Newspapers find new ways to survive…and grow

Somehow, some of us continue to do our job as newspaper reporters and photographers in these difficult times. It's not easy but owners like Jeff Bezos show us the way with the Washington Post. So does The New York Times.

Exchanged emails this weekend with two longtime friends who found out their newspaper jobs would end on Jan. 31.

They can’t talk about what happened because of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) their soon-to-be former employer required in order to get severance pay,

Bottom line: The chain that owned their paper ordered job cuts to save money.

Columbia Journalism Review says 3,385 journalists lost their jobs in 2019. When you add others in non-editorial departments who also got the axe, the number is closer to 7,800.

A little over 100 of those job losses came to reporters and photographers I know. Working in those professions in print media is not a job with anticipated growth.

The approaching spring of 2020 brings a round of invites from colleges and universities to speak to their media classes about being a newspaperman. As a 72-year-old practitioner of the art of newspaper reporting and photography, I’m a rarity — someone who still works in the business. One question I often get from media students is: “Why should I even consider becoming a newsman (or woman).”

They also ask: “How do you manage to keep doing it?”

I do so as a “contract reporter/photographer” for BHMedia, the chain that owns The Floyd Press. It is owned by Berkshire-Hathaway, the conglomerate owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. He’s not the only billionaire who owns newspapers. Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame owns The Washington Post.

Bezos, who swaps the top of the “world’s richest,” can afford to lose money on the Post, but he has put the paper in the black by using his intuition about the Internet and a desire to keep a news operation running in America’s capital.

“It is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world,” Bezos says. “The Washington Post has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”

America’s current wannabe president, Donald John Trump, would disagree. He views the presidency as a dictatorship and the Post, under Bezos ownership, is a constant, and needed, thorn in his excessive ego and presumption of power he does not have.

The Ochs-Sulzberger family owns The New York Times, which is also publicly-traded. Times CEO Mark Thompson has directed incredible growth, tripling its worth to over $5.6 billion while adding hundreds of thousands of digital subscribers.

“Our model is a very simple model which is we should invest in great content,” Thompson says. “The future of journalism is make more journalism … and then figure out smart ways to put that in front of people and asking them to support that journalism.”

Two of my friends who were laid off by other papers now report for The Times.  Another joined The Post.

My congratulations to them and to the papers that hired them. The Post and The Times show that newspapers can not only survive, but grow. They provide a needed window into what is happening in the world around us.

They also drive a despot like Donald Trump into rages, screaming that they are “fake news.”

Like so much of what Trump says, such claims are bald-faced lies. Trump is a “fake president.”

Legendary Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne wrote that it is “the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted…and afflict the comfortable.”

Damn right.

 

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