The last couple of years, a simmering debate has unfolded here on the In Box and in other venues over the future health of the Adirondack-North Country journalism culture.
That often-heated conversation was revived this month by news that the Glens Falls Post Star’s corporate owner had decided to cut a third of the newspaper’s reporting staff. (News of the decision was first reported by blogger Mark Wilson.)
Dan Alexander, publisher of the Denton Publications chain of newspapers, based in Elizabethtown, blasted the decision in an editorial as “nothing more than greed.”
He questioned “the corporate culture that is killing the sense of community these organizations once had.”
More shocking than the cuts at the Post-Star and the 51 other Lee Enterprise-owned papers who made similar large-scale staff cuts across the country, was the announcement just days before that Lee CEO Mary Junck was awarded a $500,000 bonus and CFO Carl Schmidt was awarded a $250,000 bonus.
Of course, the Post Star isn’t the only newspaper squeezing its editorial staff.
This spring, the Watertown Daily Times eliminated its long-standing and highly respected Washington DC bureau. (Hat tip to TomL for pointing this out.)
“Well, the saddest part about all these lost bureaus, and now the north country’s, is the stories that never will be written because the paper won’t have eyes at the Capitol to see them,” wrote Marc Heller, WDT’s veteran Washington correspondent.
Lake Placid News publisher Cathy Moore is also cutting the reporter position at the weekly paper. (Corrected: the LP News is a weekly, not a daily.)
And the Plattsburgh Press-Republican continues to require that reporters take mandatory unpaid furlough days.
(All of these newspapers, with the exception of the Watertown Daily Times, are owned by corporate chains, headquartered outside the region.)
Why does all this matter? It means fewer journalists out on the beat, for one thing. That means fewer eyes on local government, fewer people tracking important stories.
But tightening budgets will also, inevitably, mean fewer really great reporters sticking around in the North Country. If you can’t earn a decent living, pay your mortgage, maybe earn enough to put your kids through college — you’re not going to stay, right?
Complicating this dreary news is the fact that some elements of the region’s media culture are thriving.
Denton Publications — also locally owned — has continued to build a stronger and stronger newsroom, breaking more important stories across the region.
NCPR, which is licensed to St. Lawrence University in Canton, has been adding staff and stringers, with new people on the ground now in the Plattsburgh-Burlington area and in Watertown.
Then there’s the growing clout of bloggers and “citizen journalists,” exemplified in this case by the professional-grade reporting and analysis of Mark Wilson, who broke the story of the Post-Star’s cutbacks.
What we know for certain is that the media culture — and the business of media — are changing rapidly, because of technological changes, new patterns of corporate ownership, new ways that people use media.
We also know that this process is hurting a lot of great reporters, leaving them unemployed and with few prospects.
What we don’t yet know is how well the public will be served going forward. Will there be enough alert, skeptical, curious people out there to serve as watchdogs, community bulletin boards, and information sharers?
As always, your views welcome.