Chicago Reader: It’s the Internet

That forced us to fire four of our best journalists:

Laying off these staff writers, which editor Alison True did at the beginning of this week, was surely one of the hardest acts of her life and certainly a low point in the history of this newspaper. “Over the years,” True said Thursday in a message to the staff, ” John, Harold, Tori, and Steve have produced some of our most important and exciting stories. Their achievements have included brilliant investigative work, prestigious awards, and possibly most important, spurring social change in a city that always needs it. . . . I can’t emphasize enough that this action in no way reflects a judgment on the value of the work of these particular writers, and in fact it’s my fervent hope that they’ll continue to work with us on a contractual basis.”

They’re gone because the Reader couldn’t afford to go on paying them their salaries — “As you might guess, this move represents a shift in the financial structure of our relationship with contributors,” True wrote. They’re gone because a few years ago Craigslist moved in on our classifieds section — and classifieds represented a huge portion of our income. They’re gone because the old Section One — the editorial section — was for decades the tail that wagged the dog here, and when revenues fell it became impossible to continue to allocate the same funds to it.

But the Reader’s readers see through the crap:

“They’re gone because a few years ago Craigslist moved in on our classifieds section”? I’m semi-sympathetic and a fan…but also a realist. The statement could well have read: “They’re gone because after Craigslist moved in on our classifieds section, we dithered and hoped that this emerging new business model would just go away.”

There were no other options than laying off four of their best writers – reporters who, said True “have produced some of our most important and exciting stories”? What about True cutting the entire staff’s salary, including her own, to help make Eason’s new budget?

Until the highest-paid news “executive” earns no more than his lowest-paid reporter, I don’t want to hear another word of their woe-is-me mouthing about “we had no other choice.” There are ALWAYS other choices. Sack up and just admit, “We had no other choice that I really felt like making.” At least then I’ll grant you the respect honesty is due.


3 thoughts on “Chicago Reader: It’s the Internet

  1. working for small dailies in Texas in the 1980s, making ends meet for the staff could be a real challenge.
    When I tell you that $8 hourly was BIG money, I’m talking about editor-level big money. Reporters were
    making $6.50 an hour, typically; and this was for a staff with baccalaureates across the board.
    Classifieds, while important for local readers, really weren’t the gravy train True implies, though.
    The big money in newspapers is LOCAL BUSINESS ADS. Those 1×2 and 2×3 and 1×5 spaces that the hardware emporium,
    the lunch-crowd restaurant across the street from the courthouse, the auction sale barn and the secondhand car
    dealers buy, a day at a time or a week at a time, that keep a paper from shutting its doors.
    I have just told you how to change the world of newspaper advertising and have a huge impact on editorial stance.
    If a paper prints something or holds itself out on behalf of someone that is either untrue or abhorrent, the way
    to change things — AFTER you write your LTE, but whether or not they print it — is to take the paper from the
    day the abomination appears, and look at all those local businesses’ ads.
    Go to the ones you would have traded with in person and say, “Did you know your ad money supports XYXYXYXYXY?”
    If they don’t want their ad money supporting that, they’ll pull their ads (this takes more than one customer’s
    request, usually, but businesses that are heavily dependent on good customer feelings — cafes, car lots, etc. —
    will pull their ads, and more importantly, they’ll tell the ad reps WHY.
    For the ones you wouldn’t trade with in person, call ’em on the phone and tell ’em they’re not getting their money’s
    worth for the ads they bought.
    It’s not the same thing as crossing the WGA picket lines, but it’s the same thing as refusing to support management.

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