Lamenting the loss of a daily home newspaper
The Oregonian, the state’s oldest and largest newspaper, rocked the journalism world last week by announcing:
A. Poised for a triumphant march into a glorious digital future, it is planning to undergo a transformation into a nimble, digitally oriented 21st century news provider come Oct. 1.
B. To better enable it to take this bold step forward, it is planning to immediately eliminate more than 20 percent of its news staff, some 3 1/2 months in advance, and cut its home-delivery schedule more than 40 percent on down the road, in concert with its Oct. 1 reorganization.
Pardon us for striking a note of skepticism, but we heard the sound of irreconcilable differences crashing headlong into one another. That two-part prescription clashes with everything we know about this business, and we know plenty, as this is our business, too.
According to Publisher N. Christian Anderson III, The Oregonian is adopting a strategy that “will allow us to serve consumers in Oregon and Southwest Washington with more up-to-the-minute, robust news and information online and on mobile devices while continuing the strong enterprise and investigative reporting that the Oregonian and OregonLive.com are so well known for.”
He said it aims to “expand news and information products” in order to “better serve consumers.” By being more “innovative,” he said, it intends to position itself “at the forefront” of a new information revolution.
High-minded sentiments. As usual, the devil is in the details.
The Oregonian will continue publishing seven editions a week — four for home-delivery, and the other three for street sales only. That means significantly reduced need for paper, ink, pressmen and carriers, a savings essential for a company facing today’s challenges to profitable print journalism. The risk for a newspaper — for any business, actually — occurs if what you no longer offer catches up to you in the marketplace.
The Oregonian announcement suggests that this change also translates into significantly reduced need for newsroom personnel, which simply doesn’t compute. Those who claim they are about to do more with less usually are either deluded or secretly planning to do less with less. Putting lipstick on a pig, as someone said, doesn’t make it a swan.
In Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum accused the Oregonian’s Newhouse family ownership of adopting “a new template for its newspapers (that) is depressingly familiar.” It starts, he said, with “end daily delivery” and “fire a third to a half of the veteran journalists.” In his view, The Oregonian has joined those of New Orleans, Cleveland and Birmingham in being “Newhouse’d.”
We will withhold our judgment, waiting to see how this new business plan unfolds.
We see the potential for a sad turn, not just for The Oregonian but for all of Oregon journalism, including ours.
At the same time,as a business that shares in the ultimate fate of its newspaper industry, we can hope this experiment provides new insights in how the institution of community journalism can regain and maintain its economic stability.