Category Archives: Blood on the Newsroom Floor

The latest news on news media layoffs and downsizings.

Chart of the day: No faith in newspapers


Some truly bad news for ink-stained wretches today from Gallup, graphic proof that the massive layoffs and all-too-numerous closings of the nation’s newspapers are taking their toll:

BLOG Newspaper confidencer

Blood on the Newsroom Floor: Now with Greece


It’s been too many months — months featuring cancer surgery and a long and arduous regimen of chemo — since we chronicled the pliht of the ever-diminishing news media.

So forgive a long post, one that begins with a cut to public television in Athens, then winds its way much closer to home, with scores of jobs lost at U.S. newspapers and a major cut to our own public teleivison.

Austerity zealots gut Greek public TV

Austerity claimed a major victim in Greece Wednesday, the country’s public television network.

Precisely who’s to blame is an open question, with politicians of the coalition government blaming the European Commission, a charge denied by the EC itself.

A video report from Euronews:

Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis desribed his immediate response when the screen faded to black:

For those of us who grew up in the Greece of the neo-fascist colonels, nothing can stir up painful memories like a modern act of totalitarianism. When the television screen froze last night, an hour before midnight, as if some sinister power from beyond had pressed a hideous pause button, I was suddenly transported to the 60s and early 70s when a disruption in television or radio output was a sure sign that another coup d’ etat was in the offing. The only difference was that last night the screen just froze; with journalists still appearing tantalisingly close to finishing their sentence. At least the colonels had the good sense of pasting a picture of the Greek flag, accompanied by military tunes…

After the state channels froze on our screens, I turned to the commercial ones assuming that this major piece of news would be recorded and commented upon by them. Not a word. Soaps, second rate movies and informationals. That was all we got. As if ERT’s, the public radio and television service’s, instant demise was not worth a mention by their commercial competitors.

Read the rest.

More from Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou of Reuters:

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faced a political revolt on Wednesday from his ruling coalition partners after the government abruptly switched the state broadcaster off the air in the middle of the night.

Screens went black on state broadcaster ERT, cutting newscasters off mid-sentence only hours after the decision was announced, in what the government said was a temporary measure to staunch a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Unions called a 24-hour nationwide general strike in protest, and journalists across all media called an indefinite strike. Some newspapers were shut and private TV stations broadcast reruns of soap operas and sitcoms instead of the news.

Samaras’s centre-left coalition partners said they were furious at the decision to shut the broadcaster and had not been consulted. Coalition party leaders were meeting as night fell, with the suggestion left hovering in the air that they could force Samaras into a confidence vote which could bring him down.

Read the rest.

Christine Pirovolakis of Deutsche Presse-agentur reports on the workers’ response:

Journalists from the Greek public broadcaster ERT, which was suddenly shut down by the government because of austerity cuts, broadcast Wednesday via the internet in a show of defiance while their colleagues across the country held an indefinite strike.

Broadcasts continued throughout the night after the government brought 75 years of operations to an end Tuesday.

The ERT journalists, joined by thousands of supporters outside the broadcaster’s main headquarters, attacked the government over the shutdown and lay-offs of about 2,500 employees as part of cost-cutting measures demanded by the country’s international lenders.

The head of Greece’s Journalism Association, Dimitris Trimis, said television, radio and newspaper journalists from across the country were holding an indefinite strike in a show of support. The strike lead to a news blackout across Greece.

Read the rest.

The ultimate goal is the usual move: A shutdown followed by a reorganization with a smaller and thoroughly cowed cast of broadcasters, as evidenced by this report from Dimitris Ioannou of AlYunaniya.com:

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou yesterday announced the closure of the state broadcasting organisation ERT; all ERT transmissions throughout Greece stopped yesterday at 11.14 pm.

>snip<

The government has circulated a non-paper, calling the move a decision of high symbolism as regards the streamlining of the Greek public sector.

Kedikoglou said that ERT would be replaced by a modern, public but not state-owned broadcasting body. All ERT’s staff will receive the normal redundancy compensation and that the new body will operate with less staff.

