Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Star newsroom layoffs shortsighted

June 25, 2011

There was no rejoicing when word of The Indianapolis Star’s most recent round of layoffs reached the IBJ newsroom, no celebratory toasts to the continued erosion of our once-mighty daily competitor.

We, too, are mourning the loss of journalists who perform the often-thankless job of keeping the community informed. We share the dismay over a “local” decision to sacrifice local news. And we are equally outraged by executives bolstering their own bottom line at the expense of Indianapolis.

As Cory Schouten reported June 21 on IBJ.com, the local layoffs were part of a broader move by Virginia-based Gannett Co. to cut about 700 positions nationwide. In an internal memo, the media company’s community newspapers chief attributed the decision to a sluggish economic recovery.

Company-wide, the job cuts amount to 2 percent of Gannett’s total work force. The toll was much higher in Indianapolis, where 81 positions were eliminated—despite the fact that, by all accounts, the newspaper remains profitable. Gannett as a whole earned $541 million last year on revenue of $5.4 billion.

And yet the cuts continue.

Of the positions eliminated in Indianapolis, 62 were filled; 26 were in the newsroom, which has lost more than 40 percent of its staff since 2007.

Sadly, those of us who lament the annihilation of our local newspaper can’t even blame nameless, faceless suits a thousand miles away. As Gannett’s Bob Dickey put it in his memo, “it has been up to each local publisher to determine his or her unique course of action.”

Star Publisher Karen Crotchfelt opted to reduce day-to-day reporting to focus on “watchdog coverage” and “strong voices” like columnists Matthew Tully and Erika D. Smith, as she told Schouten. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

Indianapolis deserves more than the incredible shrinking newspaper the Star has become in recent years. Sure, there are big issues that could and should be scrutinized, but not at the expense of the everyday developments that are the building blocks of our community.

Fewer bodies in the newsroom means less news and more mistakes. Crotchfelt readily admits that. So what is the value proposition for subscribers? For advertisers? We are not in the widget-making business. We can’t cut corners and trim expenses and expect customers not to notice.

Yes, times are tough and newspapers are battling to remain relevant in the face of technological advances that threaten to make newsprint as obsolete as hot type. But without our people, we don’t have a product.

This is a personnel-intensive business. Whether information is delivered on paper or over a smartphone, it takes people to gather, interpret and disseminate the news. We need trained skeptics to ask questions and demand answers. We need professional observers to capture our stories and preserve them for future generations. We need a daily newspaper.

That may seem like an odd statement, considering the source. But just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a sinking ship can suck others into its vortex. We want strong competitors that raise the expectations of the community. Indianapolis deserves it.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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