Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights?

The title of this post is the title of the textbook I plan to use in the fall, in my class on Media and Public Affairs. Unfortunately, the message it conveys–traditional media is dying–gets truer every day.

Yesterday, the Indianapolis Star announced that 60 employees were being let go. This is in addition to prior downsizing that has already resulted in a newspaper hardly worth the name.

Of course, the Star is not alone; its parent company, Gannett, has cut jobs across the board (while awarding its CEO a bonus of 1.25 million and doubling his salary just last March).

Without going into my usual rant about corporate ownership of the media, and the huge, unnecessary debt acquired during those acquisitions, let me simply share a personal anecdote that illustrates what’s wrong with trying to “save” newspapers by cutting staff.

A couple of weeks ago, I went online, and finally stopped my subscription to the Star. Someone from the sales office called, and offered me a discounted price if I would continue my subscription (clearly, they need to be able to show advertisers numbers–they’d probably have given it to me free if I’d asked). I said thanks but no thanks, at which point the salesperson asked why I was discontinuing the paper after so many years. I explained that I no longer found much worth reading in it–the paper was thinner every day, the proportion of actual news to “human interest” and “how to” stories was unacceptably low, and coverage of local and state government had become totally inadequate. With respect to national news, by the time the Star ran the few items that still made it into the paper, I’d already heard or seen them.

In short, there is no longer any “there” there.

Cutting staff will simply exacerbate this vicious downward cycle, and hasten the day that the newspaper simply ceases publication. When that day comes, I am pained to admit that there will be little of value left to lose.

The bigger question is: what will take its place? How can we rejuvenate journalism? There are more and more outlets–web sites, blogs, cable TV, radio–offering various kinds of information of widely varying quality, but there is on balance more noise, more celebrity gossip, more emphasis on sex and scandal, and less and less actual news. The question–to which we seemingly have no answer–is “who will watch local, state and national governments? Who will tell us the things we truly need to know if we are to be informed citizens?

What will happen when the last reporter turns out the lights?


  1. The Cincinnati Enquirer also lost some staff to the Gannett cuts that happened yesterday. I don’t believe they were of the degree seen at the Star, but at this point, any reporting or research staff cuts are extremely concerning.

  2. Did you see the Mother Jones story called “All Work and No Pay: The Great Speedup.You: doing more with less. Corporate profits: Up 22 percent. The dirty secret of the jobless recovery.”? I couldn’t help but think of it reading your entry.

  3. Totally agree Sheila. The IBJ, Nuvo, Inside Indiana Business, Howey Political, WFYI and a bevy of local bloggers have become my more trusted source of news. I would go so far as to say that the Indianapolis Star is probably completely irrelevant at this point.

  4. The Indy Star is only a shell of its former self. After Gannett took over, it was only a matter of time.

  5. I share your concern, Sheila. And what will happen to our democracy when we have fewer ways to stay informed about what our governments are doing? There is so much non-news out there now – it helps us see how we have the Republican field that we have.

  6. We experienced the same thing down here in southern Indiana, where our economic and cultural ties are more closely associated with Louisville, as opposed to Indianapolis. The Courier-Journal, another Gannett paper, laid off 50 including the great Leslie Stedman Weidenbrenner and shuttered the Indianapolis bureau. Now we’ll get more day old Indy Star retread articles. Newspapers as we know them will be gone before the end of the decade.

  7. The Star has been on a steady decline since the Pulliam heirs sold out. It’s sad. Even though it was reliably right wing editorially, it featured real journalism. These days it’s mostly fluff and feeds from parent corp Gannett. At least Dan Quayle is able to enjoy a comfortable retirement though.

  8. Print news has lost it readership becasue of the other outlets of the news. It is not cost effective as compared to the electronic media sources. Saying that it is sad to lose something that you can hold in your hands as you drink a coffee in the morn. I guess folks missed the horse and buggy too. Progess is not necessary for the better.

  9. Sheila, you’re exactly right. Up here in South Bend, the local paper, the Tribune, is doing the same thing. A few years ago, it canned its group of experienced reporters, replacing them with young kids fresh out of college. Even the size of the paper on which the publication is printed has been reduced. Unfortunately, other local news media doesn’t spend the time in its 30-minute (actually 24 minutes after advertising) broadcast to do in-depth stories.

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