Fighting Back

Layoffs, buyouts, hiring freezes, bureau cuts have all become common occurrences in our nation’s newsrooms. With newspaper circulations down, budgets are being slashed across the board. But now some journalists are fighting back. According to an article in Editor and Publisher:

“Several dozen Newsday employees are planning to send a protest letter to Tribune Company Chairman Dennis FitzSimons that blasts the corporate parent for what they see as "throttling Newsday's individuality" through bureau staff cuts, and seeking instead to "inflate the corporate profit margin."

“The letter would be the latest attack on Tribune, which has come under scrutiny for recent battles over staff cuts at the Los Angeles Times and efforts to sell all or part of its many media holdings. Newsday workers appear to be miffed that cutbacks in recent years, which have included a 2004 buyout, have hurt the paper's credibility and journalistic efforts.”

Maybe the efforts of these reporters are fruitless. Maybe most Americans really DON’T care about national and foreign news. Or maybe these journalists are fighting for something larger than their own employment. It sounds to me like these reporters are fighting for the future integrity of the news.

I read a draft of the letter the journalists plan to send FitzSimons and it was both moving and frightening. We in the media community need to stand up for what we believe in – whether that is starting the dialogue, writing letters, or even finding the capital to start our own publications. We’re fighting for something so much larger than ourselves: the news we deliver to the public shapes world affairs, policy decisions, foreign aid, wars.... Should that really be compromised for the bottom line? Shouldn’t we instead be looking for ways to make the news more profitable?

The following is the draft of the Newsday letter to FitzSimmons reprinted in Editor and Publisher:

“Dear Mr. FitzSimons:

In the newsroom and bureaus of Newsday, we watch with growing dismay the Tribune Company's stewardship of our newspaper. In its six years of ownership, Tribune has significantly damaged Newsday as an instrument of public information and accountability in Long Island and New York City.

In its pursuit of maximum profits, Tribune has cut Newsday's news staff by 33 percent and slashed our Washington bureau. Amid wars and crises abroad, it has ordered our foreign bureaus closed. It has halved our staffs covering national news, and health and science. It has forced us to curtail coverage even of New York City and Long Island and has made other cuts that fail our readers.

Our reduced staff is spread too thin; we're missing stories we should have gotten. Too often, when we see news important to our readers, we are told there is no space for it.

Tribune is throttling Newsday's individuality by forcing us to replace much of our own journalism with wire copy, by dictating the layout of our website and insisting that we promote our local news coverage at the expense of all else. Newsday doesn't need Tribune to tell us to cover Long Island - local news has always been this paper's core. But we deplore the parochial idea that readers are interested only in what happens within their zip codes. New Yorkers understand all too well that events in Hamburg, Beijing or Beirut affect us at home.

When permitted, we still do plenty of work that we're proud of - as local as uncovering the waste of public funds in Long Island firehouses, and as global as reporting from Cuba, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Washington on innocent men imprisoned at Guantanamo.

We know that rising competition from Internet firms makes this a tough time for newspapers. And we know that Newsday worsened its situation with the shameful, illegal and costly inflation of our circulation figures.

But we also know that Tribune's constant cutting of resources to inflate the corporate profit margin and shore up the stock price is a failure.

Newsday is a profitable business, even more than most newspapers. Our paper has grown handsomely since Alicia Patterson founded it in a garage 66 years ago. But we didn't do that by cutting corners to guarantee a profit every 90 days. We did it by building a newspaper so complete that Long Islanders didn't need another one. Newsday invested in the reporters, editors and many others needed to explain complex issues, investigate corruption and dig out whatever news affects our readers. That same investment in creative, original journalism is what will serve our readers and make our company thrive in the Internet era.

If Tribune wants to successfully own large newspapers, it must show more respect for their individualities and communities. It must reduce its demand for short-term profit and commit to building, rather than cutting, newspapers for the future. And it should do so quickly or sell Newsday to an owner who will.”

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