Scaling Newspapers Down

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"Scaling Newspapers Down"

The death of the American newspaper continues apace with sharp cutbacks planned for Tribune Company papers. To me as an outside observer one striking thing about these newspaper cutbacks is how indiscriminate they seem. The NYT‘s account of the cutbacks includes this:

“The problem is the papers aren’t producing ad revenue, and diminishing the journalism isn’t going to solve that,” [James O’Shea] said. He said it was wrong to think that a paper could cut staff without reducing output and quality.

Literally speaking, I think O’Shea is probably wrong. For example, Michael Phillips did a review for The Chicago Tribune recently of You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times ran a different review of the same film by a different reviewer. But Zohan is Zohan in Chicago, LA, Orlando, and wherever else the Tribune owns papers. Reducing staff such that the entire Tribune company only reviews each film once, and then runs that review in all its different papers, seems like a way to cut costs without compromising quality. Indeed, in principle you could cut costs while increasing quality by keeping on staff the best critics across the company while ditching some of the dead weight.

And similarly, it’s not as if running “Exiting race, Clinton solidly backs Obama” by Janet Hook and Noam Levey in the LAT and “Hillary Clinton steps aside, urges supporters to back Obama” by James Oliphant in the Tribune is some huge advance for journalism as opposed to running just one article in both papers. But you never see any kind of serious effort to identify possible efficiencies and rationalize operations. Instead, these mandates for sweeping cuts (eliminating 82 pages of news per week from the LAT) come down as owners are apparently content to preside over dwindling operations stuck in a death spiral of declining revenue, cutbacks, declining quality, declining audience, declining revenue, cutbacks, etc.

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