Layoffs begin at DNR

JGFitzgerald -- April 9th, 2009

The Daily News-Record has laid off a sportswriter and a photographer, and has not replaced the last three reporters who moved on.

32 Responses to “Layoffs begin at DNR”

  1. Bubby says:

    The tragedy is that owner Byrd and his knuckle-dragging editors will no doubt blame “market forces” instead of their lame-ass selves.

    Repeat after me:
    “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

    And we won’t need the DNR as gatekeeper. That’s a good thing. For Harrisonburg, for the Valley.

  2. I feel for the laid off workers. As someone who’s been laid off from a local media job, i sympathize.

    You wouldn’t know about the layoffs by checking the contact page. According to that list, Dave Reynolds and Hannah Northey are still working there.

  3. Jamie Smith says:

    There is a certain sports editor that would not be missed by anyone but family.

  4. bill says:

    They certainly aren’t the first business in town to do so, nor will they be the last.

  5. rich says:

    I agree with Bubby. If they have to lay someone off, start with the editors. Did anyone read todays editorial? I long for the day when our president says “humans shouldn’t be fighting.” The children of the world need to hear our leaders say this. It’s a mature saying and I’m glad Obama is walking towards it.

  6. JGFitzgerald says:

    It would be an interesting question: Do more people read the sports stories than the editorial page? When people go to the DNR for content they can’t get anywhere else, are they looking for photos and sports stories, or far-right, frequently hate-filled, often racist editorials? Somewhere between the paper that folds and the one that manages to survive more or less intact will be the one that survives but cuts sections. Obits, weddings and engagements, honor roll listings, city council stories, editorials, comics, Dear Abby, high school football: Somebody’s going to be asking what you can eliminate and still be a newspaper?

  7. JGFitzgerald says:

    BTW, edit above, re p-funk comment: Newsroom layoffs begin.

  8. Jeff says:

    No idea how you’d quantify it, but my guess is more people read local sports, local news, local anything over op-ed, slices of national news, comics… stuff they can get in a variety of formats and delivery modes. Reminds me of an article I read once about a small town newspaper whose editorial strategy was to include as many local names as possible in each paper. At the time, at least, they did really well. Seems people want to read about themselves and their neighbors and will pay to do so.

    DNR survival hinges on local news readers can’t get anywhere else. High school football coverage sells papers to high school parents – op-ed columns do not. Now, whether there’s still a business there, I don’t know…

  9. Jamie Smith says:

    A little more investigative reporting would also help. They tend to write the first story and let the behind the scenes and ensuing activity go on unreported. There were some pretty good stories that never got reported going as far back as the Ernie James case.

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    I should have added that while it would be an interesting question, it would also be rhetorical. Newspapers do readership surveys periodically, and local news and information has been the main draw for at least 25 years. The only unique draw on the editorial page for decades has been the letters to the editor because of the preponderance of … wait for it … local names. (The Petersburg newspaper once ran a full page for a different locality each day listing every marriage, divorce, real estate transfer, fire call, building permit, misdemeanor arrest and noise complaint. The page was 120 column inches of 8-point names.) The question is more whether there will come a time when the mid-sized daily drops the comics, the national news, the editorials, and Heloise. What is the last thing the organization can drop and still call itself a newspaper?

  11. Emmy says:

    Getting things right is the biggest issue I have with the DNR. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has said “well the DNR said…but you can’t be sure if that’s right” to me while talking about a local story. One of my friends on Facebook has a status message today indicating that they once again captioned a photo of her son in the sports section with her other sons name. I’ve seen this happen to her kids several times.

    In depth reporting, fact checking, and like others have said a focus on news and sports that are local!!

    I’m sorry people are losing their jobs though. It’s no fun.

  12. Jeff says:

    Maybe calling yourself a “newspaper” isn’t important anymore. Newspapers are failing right and left; might be time for the remaining ones to start considering themselves news(somethingelse).

  13. JGFitzgerald says:

    Ya gotta call it somethin: after all, we still “dial” a telephone and the space between lines of type is still called “leading.”

  14. Mike says:

    Yes the editors need to go. But you know they’ll be the last. I’m sorry to those who are being let go.

    You can almost hear their thought process, “Hey, I bet if we throw out a few babies, we can still save all this dirty bath water. “

  15. Jeff says:

    I just meant that maybe if they see themselves as something different than a newspaper, with all that embodies, maybe they could find a way to change and become something else. Otherwise they’ll keep trying to be a newspaper when being a newspaper is no longer relevant, at least from a business point of view.Cutting reporters and photographers and sections is fine, but they won’t save their way to profitability.

  16. Jeff says:

    JGF, like like with your telephone example: Anyone who continues to make “telephones” in the traditional sense is either out of business or simply providing a product with razor-thin profit margins. Companies who make cellphones don’t think of themselves as making phones; they’re making a device that can send and receive and utilize a variety of types of “information.” They moved past the phone model, even though the device is still called a phone… newspapers need to move past the newspaper model, even if they call themselves a paper. And it starts with how you perceive yourself…. That’s all I was saying.

