Monday, June 27, 2011

Round Two



American Statesman Buy-Outs


The deal was on the table. They took it. Decades of collective history, goodwill, contacts, at talent walked out of the room.

That room is the Austin American-Statesman’s newsroom. Now, after the previous buy-outs a couple of years ago that included Ben Sargent and Diane Holloway, the cavernous room is even more empty.

Despite ever expanding new revenue streams and possible news delivery platforms, the Statesman again offered buy-out packages and early retirement to scores of employees. You know many of their names: Michael Corcoran, John Kelso, Kathy Warbelow, Denise Gamino, Larry Kolvoord, Larry Hobbs, and many others.

I could fill volumes with the awards Denise Gamino won for her reporting in her 30-plus year career. Talk about tenacious attention to detail, and you’re talking about Denise Gamino. She’s gone.

The same could be said about Michael Corcoran’s depth of knowledge of the music industry in Austin and elsewhere. I hope cub reporters got Corcoran’s number for contacts before he left.

What about those fabulous photos from Kolvoord and Hobbs. Somebody else will take them—possibly the reporter covering the story.

Like Sargent, Kelso will continue contributing a column for Sunday papers.
Editor Fred Zipp named names on the Sunday, June 26th Opinion Page. He explained why the buy-outs were necessary:

“As a business, the Statesman continues to negotiate the difficult transition from a print-only newspaper with negligible direct competition into a news organization that operates on several platforms, including an increasing crowded digital space.

“Declining advertising revenue has forced use to become smaller; continuing success demands we become smarter.”

“Even as we shrink our staff size, we’re determined to measure up to our readers’ expectations. In recent months, we have doubled the number of people assigned to our investigative team, where public interest journalism is the only priority.

“It’s impossible, however, to endure the loss of 12 such accomplished colleagues without ill effect.”

Meanwhile, the Statesman is trying new things such as “print only” stories. They are putting a preview of stories inside the paper on the left side of page one. They are including so-called “proof of performance” promotional pieces inside the paper, usually in the upper left corner, reminding readers of the value of their coverage.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the newspaper started making more use of freelancers and stringers—journalists who will be paid on a per-story basis but they won’t receive costly health benefits, etc. When you see “Special to the American-Statesman”, think “freelancer”. It’s the way the world is now. It’s OK. The readers aren’t cheated. The writers are pros.
The transition is and will continue to be difficult. Yes, the Statesman has a huge printing business, but fewer and fewer readers are relying on the printed word. Will those massive presses running monster rolls of paper be needed much longer, or will they become relics?

Statesman.com continues to be the #1 site for news in the Austin area. Yet, as Zipp pointed out there is “increasingly crowded digital space”. Next month “Culture Map Austin”, a daily digital magazine goes live, joining AustinPost.com, the Austinist, Austin Bulldog, the Austin Chronicle, and several other online news sources with their own special tilt to the news.

The continuing question concerns how does an online medium monetize its product? Will statesman.com go the route of paid content? And will readers pay? We’re so used to getting what we want with the click of a mouse.

I still get the printed paper delivered. The page with Fred Zipp’s column is beside the typewriter behind me now.

That typewriter hasn’t been used in years.

© Jim McNabb, 2011


1 comment:

Mike Whatley said...

Nice piece. Pretty straight up. Sans the hand wringing that often accompanies these end of days stories about print media.