More wrenching pain is being felt in the media world as more than a thousand in the media industry are getting cut as part of a seemingly never-ending series of cutbacks. In fact, a Jan. 24 CNN headline stated:”Media industry loses about 1,000 jobs as layoffs hit news organizations”, but the number may be closer to 1,200.  Specifically, Buzzfeed announced they are cutting about 220 journalists. Verizon Media is cutting around 800, including the opinion section of the HuffPost. Gannett is making another round of cuts, and FTVLive reports cuts at Sinclair’s WJLA-TV: Morning EP Thomas Tobin and Night side EP Lauren Stauffer “were told their services were no longer needed”. In addition, longtime reporter Steven Tschida, who joined the station in 2002, and reporter Rich Reeve were also told they were being “kicked to the curb” and “you can also add longtime Production Supervisor Lori Johnson to the list”.  Finally, New Media Investment Group, or GateHouse Media, announced an agreement to acquire 20 regional papers and several special publications across Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Dakota from Schurz Communications, Inc..   The deal includes the 190-year-old Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, MD, and the outlet reported that three full-time employees would be laid off as part of the deal

Joel Kaplan, Associate Dean for Professional Graduate Studies, Newhouse School, sees a larger problem.  Kaplan feels the cutbacks by media outlets should not be a surprise, but the long-term ramifications may turn out to be devastating to both the journalism profession and our democracy. It is not surprising that publicly traded media companies continue to cut. They have to show Wall Street that they are still capable of making money and earning profits. Since revenues are down because of advertising dollars going elsewhere, the only way to make money is to cut costs. And the best way to cut costs is to cut employees. So we continue to be in a period of relentless cost cutting. Many media companies are being purchased by scavengers who are going to bleed these news operations dry. When the money runs out, the properties will also disappear.

According to Kaplan, the problem is that newspapers and online news sites are not typical companies. They are the only types of companies that are actually enshrined in the First Amendment. They are vital to our democracy because they are the vehicle through which the public finds out what is going on in their communities and their governments.

Kaplan states that it is one thing “for a venture capital company to buy coal mines; extract as much money as they can from the mountains, and then shutter them, (but) when the same company buys up a newspaper chain and ends up shuttering those newspapers, the result is a disaster,” not just for those who worked there, but for the communities that relied on those news organizations for vital information to stay informed about the world around them.

There is an obvious and underlying theme to Kaplan’s observations: The “press” exists in a business world that demands a return on investment and, to be successful, it must have the support of the communities in which it operates.  However, changes have to be made by the media to reflect the realities when it comes to changing methods of communications – i.e., the growth of the internet and social media – but without significant financial support, many more media outlets will die, and that’s something that will impact communities and, on a larger level, our democracy.

At Capitol Communicator, we see profound and fundamental forces operating on and against the media: Specifically, a dying print media caused by a growing audience that demands instant communications; an advertising model that, in many cases, needs to be adjusted to today’s and tomorrow’s realities; the need to assure advertisers that while people may be migrating from a print product to a web-based product, they still can be reached through the media; and whether news outlets will eliminate skilled reporters and editors in an effort to reduce cost and what, taken together, does all this mean to the media’s ability to meet the needs of those who depend on it to stay informed and involved.  In addition, the dire situation faced by the print media is, as noted above, also impacting the broadcast community.

The question for all of us to consider it whether the media plays such a vital role in our communities that the media should not be allowed to fail and, if so, how does it adapt and adjust in an environment that is so fluid?

If you have thoughts, let us know.

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