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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 company gave 10,000 shares of Lee stock (current value: $1.66/share) to: Andrew E. Newman, Mark Vittert, Herbert W. Moloney III, William E. Mayer, Brent Magid, Nancy S. Donovan, Richard R. Cole, and Leonard J. Elmore.
Regular readers know that this is pretty much The Lee Way — giving bonuses to top execs just before or after pink-slipping journalists.
Rupert Murdoch’s hatchet men chop away
Their latest victim, the New York Post — a property of the Murdoch empire for the last two decades.
From Joe Pompeo and Tom McGeveran of New York Capital last week:
Brooklyn court reporter Mitch Maddux and staff writer Pedro Oliveira Jr. are among those that sources tell Capital have lost their jobs at the New York Post today in a round of layoffs that was foreshadowed last month when editor Col Allan announced he was seeking a reduction of 10 percent of the paper’s staff.
Also losing their jobs, according multiple sources, were “a lot of people” on the video staff, as well as members of the photo and copy desks and one person from the library. And Daily Racing Forum reporter David Grening, who used to work at the Post, reports that three racing writers and handicappers were laid off including John Da Silva and Ed Fountaine; that’s remarkable, he points out, since it’s the day before the Belmont Stakes.
UPDATE: Two sources tell Capital that longtime reporter Cynthia Fagen also was among those let go.
ESPN brings out the red pencil
From James Andrew Miller and Richard Sandomir of the New York Times:
ESPN is cutting 300 to 400 jobs through layoffs and by leaving positions unfilled. The reductions are small in a company with more than 6,500 employees but surprising because ESPN is such a robust part of the Walt Disney Company.
Nonetheless, the company is still growing and will continue to hire people as needed, said two people who had knowledge of its plans but were not authorized to speak publicly.
Patch gets patchier
Patch Media promised they had the solution to the staggering losses of local newspapers and their journalists. The solution was to be a network of so-called hyperlocal news sites, staffed with journalists but relying heavily on reader contributions.
But the dream is fading, as Andrew Beaujon reports for Poynter’s MediaWire, citing a corporate memo:
The changes we are making at Patch, however, come with the difficult decision to eliminate some positions. These employees have contributed greatly to Patch’s business with passion and dedication. We sincerely thank them for all they have done to make Patch what it is today. Their impact will always be felt here. We wish all affected employees continued success. They are truly Patchers for life.
Via email, Patch spokesperson Joe Wiggins replied affirmatively when Poynter asked whether editorial jobs would be among those going. He sent along this statement:
Patch is streamlining its regional editorial structure across the country by moving from 20 to nine teams. We are implementing this team approach based on the success of our field tests earlier this year. The team approach allows for flexibility based on the unique needs of each community and the strengths of our editors. We are not reducing our number of sites or our coverage area as a result of this change. Making these important changes came with the difficult decision to eliminate some positions. We recognize these changes are painful for individuals and for our organization – and we are committed to handling the people impacted with care and sensitivity.
And layoffs hit closer to home
The Bay Area News Group’s San Jose Mercury News announced a major layoff in April, as Media Bistro’s Vicki Salemi reported 26 April:
Sorry to end the week with grim news but we heard production workers at the San Jose Mercury News are going to lose their San Jose-based jobs starting on Monday.
According to The Business Journal, layoff letters were issued to 118 employees. As for the good news? An undetermined number of those employees will be offered jobs at other locations affiliated with the paper.
The employees impacted by the reduction in force (a.k.a. “RIF”) include press operators and production staffers. It sounds like timing is everything. After all, the layoffs are occurring merely two weeks after the newspaper announced its intentions to market its 30-acres.
Banksters kill San Diego County newspaper jobs
From Don Bauder of the San Diego Reader, word that the banksters who bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, then swallowed up the daily press in San Diego’s North County:
The Union-Tribune laid off 4 or 5 news people in a restructuring in North County today (May 28), according to good sources. I don’t have more details at this time but will add them as I get more. As previously reported, the U-T’s circulation numbers were not good in the most recent reporting period. Despite having purchased the North County Times, the paper reported small gains in some categories and actual declines in others. The most recent period was being compared with the period without the addition of the NC Times. Given the weak performance, layoffs did not come as a surprise, and there is unrest about the possibility of more.
Village loses some of its Voice
The Village Voice, a legendary countercultural medium founded by the likes of Norman Mailer and Nat Hentoff, then turned into a corporate owned alt-weekly endeavor, continues to hemorrhage both cash and jobs.
From a 20 May Huff Post Media story:
Legendary columnist Michael Musto said Monday that the cuts that ended his career at the Village Voice have left the atmosphere at the paper “dour.” Food critic Tejal Rao later announced that she is resigning, leaving the newspaper without a food critic.
Musto, the most high-profile writer left at the paper, was laid off on Friday, along with Robert Sietsema and Michael Feingold, in the latest round of layoffs. The announcement shocked and saddened readers, who lamented the news on Twitter.
The news came a week after a little more than a week after editors Will Bourne and Jessica Lustig chose to resign, rather than oversee a round of layoffs. They had reportedly been instructed to cut five people from a staff of 20.
And more jobs go in Ohio
From a Friday post by Cleveland Scene’s Eric Sandy, word of layoffs at papers in Lorain and Willoughby Ohio:
Yesterday didn’t end so well at The Morning Journal and The News-Herald, Northeast Ohio’s two Journal Register Co. properties.
A source tells Scene that several management-level staff members were either laid off or “forced” into retirement, such as Morning Journal Editor Tom Skoch, during a meeting yesterday afternoon.
Publisher Jeff Sudbrook, who oversees both newspapers, said that three Morning Journal copy desk employees will be leaving their posts and, in the end, moving to the News-Herald newsroom. “They’ll be offered jobs over here,” he says.
One city editor will remain to oversee reporting at both papers. All copy editors for both papers will work out of The News-Herald’s Willoughby newsroom.
And if you’re still feeling upbeat, consider this excellent Media of Birmingham post by Wade Kwon, outlining all the media cuts and closings in the Alabama city.
And from north of the border. . .
As of 31 May, the Toronto Globe and Mail has cut 31 newsroom jobs as part of an April buyout offer designed to cut eight percent of the company payroll.
Tamara Baluja of the Canadian Journalism Project wrote at the time of the offer:
The Globe and Mail is offering employees a voluntary separation package to help reduce its annual expenses.
In a memo delivered to staff, the Globe’s publisher Phillip Crawley said “While our weekly online readership is up 16 per cent, print is declining, with the last three months being particularly disappointing.”
The memo doesn’t outline the target savings the newspaper hopes to achieve from the buyouts, but Crawley told staff at a town hall meeting that “If we get 60, I’ll be happy,” The Globe and Mail reported. “That number would represent about 8 per cent of The Globe’s 770 employees,” The Globe said.
We’ll try to be more timely henceforth. . .