In case you’re wondering whether there’s a stable future in breaking news about young Brooklynites who steal money from other young Brooklynites for a story that rampantly spreads as a cultural meme, don’t wory. There isn’t.
Doree Shafir, who broke the infamous Hipster Grifter story for the New York Observer, was laid off last week, along with several other of the paper’s top writers.
Here are the names we’ve heard from a good source, although they haven’t been officially confirmed by the paper yet:
Haber and Doree are both Gawker veterans, and both are extremely good bloggers and writers of real journalism, too. Doree just broke the freaking Hipster Grifter story, for god’s sake. Spencer Morgan is Manhattan’s finest chronicler of annoying men. The paper is clearly in very, very tough financial shape.
Everybody’s sick of hearing about the grifster story by now, but there’s no doubt that Shafir did a detailed and professional reporting job with it. The story on its own was solid and well-done.
The story probably brought more hits to the NY Observer than anything else recently. but it wasn’t enough.
Statement from Christopher Barnes, President, Observer Media Group –
Reducing the size of our reporting staff was not an easy decision to make. Unfortunately, the New York Observer is not immune to the economic pressures being felt industry-wide. The reality is: we have to cutback in order to move forward. This is an incredibly challenging time for newspapers, with newsrooms across the country trying to find ways to do more with less. But, I’m optimistic that the Observer will weather this storm and emerge stronger.
In this spirit of the New York Times’ real-time word train experiment, a collection of a few random takes on the decline of the industry from friends still in the trenches, culled from recent e-mails, from people working in South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. These are young, talented people, still looking to do good journalism, finding themselves frustrated at the breach. Expletives preserved, because journalists curse, especially in tough times (note- I’m not including names or any specific work places, but if any of the below quoted want their comments removed, let me know):
my paper laid off 6 people today, 4 newsroom including lifestyles editor and lifestyles copy editor, leaving 2 people in that department. yet they say we’re gonna keep putting out a lifestyles section. HUH?? I want a fucking revolution. The paper needs to be completely restructured with 25 journalists in mind. It’s not remotely the same paper that exists with 50 people. I want a tight, highly produced 8 page paper instead of a loose weak 20 page paper or whatever. I want my friends to have their damn jobs.
Anyway, thought I would drop you a note to tell you about newsroom drama. 20 percent of our staff got laid off today — appx 30 people. They were ruthless. 3 photographers, 3 reporters, 3 producers, 1 web producer, 1 designer, two department heads including my old boss (the guy who hired me), Lots of sales people, our New Media marketing director and her 5 marketers, our Digital Assets Manager … and on and on and on. I honestly can not understand how I didn’t get laid
off. I know it’s only a matter of time. I figured I was gone at the
end of the month (they’ve done layoffs the last week of the month for the past three months)
I know you must have this conversation all the time,
but isn’t it fucked up how fast our profession is being wiped out.?
Breaks my heart.
The whole thing has been a shit show. They announced that nine people were going to be laid off then took three days to do it. Everyone sat around and counted heads for three days to see if they’ve gotten to nine yet. All the guidance we’ve gotten is bullshit about working smarter. The only ideas about making things better involve just waiting the bad economy out. My short-term idea about making things better involve WineFest on Saturday and St. Pat’s Day on Sunday.
We’re holding up OK, I guess. The biggest problem we have is with our new regional editor, who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Our old editor was insane, but she had a great nose for news and analysis. The new guy is all about chicken-shit features on the front of our statewide Friday paper, which is an inside baseball publication dedicated to hard news analysis.
I personally can’t take it anymore, and need to leave immediately. My attitude has changed.
Follow up from yesterday’s post. E-mail received today from another inside source at The Packet (a McClatchy paper):
Ugh. Worst day since I’ve been here. Salaries are cut. Furloughs later this year. 11 people laid off (no specifics on who yet). Hourly employees all get their hours cut. We’re only supposed to work 37.5 hours a week now, which is nonsense because everyone will essentially be working harder now. It’s a 6.25 percent pay cut. About $2,000 a year. That doesn’t include these furloughs, which could be anywhere from 3-5 days. Also, they got rid of the Palmetto Passes (dammit!). That’ll be another $40-50 a month. Reimbursement for mileage was reduced. Uh, what else. Features section will probably be merged, meaning we might lose an editor or two. Salaried people get wage cuts, too. Those making more than $60,000 get a 10 percent cut. Good news: no more layoffs this year.
I’m so glad I’m not still there, because I always said taking away the Palmetto Passes (the toll transponder paid for by the company at 75 cents a trip) would be the last straw. It was a symbolic gesture of the needling mindset that was scaring talented people away from print, and they would have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. The news in the above e-mail can be distilled into the basic message of “we want you to worker harder, over shorter hours, for less money, and at more inconvenience for you (until your job is eliminated, at least).” What people making these decisions don’t seem to factor in is: the news doesn’t go away when you have fewer staff members to cover it. It’s like driving the school buses in the morning or having firefighters on duty all day: it’s a cog that has to turn no matter what. It just has to get done somehow.
I still get angry about this because I care about my friends there, and still hold sentimentality towards the paper itself. The Packet doesn’t deserve this. Thanks to its location in a growing community with an older population, its readership is holding strong, even increasing in subscribers in recent years. Its sports section just won huge national honors. The online coverage we did of the missing persons case brought an unheard of number of web hits to the site. Its readership is loyal, involved and interested.
But the Packet, like so many other newspapers, is tied to the finances of the overall company. Unlike a mass new media market in San Francisco waiting to fill the void when the Chronicle falls, if the Packet goes away, no online news source is primed to rise up in its stead. That means no comprehensive resource for for information on hurricane evacuation or recovery efforts, no local coverage of a national PGA tournament, and no weekly arts and entertainment publication to let people know of local events in one of the most popular (and affluent) tourism spots on the East Coast.
My advice to Gary Pruitt and other newspaper executives: either a) accept the fact that newspapers are no longer viable business operations and just shut them down already to stop giving the illusion of job security for your employees while you bleed them to death or b) grow a pair and make a fucking stand against the dying of the industry. You’ll notice there was no plan for a recovery strategy announced today other than this continued and failing effort to stop the bleeding. That’s because there isn’t one.