It’s no secret that the world of journalism is in flux. I spent over a decade in the world of newspapers, those fussy, papery things created by ink-stained wretches, and while I can’t say I don’t have an extreme fondness for those old relics — I think they’re wonderful, actually — I can say that I don’t have an extreme fondness for the visionless people who so often run news organizations.
My friends still in the news business don’t disagree. A good friend who is an investigative journalist with a fairly large regional daily has seen his office withering under layoff after layoff. Hey, that’s par for the course with the news business these days … but this story is beyond the pale. At his place, they’re laying people off based on some arcane, incomprehensible math they often get totally wrong:
The last round of layoffs, they sacked a guy in sports who ranked last for his department. He wept, packed up his things, went home, told his wife and they made plans to put their home up for sale so they could move back closer to family.
Then the Guild, upon inspecting the rankings, found a math error. The guy should have ranked third-to-last.
So two weeks after he was laid off, management called and offered him his job back. Without a great deal of enthusiasm, he accepted, needing the money. Then they fired the woman sitting two desks away from him, because she was the newest last-place finisher.
Haw haw haw! said management. Shit happens.
Imagine that. Your whole life is turned upside down, only to get a “just kidding!” two weeks later. Meanwhile, this poor woman thought she escaped a round of layoffs only to get kicked in the crotch a few weeks later.
Employee morale there must be soaring.
The sad thing is, this isn’t unusual. Many journalist friends have shared horror stories with me about the slow meltdown of their newsrooms. Heck, this guy alone has a half-dozen gut-wrenching stories of utter ineptitude from newspaper management. (I’d share them, but I don’t want him to be identified.) I’ve seen it firsthand, too. Management that just isn’t willing to take the hard steps necessary to adapt to a changing world and who in turn bungle and boggle their way towards making life for their employees a living hell.
I believe in the importance of strong journalism. I believe it’s mandatory for a truly free society.
It’s just too bad that the people on the business side of the industry can’t seem to figure out how to make it work without wrecking lives and degrading the quality of journalism as a whole.