When John Georges purchased the Baton Rouge Advocate three years ago, he set about on an ambitious program of expansion into New Orleans and Lafayette.
Taking advantage of the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s contraction to publishing on three days a week, he began hiring reporters and editors from the New Orleans newspaper and it looked as though The Advocate might actually buck the trend of newsroom cutbacks plaguing publications across the country.
It looked for a while as if it might actually work but it turns out that a retired Advocate reporter was most probably correct when he recently said, “We’re all dinosaurs now.”
There’s no joy in this latest trend or in the retired reporter’s assessment of an industry in indisputable decline. And after having entered the profession 50 years ago at the Ruston Daily Leader, I certainly took no pleasure in watching the New York Times as it first sold its office building in 2004 and only last week announced buyouts to encourage early retirement in order to further cut costs.
The Advocate had already laid off some very good reporters and now LouisianaVoice has learned that additional cutbacks are expected to be announced at the end of this month.
The layoff syndrome has become a vicious cycle in the newspaper industry and the thinking behind it defies logic. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/22/the-declining-value-of-u-s-newspapers/
Tom Kelly, the man who gave me my first newspaper job exactly 50 years ago, recently said that the one commodity a newspaper has to offer its readers is fresh, thorough and compelling news stories. “The ads pay the bills, but people buy a newspaper for news and it defies logic that they cut back on the one thing that sells their papers,” he said.
Kelly, who now publishes The Piney Woods Journal, a monthly publication geared mostly to the timber industry in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas, also had some decidedly uncomplimentary words for Gannett, which he said is gobbling up newspapers at an alarming rate.
Gannett’s initial foray into Louisiana included The Shreveport Times and Monroe Morning World (now The News-Star) but it has expanded its reach into Lafayette (The Advertiser), Opelousas (The Daily World), and Alexandria (The Town Talk). Along the way, it gutted their news staffs to a fraction of their former size.
Besides its national publication, USA Today (referred to by critics as “McNewspaper”) Gannett now runs 117 newspapers in 33 states and Guam. “And now, Gannett is trying to buy the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times,” Kelly said. “Their news coverage is pitiful and they want to buy two of the largest papers in the country.” His voice trailed off as he just shook his head in disgust.
So now, one of only two major dailies left in private hands (The Lake Charles American Press is the other), is about to undergo yet another cut. It’s almost as if Bobby Jindal was making the decisions on how to heal an ailing industry. http://newspaperdeathwatch.com/
Advertising revenue is down as are subscriptions. That’s generally true at all newspapers. And just in case no one has noticed, the actual physical size of newspapers has shrunk from broadsheet (23.5 by 29.5 inches) to Berliner (12.4 by 18.5 inches) to save money on newsprint. http://www.papersizes.org/newspaper-sizes.htm
The Jena Times was perhaps the last Louisiana publication to switch to the smaller page, making the conversion only a few months ago.
So, in order to attract more advertising and increase subscriptions, the only logical thing for The Advocate to do is to lay off more personnel. http://www.journalism.org/2015/04/29/newspapers-fact-sheet/
At least the beat reporters may be spared this round. Word is the cuts will be to the copy desk. The reports we’re getting is that The Advocate will be converting to an updated automated system that will make much of the copy desk’s work obsolete. All the copy desk does is edit reporters’ stories, select the local and wire stories the paper will run, write the headlines for them and decided where in the paper they will run.
For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how automation will be able to make those decisions without benefit of the human element.
The demise of the Times-Picayune and the recent and future cutbacks at The Advocate are not something this old dinosaur subscriber takes pleasure in watching.
It’s like witnessing the slow, painful death of an old friend.