Thursday, December 17, 2009

A new sheriff – or hangman – comes to town

If you read The Republican or browse MassLive you probably noticed that Larry McDermott, the publisher of the daily for the last ten years, is retiring and being replaced with George Arwady, the publisher of the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger – another Newhouse ‘paper.

Arwady made newspaper industry news in 2008 by basically telling one of the unions at that ‘paper if the members didn’t accept certain concessions, he was prepared to shut down New Jersey’s largest newspaper.

Concessions were made.

In October, Arwady sent out a memo, according to “Editor & Publisher,” looking for voluntary buyouts in order to reduce the ‘paper’s staff.

He wrote, “We are working on the budget for 2010, and it is clear that we must reduce our staff significantly to offset the continuing steep decline in revenue. My best estimate is that the full-time workforce must be reduced by at least 50 people.”

The Star-Ledger had already undergone significant cuts.

What has happened with many publications nationwide is that with decreasing ad revenues due to changes in how chain stores advertise, publishers have sought economies in cutting human beings, especially those involved in creating content. The premise is that readers will always pick up their daily paper out of loyalty and habit. Local content can be replaced by other kinds of stories.

With the decrease in content, more and more readers elected to find their local news elsewhere. Circulation slipped and advertising was lost. With less revenue, came more cuts.

That’s the cycle that many daily newspapers have for the past decade. I’ve often wondered if anyone at the Republican worried about the long-term effects when the ‘paper lost the considerable advertising dollars from Steiger’s? I believe that was the trigger of the ‘paper’s decline.

So now media watchers wonder what Arwady is going to do. Cut more staff? Drop the Saturday and Monday editions? Adopt the tabloid format for all the weekday editions? Cut back the coverage area?

As I’ve said before, I’m not particularly a fan of The Republican as an institution. The ‘paper has many fine reporters and photographers who do good work, some of whom I view as friends and valued colleagues. I don’t believe this region would be well served from an economic development point of view if it did not have a daily ‘paper.

I think though that considerable damage has been done to the reputation of the ‘paper and its value to readers and one wonders if Arwady has been sent to fix it or to bury it.

© 2009 Gordon Michael Dobbs

1 comment:

Kim said...

Point well taken & a sad commentary ... What have we become as a nation of readers? Maybe the newspapers should switch to a "text message" format with all of the associated reductions in letters. It would cut down on paper & young people would have ready-made jobs as they could act as translators.