournalists lost their jobs—a boon only to politicians looking to cheat, sports teams looking to hide things, and citizens who want to live in ignorance about their society.
The media trend away from hard reporting, and opinion rooted in reporting and facts, and towards blogging, and "infotainment" runs the risk of a society where people have opinions based solely on misinformation.
That's not to say that there aren't plenty of smart, capable bloggers, pundits, and talk radio hosts, who play a valuable role in society. In many cases, they've introduced fresh methods, concepts, and issues into the national dialogue.
But even these personalities suffer from newsroom reductions. Most good bloggers and hosts consume large quantities of journalism to provide ideas and background for their shows and blogs. Your favorite talk radio host or blogger would not have material every morning if newspapers and their digital counterparts ceased to exist.
Even people who see little value in traditional newspapers in a digital age utilize their reporting—sometimes without knowing it. For example, when you set your fantasy lineup or make a trade, the decision is often informed by reporting on player utilization and injuries.
It is even more troubling that the default method of dealing with the progressive loss of revenue in the news business seems to be layoffs that hollow out the product. Layoffs should be an absolute last resort. Instead, Philly Media Network, the company that owns the Daily News, the Inquirer, and Philly.com, never tried outside the box ideas to improve revenue before resorting to drastic cutbacks.
In a country where public radio and public television survive (and even thrive) partially thanks to contributions from consumers, why don't newspapers try such a model? Many people believe that their local papers (whether they read them in print or online) are public trusts. They might be willing to contribute to keep the product from being weakened.
Alternatively, what about a model like ESPN Insider or the New York Times Select that offers supplemental content for a digital subscription fee?
Or perhaps a model based on music streaming services. Content would be available for free only if readers sit through advertisements that cannot be avoided. Alternatively, however, subscribers to a variety of plans could access ad free digital content. Instead of a one size fits all paywall, let readers interested solely in sports pay less for access to just sports content, while political junkies pay for a political package, etc.
Countless other ideas exist that might increase revenue and reduce the need to cut costs. Especially in an era of social media, in which readers can interact with their favorite writers and columnists, layoffs threaten far more harm than good.
Indeed, Philly Media Network damaged their product, destroyed morale, and turned off countless consumers whose favorite writers got fired. Everyone who cares about an informed citizenry and good journalism lost today.
Fans of talented journalists like the baseball writers Ryan Lawrence and Jake Kaplan, and Vinny Vella and Dana DiFillippo from the crime beat, can only shake their heads in disgust and sadness because management lacked the creativity to seek other solutions first.