  17. Emmy says:

    I agree Jeff, something has to evolve or the company cannot sustain. That’s true in so many areas right now. I’m amazed at the number of companies who think cutting people will solve all their problems. A bad business model or poor execution of the model is what’s killing you, not the people.

    Mike’s bathwater comment is excellent. There are a lot of companies who need to look hard at that. You can’t cut people unless they were just extra to begin with and expect to continue to produce a product of the same quality, and you sure can’t make a better product that way!

  18. Annie Hololob says:

    Hannah Northey left the DNR months ago for a position in the DC area.

  19. Jeff says:

    To be fair, I know it’s easy for me (or anyone else) to say what “should” be done. So I’ll jump to the other side for a second. I’ll pretend I’ve been elected king of the DNR so I can save the day.

    Now, in my new role, knowing what should be done – and how to pull it off – isn’t so easy. My ad reps can’t sell like they used to: National buyers don’t put as much money into newspapers, local advertisers let their websites speak for them… more and more I’m left with direct response (Sale Today Only!) or back page ads. Even classified ads are down, since craigslist et al keeps biting off bigger pieces of that market. Even real estate listings are down; many agents only put houses in the paper so their clients will think they’re doing everything possible to sell the house; they see very little response to newspaper real estate ads. So my ad reps keep trying, but they really don’t have anything to sell since readership is stagnant and more and more advertisers realize that if they themselves don’t read the paper as often, potential customers probably aren’t either. (Same reason yellow pages advertising is down nationwide, too. Rates are down and total buys are down – how often do you use the yellow pages?)

    Reporters? Hmmm… I’ve either got relatively young reporters or seasoned reporters who stayed (I’m assuming the old radio/tv model of “to move up you have to move out”) because they’ve reached their level… or because they like the area and want to stay, regardless of career concerns. (I’m intentionally generalizing – I realize this is only directionally accurate, and I certainly don’t intend to offend any one individual.) So how do I get them to embrace a new style of reporting, when what they currently do is what they were trained/molded to do? Plus I’m stretching them thinner and thinner and expecting them to do more, with less, and more quickly….

    But wait – what about my website? That will bring in revenue to replace what I’ve lost on the print side, right? Umm, probably not, like most major newspapers have found. Some web visitors are out of town; they stay in touch with local events through the website, but they could care less about the ads. Even local readers don’t care about the ads; everyone is really good at filtering out advertisements. And page views are relatively flat, and the “interactive” features of the site, like commenting on articles, only seems to attract the same group of people who endlessly groundhog day the same arguments. (And actually make me a little embarrassed that THEY are my loyal readers.) Luckily the website is cheap to operate, so I can make a little money… but not nearly enough to shore up my losses on the print ad side. And if I ditched print and went web-only, there’s no way I can survive considering the fixed costs I’ll still have to maintain….

    So I’m stuck running a business with tremendous institutional memory, a lot of employees who respond to change by saying, “Hey, wait a minute… that’s not how we do things around here…” and a form of communication that is quickly becoming irrelevant. (How many people under the age of 25 do you see reading a print newspaper?)

    And while I’m flailing around searching for answers, some other medium(s) will eventually come along with no institutional memory, no fixed costs to overcome, no outdated process to revamp… and I’ll be out of business. Happens all the time, will continue to happen. (Not too many wagon wheel manufacturers thriving today.)

    So that’s my attempt at being fair and recognizing the challenges the DNR and all papers face. They’re not bad people, they’re not stupid, they’re not poor businesspeople… they’re just in a business that despite their best efforts – and the best efforts of smart newspaper people all around the world – probably has no long-term chance of survival.

    It’s too bad, because I like newspapers – but my kids could care less. That, if for no other reason, is why newspapers are on the way out.

  20. Ben says:

    My daughter, age 13, reads the whole paper every day. I don’t. I also use filters with my browser to virtually eliminate advertising everywhere. It’s a very imperfect model, changing as we speak. Google has done well by completely tailoring their advertising content, and pay per click services, to the behavior of the users, but that’s an expensive process to replicate for a small media business without perspective.

  21. rich says:

    I think Jeff has good advice for the DNR. I wonder about the “daily” news cycle our culture tunes into. Are we less mature because of it? Our behaviour is largely determined by how we concentrate. People involved in the daily news business don’t seem to have the time to report a deep understanding of events. Because of this they appreciate it when politicians frame the issues for them but this just spreads lies. I’m not sure if technology is the only thing slaying newspapers. People want to hear the truth, and editors have been falling in line lock step with lying corporate politicians who frame issues for shallow and deceptive reasons.
    People who don’t get “american empire” criticism should look at the austerity measures the IMF forced debtor countries to adopt. The IMF forced these poor countries to raise interest rates, stop subsidies, cut back on social spending, and open their markets to allow foreign businesses to purchase failing businesses. And the people suffered. But when America finds itself in tough times, what do we do? Our presidents send people stimulous checks, they lower the interest rates, they bail out banks and car companies…and they say they do this so the people will suffer less. So that’s empire, it’s o.k. for “other” people to suffer but we are justified in doing the exact opposite of what we force other countries to do when they are in financial trouble.
    It takes time and independent thought to frame things in a way that captures deeper truths… maybe the daily news is not good for big issues.

