Saturday, April 11, 2009

The dark in the middle of the tunnel

You'd never guess from the title that I'm a bit gloomy today, would you?
Gloomy is probably the wrong word -- pessimistic might be more appropriate. Money is tight and I'm ground down from the day job. Today was supposed to be my first full day off in two weeks and I still had to run into the office this morning. The problem got solved, but I didn't want to step foot inside the building again until Monday.
Corporate is squeezing again and it's starting to soak in that they aren't going to stop. Like some of you, I work for an allegedly autonomous unit within a big corporate family. My unit is short staffed and saddled with outdated equipment and software, but we're profitable and everyone gets along. Corporate is trying to pay down debt and keeping underperforming properties going by squeezing us. Sound familiar? Yeah, I'm sure it does.
This is how newspapers and broadcast outlets run today, and I came here to the North Pole resigned to that. I knew I would never be more than a number to the home office and was okay with that. Then I got to know the people I work with. They all give a good day's work for a mediocre day's pay and it goes without any notice. The vice just keeps getting tighter.
I've succumbed to a subversive notion: no matter how well any of us do our jobs or how much money we make, we're going to get screwed in the end. Now, my dad has told me that since I was a wee lad, but I always thought it was possible to do good work and be rewarded (however meagerly).
Some of you may have read about the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News scrapping home delivery four days a week. The move will free up a little cash, but they will fall short of their real goal of moving to an online only product. They'll never generate enough revenue online to finance a profitable and decent news product. The money isn't there in a good economy, let alone a depressed one. Now that they've taken the plunge, however, the rest of the corporate dickheads in this business are rushing in behind them with similar plans. The board room desperately wants to ditch the press room and make believe that online will make the world perfect again.
It won't.
I know print is supposedly to be dead. Ask any marketing asshole who's never actually done newspaper work. I will acknowledge that the newspaper's best days are behind it, but these companies are stuck with it until they are ready to throw in the towel on the news business altogether. Old people still read the newspaper and local advertisers know that. The cretins in the home office don't deal with local businesses; they deal with ad agencies and corporate marketing departments. The national guys love online because it's cheaper and supposedly reaches the younger demographic they all want. Corporate's bills are paid, however, by little dailies like mine that deliver news to the older readers who actually patronize local businesses because of print advertising.
What Gannett and CNHI and Journal Register and all of these others companies can't admit is they are not immortal. They have milked all of the money they will ever get from the union busting, consolidations and layoffs that artificially inflated their profits in the 90s. The days of 25-30 percent margins are long, long gone and the big corporations can't live without them. They will go away in another generation or two.
The local and regional publishers with lower overhead and salespeople on Main Street will endure a while longer, settling for the five to 10 percent margins that were the industry standard up until the late 80s.
What's in store for the lapsednewsguy? I plan on going back to work Monday, but beyond that I really couldn't tell you.

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