During the intervening period between its closure and the launch of the new organisation, the public will not have to pay fees for ERT, he added.

Read the rest.

While the government of New democracy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has claimed the drastic moves were dictated by the EC’s austerity policies, the EC says not so, as Ekathemerini reports:

The European Commission did not seek the closure of Greek national broadcaster ERT, Brussels said in a statement released on Wednesday.

According to the statement, the Commission has taken note of the decision of the Greek government to close down ERT, referring to a decision taken in “full autonomy.”

The Commission does not question the Greek government’s “mandate to manage the public sector. The decision of the Greek authorities should be seen in the context of the major and necessary efforts that the authorities are taking to modernise the Greek economy,” the statement read.

Read the rest.

So the EC is basically saying that while they call the tune, they don’t write the lyrics.

More from Eur-Activ:

[O]pposition leader Alexis Tsipras called the closure “a coup, not only against ERT workers but against the Greek people”, and accused the government of the “historic responsibility of gagging state TV”.

The decision was made by ministerial decree, meaning that it could be implemented without reference to parliament.

“Journalism is being persecuted. We won’t allow the voice of Greece to be silenced,” said George Savvidis, the chief of journalists’ labour union POESY.

Read the rest.

And, finally, there’s this response from Anonymous:

American public television takes a hit

The victim is PBS and its flagship evening news broadcast and two of its major news bureaus.

From TV Newser’s Alex Weprin:

The “PBS NewsHour” is laying off staff in a significant reorganization, TVNewser has learned.

According to an internal memo obtained by TVNewser, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions — which produces the “NewsHour” — will be shutting down its offices in Denver and San Francisco, eliminating nearly all the positions there. The company will also eliminate several production positions in its Washington DC office, while leaving two open senior-level roles unfilled.The “NewsHour” is also planning to save money by streamlining and digitizing its technical process.

“This difficult step comes after more than a year spent reviewing how the ‘NewsHour’ functions, and determining the streamlining necessary to address both the funding challenges (primarily a steady drop in corporate revenue) and the opportunities presented by new technologies,” wrote “NewsHour” EP Linda Winslow and MacNeil/Lehrer president Bo Jones in the memo to staff.

The changes will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

Read the rest.

More from the New York Times’ Brian Stelter:

Earlier this year, public television employees who were not authorized to speak publicly told The New York Times that the production company was facing a shortfall of up to $7 million, a quarter of its $28 million overall budget, in the fiscal year that ends this month. The company’s budget outlook for the next fiscal year is unknown.  But a spokeswoman for the “NewsHour” acknowledged that the reorganization, which will take place over several months starting in July, would help balance the budget.

The spokeswoman said that about 10 employees, of 100 in all, would be affected.

Ms. Winslow and Mr. Jones said in their memo that the cuts were a result of, among other things, “a steady drop in corporate revenue.”

Read the rest.

Downsized newsrooms lead to big bonuses

Business as usual continues in the Brave New Newsroom, as reported by journalism blogger Jim Romenesko:

Less than a month after closing two of its Suburban Journals in St. Louis and putting 20 people out of work, Lee Enterprises handed out stock bonuses to eight of its directors.lee According to SEC filings, the Continue reading

Headline and Quote of the day II: Another draft?


From the Hartford [Connecticut] Advocate:

Former Hartford Advocate Writer Brews Unemployed Reporter Porter

From the accompanying story by still-employed Advocate reporter Michael Hamad about the post-newsroom career of Jon Campbell:

“Porter style beers were first popularized in the nineteenth century by merchant sailors and manual dock laborers,” the label reads. “Unemployed Reporter is crafted in the same tradition, honoring a profession likewise doomed to decline and irrelevance.”

For this new class of “expendables,” the label goes on, “we’ve included chocolate and roasted barley malts that are as dark and bitter as the future of American journalism, and a high alcohol content designed to numb the pain of a slow, inexorable march toward obsolescence. While Unemployed Reporter is especially delicious as a breakfast beer, it’s still smooth enough to be enjoyed all day, every day. And let’s be honest: what else do you have going on?”

