Back in March I predicted 2009 to be the year of the Great Media Collapse.
That the powerful forces of the global economic meltdown, plummeting advertising costs, and the shift of readers from print to the web would force seismic changes on traditional media.
It’s been even worse than I thought. Are we sure it isn’t 2012?
The cherry on top of this dismal, depressing year for print media may have been the ugly day at BusinessWeek yesterday when about 130 reporters, many BusinessWeek veterans, got the axe from new owner Bloomberg. Bleak news for a group of talented writers and editors.
The 80-year-old business magazine has always been a top echelon publication with great writers. Yesterday’s cuts included some of the biggest names in business journalism: Stephen Baker, Steve Hamm, Steve Wildstrom, Heather Green, Jon Fine and many others. These are top-notch journalists who have come to define the voice, tone and quality that is BusinessWeek. It’s difficult to imagine the publication without them.
(Media Bistro has collected the departing tweets of the fired BusinessWeek writers).
This, of course, followed the fire basement sale of BusinessWeek to Bloomberg last month. A sale reported to have been for about $5 million, but may have been as low as $2 million.
Unfortunately, BusinessWeek isn’t alone in the Great Media Collapse. In fact, Paper Cuts, an online site, that tracks layoffs at newspapers and magazines says more than 14,500 journalists have been laid-off or bought out this year. Some of the highlights (or low lights):
- The Associated Press announced the lay-offs of about 90 reporters, editors, and photographers this week while also closing four U.S. bureaus. It was an overall reduction of about 10 percent of its workforce, according to PaidContent.
- The Wall Street Journal shuttered its Boston bureau and cut nine members of the staff – including the long-time reporter (30 years!) Bill Bulkeley, one of the best in the business.
- Forbes cut even more staff in October after already dismissing more than 100 employees throughout the year, according to the New York Times.
- The Times Co. has reduced staff by the hundreds at the New York Times and the Boston Globe this year. The Globe has gotten the brunt of it and was almost sold for the cost of a hotdog and a beer at Fenway Park (well, maybe, a bit more). Word is that the Times will slash another 100 jobs before New Year’s Day.
- Fortune magazine reduced its publishing schedule from 25 issues to 18 issues a year.
- Gourmet magazine, the bible for food lovers, shutdown in October after a run of 69 years.
- Portfolio magazine, which attracted some big name reporters, shutdown in April.
- The Rock of Boston – the legendary rock radio station in Boston – WBCN went silent after 41 years.
- The Tucson Citizen in Arizona shutdown in May after 149 years.
- The 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped its printing presses and closed March.
- The Rocky Mountain News, the 150-year-old daily, ceased print publication in February.
- The Baltimore Examiner shuttered in February.
- The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reduced their publication scheduled and focus online.
The list of layoff and closures goes on and on – from Sports Illustrated reducing staff to the closing of Domino and PC Magazine. Where all these journalists are going to land is another question. Are their magazines, newspapers or online publications that are actually hiring? Will they become part of the underpaid and overworked freelancer community? Are we really returning to the age where writers are paid by the word?
There is little doubt that journalism as we know it is on the verge of collapse. This doesn’t mean it won’t recover or that it won’t end being redefined. It just means that it won’t look the way it used to. It still remains to be seen if blogs and online publications can provide the quality news and analysis that newspapers and magazines have provided for more than a century.
So far most online publications still reply on mainstream sources to feed their own insatiable publishing schedules. And they haven’t proven to have the quality assurance, fact-checking, and professionalism of most traditional news gathering operations.
So where do we find ourselves as 2009 groans to a close? In the midst of the greatest threat to journalism in its history. Printed formats are collapsing, broadcasting is fragmented, media companies continue to rely on failed business models, journalism staffs being slashed to pieces, content creation being pushed to freelancers and citizen journalists, and more people relying on getting their “news” from dubious sources on the internet.
What do you think? What is the future of journalism? How do you view the Great Media Collapse of 2009?