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The new news: lean, multiplatform, creative? Is less now more?

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Editor & Publisher reported this today:

The San Diego Union-Tribune laid off more than 30 staffers on Thursday in what Editor Jeff Light called in an editor’s note an effort to build “a lean, creative, multi-platform team that can lead the industry.” [emphasis added]

E&P reports that this is the U-T’s seventh round of staff cuts since 2006.

In April 2008, when The Seattle Times cut 200 people, its publisher said: “Strategic and thoughtful changes to the way we do business will allow us to be positioned for the future.” [emphasis added]

When The New York Times cut 100 jobs in 2009 (after whacking 100 jobs in 2008), its executive editor said:

These latest cuts will still leave us with the largest, strongest and most ambitious editorial staff of any newsroom in the country, if not the world. … I believe we can weather these cuts without seriously compromising our commitment to coverage of the region, the country and the world. We will remain the single best news organization on earth. [emphasis added]

Why is that the MBA-driven leadership of the newspaper industry, after cutting 35,000 mostly newsroom jobs between October 2007 and June 2010, continues to insist that the future (for whom?) is bright, and news (about what?) will multimedia its way to us day after day, quantity and quality unaffected?

There are words for that kind of image-driven happy talk: Reality challenged. Misrepresentation. Delusion. Outright lies. And, of course, bullshit.

U-T‘s Light, who was named editor in February after serving as vice president of the Orange County Register‘s interactive division, is particularly optimistic and cheerful after ownership canned 30 of his staffers:

We are making changes, beginning today, to build a different kind of newsroom at the Union-Tribune, one that can thrive in an environment of efficiency, fast change and multimedia demand. [emphasis added]

Say what? This kind of vague, verbal razzle-dazzle sounds eerily like the business model for the proposed Washington, D.C., local news website TBD I wrote about here earlier this week.

In addition to hiring a few more “interactive” pros, the U-T will “add a seven-person watchdog team, business beats covering the defense industry, commercial real estate, small business and clean technology, and will increase its Chargers and Padres coverage, among other improvements.”

Sure. That’s how to beef up good local journalism revenue: Increase coverage of the local pro sports teams. So what’s the plan for coverage of government? Local? Regional? Statewide?

(Incidentally, the Beverly Hills investment and buyout firm Platinum Equity bought the Union-Tribune last year from longtime owner The Copley Press of La Jolla. Tom Gores, a billionaire ranked at number 334 on Forbes‘ March 2009 billionaires list, heads Platinum Equity.)

But here’s the kicker. Says E&P:

At the same time the layoffs are happening, the Union-Tribune is offering entry-level “junior staff writer” reporting jobs in the $35K/year range. Those reporters “will research and write news and straightforward short stories with low level of complexity, analysis and narrative,” according to an ad on journalismjobs.com. [emphasis added]

Ah. Those must be be the guys who will cover government, because, you know, government stories have a “low level of complexity, analysis and narrative.” That also reveals what U-T management thinks of the intellectual capabilities of hoped-for readers, the ones who’d better show up if advertisers are going to sign on to this “environment of efficiency, fast change and multimedia demand.”

So Light’s new “multi-platform team” will “lead the industry”?

To where? And for whom? Readers? Advertisers? Or into the already deep pockets of Platinum Equity?

xpost: Scholars and Rogues

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 18, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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