Monday, June 9, 2008

The End of The Beginning

In my darker moments, I believe that Zell's blindly destructive moves at Tribune are the end of the beginning of the dismantling of America's newspapers.
Zell is a businessman with no sentimental, patriotic, moral or ethical ties to newspapering -- no sense of newspapering's nobility. He sees only the balance sheet. How else could he base staffing decisions on his bizarre idea of "productivity"? Does he really think an investigative reporter, a feature writer, a beat reporter who covers, say, health care or real estate will-- or should be-- in the paper as often as the cop-shop or city hall reporters?
But fewer and fewer newspapers are owned by people who get it, who understand and cherish newspapering as practiced in the United States for the past 150 years. And the mass of owners, the ones who don't get it, are likely to follow Zell's lead because they think only in balance sheets, too.
So while we've seen the death by a thousand cuts at Newsday, the San Jose Mercury News, the Baltimore Sun and too many other once-great papers, now, I fear, we're upgrading to the guillotine.
Randy Michaels as Madame DeFarge, knitting messages to his followers as the condemned mount the steps to the blade?
The bloodletting up to this point has been pinpricks compared with what seems likely to happen now at Tribune. I don't think the tumbrils will roll everywhere. I think the biggest and best papers (all three of them?) will hold off, sticking with the pinpricks as long as they can, until the repeated falling of the guillotine's blade leaves the rest reading like Gannett papers.
But I may be wrong. FishbowlNY keeps a running total of the journalists who have accepted, or been forced to accept, buyouts at the New York Times. Each day's list hurts a little bit more. Maybe the Times has already moved beyond pinpricks -- not quite to the guillotine, but maybe as far as the switchblade.

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