I was saddened by the news that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is laying off nine more employees — eight in the newsroom and one of the maintenance staff. I don’t know any of these people, but I recognize that we need those reporters and editors on the job, for without them, the news won’t be gathered as well as it should be.
This is something we’ve been taking for granted for over a decade now — the concept that we have free access to the world’s news at a moment’s notice — without regard for the people who have to put in the work to bring it to us. Every time you click on a link to a news story on Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog, you probably don’t think about the effort that went into uncovering the details behind that story. It may not be an in-depth investigative piece, it could be something as seemingly simple as a summary of last night’s ball game. It took a human being to produce that journalism, and that human being should be paid for providing it.
I admit that I’m one of those responsible for the slow death of print news, as I haven’t subscribed to the print edition of the P-D for years. When I do see it, it is sadly slim. Like many, I use the paper’s website, STLtoday.com, as an occasional resource, particularly on days when I have to do a radio show — it helps me understand what’s happening in this metro area. I’m no longer on the air every day, so I don’t check it every day, but the P-D (or the daily newspaper in any American city) is still a key show-prep device for lots of radio personalities, not to mention the TV newscasts who so often rip stories out of the paper and use them on the air without even a consideration or a credit to where it originated.
The historical fault for all of this goes back a couple of decades, when news outlets viewed the internet as a way to increase their reach, with the hope that would mean more revenue from advertisers who wanted to attract business from that larger audience. So they gave it away online for free, thinking that the cost of doing so would be a loss-leader that would create a new revenue stream. Unfortunately, newspapers have discovered that online dollars are no match for print dollars, and the millions of clicks each month bring in nothing compared to the paid subscriptions that used to land the paper in the driveway of almost every home in the region.
Newspapers and magazines are struggling to monetize their online versions, and in the vast majority of cases, those efforts are failing. When that happens, with the bottom line under attack, they have no choice but to reduce their largest expense — people.
The problem is, once the people are gone, so is the news.