So here we go again tomorrow, round four of another bargaining session with Gatehouse. Because things out there are so gloomy lately, I almost feel obliged to perform some sort of pep talk. But you would see right through it and disrespect me. After all, the industry knows that Gatehouse’s business model isn’t working. Not for us, it was never intended to work for us. But it’s not working for shareholders either. And that’s bad news for everybody.
Maybe investors aren’t as dumb as Gatehouse thinks. Maybe they know you can’t keep subtracting from a product in hopes of enhancing its value by acquiring other add-ons that you’ve similarly cored out for the sole purpose of selling the whole package to the first not-terribly-tragic offer that comes along. Maybe investors don’t like to see coast-to-coast public displays of so many aggrieved employees telling readers that their communities are getting less informed and dumber. If you haven’t seen what happened around the country on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, check it out. Reporters, photographers and editors at 28 Guild papers signaled to shareholders that their corporate play-callers are dismantling the First Amendment enterprises they’re pretending to support.
Maybe that’s part of the plan, though. Hedge-fund vampires aren’t in the game to lose money, but maybe with fewer reporters available to snoop around for their numbers, hey, maybe shuttering a few operations here and there is just the price of doing business.
World Press Freedom Day got an impressive turnout three weeks ago in part because journos at Digital First Media “properties” have so little left to lose anymore. If you haven’t already read the #NewsMatters piece about what Alden Global Capital is doing to DFM, and if your prescription for mood levelers hasn’t expired, do it. It’s another cartoon. Nationally, newsrooms across the U.S. lost 26 percent of their people from 2012 to 2017. But DFM is expediting its papers’ irrelevance by slicing its payroll 52 percent. San Jose to Denver to Delaware, coast to coast. And oh yeah, big surprise (yawn), there’s an Alden boss hog in the middle of it all who counts a $20 million Palm Beach mansion as one of several homes.
No reason to spell out what we’re all up against today, because it’s not just the hedge-fund pirates who have no business running newspapers. It’s who we are as consumers, it’s where we’re at as a nation, it’s what we choose to accept as minimum standards of decency. And boy, right now, are our expectations low. One of the things we’re shooting for is a better severance cushion so maybe it won’t hurt quite as much when we finally bounce.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But in this day and age, even table scraps are worth fighting for. Because this is what we do, this is who we are. We’re journalists. We’ve always been underdogs. And we do it anyway. CareerCast may have just rated newspapering as the worst job anyone could have in 2017, but those of us who’ve made a go of it know that’s a lie. We change lives, we change policy, we write history and we preserve moments that are gone too soon.
So on Wednesday, wear red. End of pep talk.
— Billy Cox