Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sun setting

A fitting metaphor: When I stepped outdoors tonight to bring in our American flag for the evening, I noticed litter on my sidewalk. When I fetched it, I discovered it was the sort of plastic sleeve that usually holds an edition of the morning newspaper. Except this sleeve was empty.

A sad, sad day. The Baltimore Sun management laid of nearly a third of its newsroom staff today in what is already being called a massacre. Early reports suggest that security escorted editors out of the building. The Sun even laid off employees who were out covering an Orioles game.

To think this city once supported three major daily newspapers! If the laid off employees somehow start their own newspaper, I'll sign up for a subscription. Or two. We deserve their good work and they deserve better.

Monty Cook, the editor of the Sun, is a villain for overseeing these layoffs. I agree with David Simon, who created The Wire and used to work for the Sun, who reportedly wrote that Cook should have resigned before overseeing this bloodbath.

As for Sam Zell, the head of the Tribune Co. that owns the Sun, he's worse.

The Tucson Citizen publishes "day-to-day." The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is online only. The Detroit papers have reduced their daily delivery. And the Rocky Mountain News has folded. This grim recitation doesn't count the many other news organizations -- from small-circulation weeklies to the New York Times -- that have reduced operations, laid off jouranlists or closed up shop.

Yes, the news industry is in trouble. Yes, advertising revenue is shrinking. But if greedy fools like Zell hadn't driven up stock prices for newspapers in the 1990s and into the 21st century by taking out loans to pay for the privilege of ownership, many newspapers would be hampered now, but surviving. The Sun's layoffs, and the collapse of daily news journalism in the United States, is less about an industry failing to adequately change its business model to suit new technology than it is the greed of people who believed that newspapers would be cash cows for decades and were willing to overpay for the chance to milk.

What is there to do? Cancel our subscription? That will only hasten the end. But how else does a reader protest that the newspaper isn't offering enough to read?

The best coverage of the Sun massacre is at the blog The Real Muck. Read the details there.

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