A new problem in local journalism: Tracking its decline

Ken Doctor raises an important point midway through his recent Nieman Lab post exploring “10 numbers that define the news business today.”

“We seldom see much reporting of buyouts and layoffs these days, as some publishers concluded that the industry’s problems were only being exacerbated by its reporting on its own staff changes.”

That’s happening right now at my former company, Digital First Media, as buyouts and layoffs are quietly taking place across the country. This is on top of additional cuts in various places that happened a few months ago with little fanfare.

Cuts in big newsrooms such as Denver, St. Louis and Chicago will continue to make news, but we don’t hear about the smaller local newsrooms who end up losing two of their remaining four reporters. Unless, of course, it’s as outrageous of a cut as happened at the Saratogian and Troy Record in New York’s capital region this week, where the executive editor, editor, sports editor, chief photographer, a copy editor and a sports reporter all took buyouts – on top of the company eliminating the digital editor, city editor and other positions a month ago.

You get what you measure, and if we don’t have a handle on the extent of local journalism’s decline, we can’t properly address it.

As Doctor said:

“We can only guess at the math: How many fewer stories — online as well as in print — are 20,000 fewer journalists producing? What don’t communities know about themselves that they might have known a decade ago?”

Update: John Robinson has written an excellent take on the issue at his blog Media, Disrupted.

Related: “Journalism companies are dead, long live journalists.”

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