the fallout

Right when I got the call at 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon to come to my manager’s office, I knew the end was not only in sight – it was going to be right then. And there was nothing I could do about it.

My job with the Seattle Times had been in some peril for quite some time, but the most recent round of budget cuts – announced that morning in a despondent but matter-of-fact company-wide email by publisher Frank Blethen – were going to hit this place hard.

But 200 layoffs in a single day? No one saw that coming.

Like everyone else affected, my last day here at Seattle’s once-mighty news source is May 5. It’s sad to see that the paper I grew up always wanting to write for has suddenly taken such a nosedive, but sadly enough, this is the direction that all of print media is headed. Ad revenue has all but tanked. Circulation numbers are way below where they should be. Employee turnover has never been so high, in both the newsroom and advertising.

It begs the obvious question – what the hell happened?

One of the biggest problems, I think, was the extreme focus shift the paper underwent a little over a year ago, right around the time I was hired. They put an unprecedented amount of effort into the publication of a new breed of ‘special sections,’ one of which I was brought on board specifically to write for. Their focus on these sections – Shop South, Inhabit, Southeast Living, Trip, etc – had brought the attention away from the central product; the very newspaper the company had held in such high regard for well over a century.

Because of that sudden shift in focus, I think they hit the panic button too soon and took an enormous risk with all the money they put into the production of their new endeavors. And now it’s coming back to haunt them.

The rest, of course, is history. This is the second round of layoffs and budget cuts that The Seattle Times Company has instigated in a span of just under four months. If this is the way things are going, my colleagues here better start blowing the dust off their resumes and jump ship while they still can. I may have about a month to find something else before unemployment kicks in, but the job market – especially for my industry – looks about as bleak as the SuperSonics’ future in this city.

It’s not easy being a print journalist in today’s times. (Pun intended.)

9 Comments so far

  1. wesa on April 10th, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

    So many industries in this area have been failing lately. It’s hard to watch as friend after friend is laid off and left looking for a job.

  2. Mike (drgonzo) on April 10th, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

    It definitely sucks, but I’m glad I have a good network of people in the right places. I might be pretty bored for a month or two, but whatever happens, I’m gonna handle it.

  3. Dylan (dylan) on April 10th, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

    It really seems like the P-I’s approach — embrace blogging, focus the core resources on what the newspaper does best — has paid off, while the Times’ inability to understand blogging has killed them. They didn’t need to launch special sections; they needed to launch blogs around the areas they were focusing on.

    A year ago, we cancelled the Times print subscription because we realized that half the time it was going straight into the recycling bin unread. Why read the paper version when the same articles are online?

  4. Mike (drgonzo) on April 10th, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

    I think you share the exact same feelings as a TON of Seattle area locals – especially ones in their 20s and early 30s.

  5. Ryan (ryanhealy) on April 10th, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

    The Times does have some popular blogs (Geoff Baker’s comes to mind). I have only read a P-I Reader Blog by accident. So, I don’t know if embracing blogging as the P-I has is really the difference-maker. Although, it certainly underlines the fact that the Times’ online strategy is a lot less robust than the P-I’s.

    I think there are many reasons why the Times is struggling — part of it being their out-of-touch editorial positions. Every time they write an editorial that positions them outside of the mainstream they lose touch with the community. Those editorial positions create the culture of the paper and it filters, subtly, into the reporting (as much as they say it doesn’t, it does). I think readers sense that, too. The P-I is a much more accessible paper, for that reason.

    Also, I haven’t heard anyone talking about the JOA lately. I’m surprised the Blethens didn’t directly blame it for their struggles.

  6. Mike (drgonzo) on April 10th, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

    The JOA has kind of been the giant pink elephant in the living room that no one in upper management has really mentioned much in the past few months. It’s a little frustrating, because it’s undoubtedly the source of a lot of this mess in the first place, but it surprisingly hasn’t been a scapegoat.

    I don’t understand as much as I’d like to, but I know enough about what’s happening now that I’d want out, even if I wasn’t being laid off.

    Coming in to work as it is now is kind of like being on death row. It’s not that extreme in a literal sense, of course, but the morale around here is pretty goddamned low right now.

  7. Ryan (ryanhealy) on April 10th, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

    By the way, I’m sorry you lost your job, Mike. I hope you find something soon. And welcome aboard.

  8. Mike (drgonzo) on April 10th, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

    Much appreciated. It’ll be good to meet you all next Friday.

  9. gargamello on April 14th, 2008 @ 10:56 am

    I think that print newspapers nowadays should focus and pare down, instead of adding sections. Make it short and sweet. You look at the NY Times, for example, and it’s a phone book. Ugh. Their numbers are way down too. Make it easier for people to pick it up and be done with, otherwise, like one poster pointed out, most newspapers will end up in the recycling bin.

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