  22. Karl says:

    “(How many people under the age of 25 do you see reading a print newspaper?)”

    What struck me about this comment is that every College newspaper that I am familiar with still has a print edition. I would think that our colleges and our young people would be leading the charge to that new way of doing business. I would be very curious what the Breeze folks think of this discussion. They are the ones on both the front and back end of this conversation.

  23. Thanks for sharing that, Jeff. Thoughtful comment.

    Karl, to answer your question about the Breeze, Brad Jenkins is GM for that paper, and he recently twittered a link to a story that would indicate that college newspapers are doing just fine.

  24. Jamie Smith says:

    The Breeze is quite full of advertising this year compared to prior years. The student housing folks are, as could be expected, are aggressively running ads in nearly every additon. News is not plentiful.

  25. Emmy says:

    In my opinion a college paper doesn’t fall into the same category. They have a target audience and a distinct focus. While anyone can read it, it’s meant for the students. The DNR’s focus needs to be everyone within it’s distribution area.

    Not to mention that The Breeze has a far more pleasing web presence.

  26. Emmy says:

    It’s nicer to look at. I never enjoy online advertisements for mortgage loans with dancing people, or people with highlighter yellow teeth. Websites need to look professional if that’s the image you are trying to convey. You can select better advertising.

    Then there is the layout and overall flow of the site. You can have lots of ads and still not look busy. The Breeze does both of these things fairly well.

    A great example of news websites with advertising that is local, and visually appealing are The New Dominion and it’s sister Augusta Free Press.

    http://thenewdominion.com/
    http://augustafreepress.com/

    Just creating a more appealing website with more local ads and less icky flashing stuff goes a long way. I also enjoy not having to scroll from side to side to see everything. Less is more!

  27. Jeff says:

    I’m not surprised college newspapers are hanging in there, just like smaller papers like the DNR have fared better than major papers like the Times, the Post, etc. The Breeze serves a news market no one else serves. And it’s probably still fun to go to college and get to read “your” newspaper instead of your father’s paper – I know I felt that way. I especially enjoyed darts and pats. (Would be kinda fun if the DNR did that. Then again… nah.)

    Plus they offer highly-targeted marketing to advertisers for housing, restaurants, stuff to do… since the Breeze serves a well-defined demographic much narrower than any other type of paper. I guess that has helped the Breeze weather changes in delivery. Maybe not forever, but neat that they’re still doing well.

  28. JGFitzgerald says:

    Re: The Breeze. They also give it away. A definite circulation booster.

  29. Hannah says:

    For what it’s worth and because I know people read hburgnews in Harrisonburg, I think the DNR can be an invaluable resource for reporters to dig into investigative pieces, stories about local corruption that wouldn’t have otherwise been covered.
    As a former reporter there, the DNR was my first paper, and it allowed me to write in-depth, investigative pieces on fish kills, pollution, local politics… a lot of topics that local people care about, which require time and persistence to investigate and write about.
    Having spent countless hours there, sometimes late into the night, to cover a story that I thought would bring an important issue to light, it’s difficult to read how some people consider newspapers all “lies” and in “lockstep with corporate politicians”..
    I have friends all over the country losing jobs as newspapers close – and we’re all hopeful blogs, Web sites, television (other media sources) are going to pick up the slack in investigative journalism, because it’s an important part of protecting democracy in this country… So for some of us, while newspapers may be the large, dying dinosaurs, they do serve an important purpose that we’re all nervous about losing… even on a local level.
    Just consider that.

  30. Brad says:

    Brent referenced my tweet, so I’ll chime in. Yes, college newspapers in general are doing well these days. Studies indicate students read their campus papers are greater rates than the public reads their daily papers. And there’s lots of enthusiasm about the paper when it comes out twice a week (yes, being free helps).

    I was at a college-newspaper ad convention a few weeks ago, and something one college marketer said struck me. For many students, college newspapers are “new media” because they’ve never read a paper before. Then they come to campus and find a publication all about them, and this gives them a sense of ownership.

    Daily newspapers — the big ones anyway — probably can’t achieve that. That’s why it seems print products will be more and more related to different niches. A college paper has a very desirable niche for advertisers, and so they are positioned to continue to do well.

    Meanwhile, though, we are training our students in online journalism, and they continue to try new things at breezejmu.org.

  31. Karl says:

    Wondering what the deal was with the comics today. Both Pearls Before Swine and Non Sequitur mention free newspaper content.

    The comics got me thinking and I have come up with a solution for the newspaper debacle. Do it like NPR and PBS. The government would help pay a couple of the bills, there would be phone bank telethons and lots of other fundraisers. No ads in the paper, just content! Can’t think of why the gov’t would be involved in tv and radio, but not the newspaper biz…of course I can’t think of a reason for the first two to begin with.

  32. seth says:

    yikes

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