Gannett has “spun off” its print media holdings into a separate company, and not so coincidentally, the Indianapolis Star is once again cutting staff.
The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild announced that the newspaper will reduce newsroom staff and management by another 15 percent over the next few weeks. That will leave the employee count at 106, down from the current 124, and substantially below historic levels.
The paper plans to cut five of its remaining 11 photographers and the entire staff of the copy desk. The Guild said the cutbacks mark the sixth round of layoffs at the Star in six years.
In a story detailing the changes, Star Editor Jeff Taylor wrote that the paper was
“taking steps to significantly recast our newsroom in coming weeks. We will expand our reporting staff, further sharpen our focus on being responsive to the interests of our readers in real time, and deepen our community connections.”
Taylor said more reporters will be dedicated to investigative, business and “quality-of-life” coverage.
More investigative reporting. Right. And I have a really nice bridge to sell you….
If memory serves, each of the previous rounds of cuts has been accompanied by these same promises–and each time, the promises have proved hollow. At this point, there is more actual news in the IBJ and more “news I can use” in my monthly neighborhood paper, the Urban Times, than in the Indianapolis Star.
This isn’t nostalgia for the way things never were. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Star was never a first-rank newspaper. It did, however, have investigative reporters. It did have statehouse reporters, and a city beat staffed by people who had some institutional memory and the cojones to call ’em like they saw ’em–people who reported on the nitty-gritty of government and didn’t waste precious column inches fawning over elected officials.
Today’s Star–with its “McPaper” insert– panders to celebrity watchers, hypes new restaurants and “hot properties,” pads the paper with vapid “human interest” features, and runs paid obituaries and advertisements where news used to go. None of this requires that quaint thing we used to call journalism. On the rare occasions when the Star reports on public matters, it is often painfully apparent that the reporter didn’t understand the issue sufficiently to write a coherent story–a deficiency shared by whoever is currently copyediting. (The garbled prose and typos in so many articles suggests that the copyediting function has already been dispensed with.)
The problem is, in the absence of a newspaper of general circulation performing the time-honored “watchdog” function, We the People have absolutely no way of holding our elected officials accountable. The recent recycling deal is a perfect example: the Mayor’s office reported that the vendor would recycle 80-90% of the trash collected, and the paper uncritically repeated that assertion. The actual contract requires the vendor to recycle less than 20%. If we had a real newspaper–with enough real reporters–someone would have read the contract and noted the discrepancy.
The saddest part of all this is that newspapers remain profitable–just not profitable enough to satisfy Gannett and its shareholders. Gannett doesn’t seem to understand that cutting staff may boost profit margins in the short term, but the lack of substantive content will doom the enterprise in the long term.
And the long term isn’t very far away.