Chart of the day: Blood on the newsroom floor


From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graphic proof of the sad state of the community newspaper.

In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, newspaper employment dropped from 404,072 to 239,375, while the number of papers dropped from 9,300 to 8,280 and the average number of employees per paper dropped from 43.4 to 29.9.

BLOG Newspapers

Random Sunday thoughts on the human condition


We began blogging soon after being laid off from our last newspaper job, a consequence of the economic crash and an advertiser boycott of the Berkeley Daily Planet organized by a trio of militant Ziocons.

In the following three years we’ve made 7,296 posts [this is the 7,297th] about a wide range of subjects, selected on the basis of both personal interest and a desire to share our thoughts of issues we think are very important to understand in an age when events are spiraling rapidly toward a critical turning point in the history of both our species and our planet.

In the last year, we’ve been focusing intensely on the developments in Europe, where a concerted efforts is underway to destroy the institutions built up over the course of the last two centuries to stem the rapacity of the financial elites who rose to power through the confluence of forces embodied in the imperial colonial adventures that began in the late 15th Century, the creation of central banks, the invention of the modern corporation as a weapon of colonial conquest, and an industrial revolution by the exploitation of the planet’s non-renewable energy reserves.

We have watched as the forces of money and multinational corporations have eaten away at labor rights, social protections, and the machinery of democratic process — the latter gutted by international treaties transcending national laws and the evolution of powerful and secretive transnational organizations.

All of this has transpired under an agenda epitomized in the quotation from Aldous Huxley’s Island featured on the blog’s flag: “Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.”

Now, as the era of cheap energy reaches its end and our environment is being poisoned by the “externalities” of the industrial age, we are facing a crisis that is both global in scope and of our own making.

Accompanying this massive transformation and environmental degradation has been the capture of the Western world’s communications media by giant corporations which have severed the links between media and community, laid off most of their journalists, and transformed the media into machines for selling both product and propaganda.

And lest we forget, all the alternative media are carried through corporate channels, and can be shut down by a simple flick of a switch.

Governments that fail to play by the rules set down by the bank-and-corporate-owned governments and transnational alliances of the West are destroyed. While the West was busily demonizing Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the flood of stories rarely if ever mentioned that Libyans received guaranteed incomes, health care, housing and education, and that the government had created the greatest civil engineering project of the 20th Century, the Great Man Made River, to bring water to the cities along the coast.

While the West was busily bombing Libya, using bombs from Israel in the case of Denmark, the violence unleashed in the country was carried out in large part by members of the same groups NATO was fighting in Afghanistan — including Al Qaeda. But all this was lost on most of the Western media, which hewed to the official line, just as they did to the myths of Iraqi WMDs.

Death of the American news media

We discovered our journalistic vocation on 9 November 1964, when we walked into the newsroom of the San Luis Valley Courier as a college sophomore and left that night having written the lead front page story and shot the accompanying photo. We’d never thought about reporting before that day.

Of the seven newspapers where we served on staff, only two have survived, the Las Vegas-Review-Journal and the Sacramento Bee. All the rest were either merged into larger, chain-owned papers or succumbed to the loss of advertising revenues and subscribers that have plagued the American press over the last 35 years.

In the most extreme case, the Oceanside Blade-Tribune — where we served first as reporter, then as city editor — the newspaper was bought and folded into a chain. Of the dozen local, community newspapers which then existed in North San Diego County California, only one remains, and that was recently bought by the same owner, Manchester Lynch Integrated Media Holdings [a developer], who bought the only large newspaper in the county as well as one of the last remaining papers in Riverside County to the north. The inevitable layoffs followed.

This cartoon, from another since-closed paper, deftly sums up our concern:


So we’ll keep writing as long as we’re able.

The world’s in trouble, and it’s up to us to act.

