The buzz on buyouts at the Press is increasing. I had a conversation this week with some senior pros at an area PR firm, and an email from a reporter at another publication about the increasing number of Press bylines going bye-bye.
The paper, like others in the Booth chain, is losing ground financially, and is resorting to cost cutting by offering buyouts and otherwise reducing its newsroom staff by attrition.
One inside source at the Press tells me about 20 have accepted buyouts from about 30 or more offered. Another person tells me these are among the names leaving the press either by buyout or attrition: Radigan, Becker, Kirkbride, Golder, Conklin. There are likely more but it's hard to get more than snippets or hearsay. If you've heard confirmation of other Press staffers leaving, share it by posting a comment.
A few of my own comments.
One, this is a poor move. In an effort to compete, newspapers are cutting their ONLY competitive edge. Classifieds and other advertising still draws revenue, but at the end of the day, people want solid reporting. Otherwise the daily becomes a "shopper." There is empirical evidence from studies done at Michigan State and other media economics experts that shows investment in the newsroom actually increases revenue. Audiences may shrink, but they will be made up of people many advertisers seek--well-read, educated, opinion leaders.
Two, beyond the economic interest, this is bad news for PR and democracy as a whole. If PR professionals want to add credibility to their messages, the third party credibility that comes from skeptical journalists reporting is vital. Such objective, informative reporting about matters of civil society is also a fundamental aspect of democracy--a free and vigourous "Fourth Estate." The press is not singled out in the First Amendment for its right to make a profit; it is to inform the citizenry. Call me old fashioned, but it seems the press, generally speaking, has lost sight of this ideal.
Three, newspapers have caused their own trouble. They have been too market-driven as opposed to news driven. Read books by James Fallows ("Breaking the News") and Ken Auletta ("Back Story: Inside the Business of News") to see what I mean. Newspapers can't compete with video games, cable, and all other forms of media entertainment. Their key advantgage is news, local news, and well reported news. They've given up their USP--unique selling proposition. They cover concerts and recipes and seem to throw their hands up on hard-hitting news. Our own Press hasnn't sunk too low on that scale, but I fear a shrinking newsroom leads to a shrinking news hole, and news that appeals to consumers rather than citizens.
Finally, you won't see this reported in the Press at any great length. Ironic, given that former TV 8 staffer Colleen Pierson has a column about broadcast media personnel changes. This paper is a significant local organization, on the order of Trussway and Steelcase and Electrolux and Delphi. Such buyouts and reduction in newsroom workforce is of interest to not just PR pros and other media, but to the readers and community at large. But the Press will likely see this as inside baseball, and not newsworthy. That's too bad. Bylines were started in the 1930s by TIME magazine to give credibility to reporting and let readers know who was behind the stories. For the Press to downsize in silence lacks integrity and the kind of relationship they should foster with the community.
Some might say this is the inevitable reality of a changing media landscape. But ultimately, instead of this throwing in the towel and assuming that people don't care about hard news in print format, they should work harder to convince people why they should care. They should present solid news in a compelling way, and not pander to a perceived interest in fluff.
Alas, journalism is sliding from "the people have a right to know" to "give the people what they want" to "we need to monetize our various platforms through synergy." De-press-ing.
Wow. For the third time this summer, little old Grand Rapids is the focus of an article in the mainstream East Coast media. And all of it is positive.
There was the Boston-area journalist who attended a wedding and raved about the cleanliness, friendliness and positive growth of Grand Rapids.
Before that there was the mass attention on the 'women only' floor proposed--and ultimately withdrawn--at the Marriott being constructed downtown.
Now, the New York Times Realt Estate section has an article (free, registration required) that sings the praises of Grand Rapids' evolving "pill hill."
I can remember when the 'gray lady' dissed the river city back when the Art Museum hosted the Perugino exhibit and when the Meijer Gardens corraled a DaVinci horse. Now, in typical Gotham fashion, the East Coast scribes are on to us and are pretending they've discovered us for the nation.
With much to despair about in Michigan--home to full-time yet vacationing lawmakers with unfinished business--at least our corner of the state is reaping some positive press. Now, the question for PR folks of all stripes in the region is this: how to leverage the positive rep of the region. In other words, "Grand Rapids based....." fill in the blank could have more national clout.
Back in 1985, another era of employment woes, i was in DC as an American Society of Magazine Editors intern at the Washingtonian Magazine. I remember being a little intimidated by the other interns from East Coast and Ivy League schools, afraid they would kick the academic sand in my face. I learned they put on their pants--albeit more fashionable than mine--one leg at a time. In fact, some of them (Kennedys and Clintons mostly) take them off at the wrong time, but that's the subject of another blog. Anyway, I think we Midwestern, West Michiganders don't have to feel or act as if we are second rate to any other region or organization or PR firm.
Next month I'll be making a swing through both DC and New York City. I'm going to unashamdely announce the fact that I'm from Grand Rapids/West Michigan. At least until I feel I'm intimidating someone. We Midwesterners are too polite for that.
I was pleased to read Grand Rapids Press Outdoors Editor Howard Meyerson's column Saturday. Essentially, he said the outdoors is for those who like to observe wildlife as much as for those who like to hunt and fish. As an avid backpacker, kayaker, and camper, and one who doesn't hunt or fish, this resonated with me.
There are also some PR lessons here.
First, Meyerson cites a Fish and Wildlife Service survey that proves his point--71 million Americans observed wildlife in 2006 and spent $45 billion doing it. Research is always the first step in any effort to understand one's publics.
Second, the entire column shows how important it is to consider ALL publics. FWS and other natural resource management agencies do tend to communicate to and make policy for hunters and fishermen only. We can see in Meyerson's column that there is a huge--and lucrative--public that has been overlooked for too long. How often have you focused on the 'obvious' publics only to realize later that you'd missed an opportunity or responsibility towards others?
Years ago I wrote a magazine article about a man who made bamboo fishing rods. I'll never forget the sign in his shop: "It's not about catching fish, it's about being where fish live." Indeed. That sentiment applies to PR as well as fishing.
My wife and I watched the movie "Happy Feet" in a tent in a Meijer parking lot last night. Why? Because it was free and we're Dutch. But I was also curious as to this event from a PR perspective.
If you know Grand Haven, you know the Meijer on 31 just south of town has been a profit-center for Meijer for years. But now, across the street to the south, after much community debate and revisions of site plans, a Wal-Mart lurks.
So we saw signage and even an airplane banner at the beach touting the free movie at Meijer. Not sure if this is a one-time thing for the Fourth of July weekend. I'm not even sure if this is a conscious response to the head-to-head competition from Wal-Mart coming soon. But it does seem like an attempt to use some old-fashioned community relations to build goodwill toward Meijer.
It might work. It might not. There's no telling whether a free screening of "Happy Feet" will retain and enhance customer loyalty. But it was interesting to be greeted at the movie's close by store managers thanking us for coming. I'm sure they want us to be happy and shop at Meijer rather than shuffle our feet across the street to Wal Mart.