And What Does It Get Us?

The Columbia Journalism Review yesterday posted a story by Craig Flournoy and Tracy Everbach about the fall-out of the slash (through layoffs, buyouts and attrition) of 30% of the journalists at the Dallas Morning News. The authors spoke to nearly half of the 200 who left, and dozens of those who stayed. The report is an indictment of the paper's management, and of its "strategy" to be responsive to its subscribers. It's well worth reading.

I've been posting over the past few months about the recent cuts in book sections and book coverage in various metropolitan dailies -- and as a result, the firing of respected book critics -- here, here, here, and here. Arts coverage (including book reviews) is often the first to be hit, but this story makes it clear that it's not the only area affected by the panic afflicting some newspapers, whose strategy seems to consist of firing as many journalists as they can to lessen their costs. Instead of looking for new and untrammeled paths around the admittedly tough issues caused by digital competition, they seem to be destroying what readers turn to newspapers for (see Mark Bowden's article on the gap that newspapers fill). Flournoy and Everbach, both in their interviews and hard analysis of the Dallas Morning News' content, paint a disturbing picture of the effects of this behavior.

Have the Morning News' actions translated into more readership (or at least more satisifed readers)? Hardly. From October 2006 through March 2007, the daily circulation of the paper suffered a decline of 14.3% compared to a year earlier. This is more than twice the decline of any other large newspaper. And reader satisfaction has fallen 19%, according to the latest survey.

Esther Thorson, an associate dean at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, whose recent study examined four years of financial data at hundreds of newspapers, and who has studied media for 20 years, says that "those who try to cut the newsroom to maintain profitability are doomed to failure."

“'That’s not a business model,' she says. 'That’s a death model.' Thorson found that larger newsroom investments would translate into greater profits. 'A newspaper is a rich environment of information and entertainment,' she said. 'That makes it a fabulous locale for advertising. But if your product is degraded and circulation plummets, why would advertisers want to invest in that?'"
Gee, even someone without my background in marketing can figure that one out.

Meanwhile, back on the arts desk these days, the Dallas Morning News has no architecture critic, no television critic, and no book critic.

(For information about the National Book Critics Circle Campaign to Save Book Reviewing, and how you can get involved, click here.)

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