Chart of the day: Black and white and dead all over


From Carpe Diem, graphic evidence of the rapid demise of the American newspaper:

Syrian rebels set up Brit journo for slaughter


And they did it to generate bad press for the government of Bashir Assad, says ITN news reporter Alec Thomson.

“I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus,” Thomson, who reports for Channel 4 News, in Britain, writes in his personal blog:

Please, do not for one me moment believe that my experience with the rebels in al Qusair was a one-off.

This morning I received the following tweet:

“@alextomo I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”

That was from Nawaf al Thani, who is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria earlier this year.

It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria.

Read the rest.

The only video we can find abut the incident is from RT, and hasn’t been posted on You Tube.

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

My point is, dead journalists are bad for Damascus. When Marie Colvin, the British journalist got killed because she was in a building which was shelled by the Syrian army in Homs, that was an appalling propaganda blow for the Damascus regime. You don’t have to be very clever to work out that the deaths of any journalist at the hands of the Syrian army are going to be an appalling blow, again, for President Assad. That’s going to reflect all the way to Moscow and all the way to Beijing. Clearly that is going to be a bad thing in terms of propaganda. So the motivation for the rebels to pull a stunt like that seems to be very obvious. I’m not angry about it, I’m not upset about it, this is a war and these things will be done. Both sides are involved in very dirty tactics in this war. This is a nasty and dirty war on both sides.

The perils of ‘parachute journalism’

The mainstream media, as we’ve been chronicling, has been drastically downsized, and costly foreign bureaus have been the very first casualties.

The result has been hit-and-run coverage of a sort given a peculiar name by folks in the news world.

In a 2006 piece for American Journalism Review Sherry Ricchiardi described the peculiar art of what folks in the news biz call parachute journalism:

News managers interviewed for this story seem resigned to the fact that robust overseas bureaus are largely artifacts of a bygone era, like typewriters and rotary phones. Instead, with a few exceptions, foreign news has entered a phase of crisis journalism — the flood-the-zone, event-driven coverage Americans witnessed during July’s Middle East crisis. The audience has little or no history before the story breaks into headlines; there has been no foreshadowing. (This is precisely what has happened in Afghanistan, where the American press corps has dwindled dramatically while conditions continue to worsen — see “The Forgotten War,” August/September.)

This approach results in a shorter media attention span. When the shooting ends, reporters scatter as quickly as they came. “We’ll pull our journalistic shock troops out, and we’ll redeploy them somewhere else because we only have a handful,” [former ABC News journalist Ted] Koppel says.

Read the rest.

So who do reporters rely on when they arrive in a strange land whose language they don’t speak?

From a 2002 essay by Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, writing for the Potnter Institute [emphasis added]:

When journalists go to work in a country where they do not understand the language or the culture, they typically make use of the invaluable services of fixer interpreters, whose impact on global public opinion is invariably underestimated. They are the ones who, while remaining largely invisible, offer clear guidance as to how conflicts should be interpreted, as well as which sources should be chosen and which words used.

Now add another ingredient to the mix

It took WikiLeaks to expose the dark side of those“democratic” rebels who fought to overthrow the Libyan government, the same ones who were acting as guides to the Western media types who reported on such notorious disinformation as the subsequently debunked claims that Moammar Gaddafi was dosing troops with Viagra to ensure they’d rape rebels, or that his troops were bolstered by black African mercenaries.

There was no Viagra, no “mercenaries,” though plenty of black Africans were slaughtered by rebel forces.

But the stories worked, whipping up resentment and offering justification to the likes of Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Now that Thomson’s story has come to light, we should be asking lots of questions about just how our news media are getting their stories after they unpack their parachutes.

The obvious questions focus on just who those translator/fixers are. Given that the U.S. has been pushing for the overthrow of the Syrian government for decades, one might reasonably ask if any of those oh-so-helpful folk are tied to intelligence agencies, U.S., British, French, or other.

But when you hit the ground running, you don’t have time for lengthy background checks, so you just take what you’re given.

But if Libya has taught us any lessons at all, we should all be asking serious questions.