Friday, March 16, 2007

Slash and burn in central Illinois

The sale of Copley to another newspaper chain is not good news for those who want to see quality journalism in central Illinois. Chances are Gatehouse will cut staff and other newsgathering costs at the Peoria Journal Star, State Journal-Register in Springfield, and several other downstate papers.

This isn't a big surprise: Newspapers are bleeding money everywhere. The last place left to make a profit is medium-sized markets with no competition. Newspaper companies can slash costs without worrying about the quality drop-off because of their monopoly.

Billy Dennis is a former newspaper reporter who now runs the blog Peoria Pundit. He has a letter from a former employee of the new chain who predicts her experience will be duplicated in central Illinois.

You will all be asked to re-apply for your own job. Some of you will not be rehired. You may have the option of applying for work at remaining Copley properties, but this will require uprooting your family and moving.

Gatehouse staff very familiar with how to handle this process will come in all smiles and glad-handing and "we're willing to work with you in this transition" while searching ruthlessly for staff and services to cut. The first thing staff will notice is that your co-pay for your health insurance will skyrocket while the number of services available to you and your family members plummets. Hopefully the union will protect against some of this.

After a lull, expect sharp decreases in funds for syndicated features, wire services, and other newsroom budgeted items such as training, equipment, etc. Second-rate substitutes will be offered. There will be a lot of talk about synergy and content sharing among the papers in the group and how this benefits classified advertising sales. Expect to hear a lot about the benefits of sharing of feature stories between the newspapers in the group, but there will be little added news value involved.

The newsroom staff will now be expected to regularly crank out "special sections" that are nothing but love letters to local advertisers. No actual news will be permitted in these special sections.

Any staff that leaves or retires will not be replaced, and a hiring freeze will be put in place.
This is probably good news for well-read central Illinois bloggers like Dennis, who will help fill the information void that will be created.

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