As Star Ledger Newsroom Shrinks, Are Print Journalism Junkies Worried?

BY  |  Thursday, Jan 17, 2013 8:41am  |  COMMENTS (32)

Though we work in electronic media, some of us at Baristanet (okay, me and a handful of others) got our first professional experiences in print media. So as much as we appreciate and cheer on the surge of online journalism ventures, it’s still painful to watch further contraction in traditional print media – especially in our own backyard. When any branch of the media thins, lessening the chances that good journalism makes it way to the public, no one wins.

Yesterday, The Star Ledger announced further newsroom cuts that equal nearly 10 percent of its editorial staff, eliminating the jobs of 34 employees, including 18 editors, reporters, copy editors, photographers, news clerks and other editorial personnel – the biggest newsroom staff cuts ever.

On its website, publisher Richard Vezza attributed the cause of the paper’s largest newsrooms cuts in history to, “continuing financial pressures and the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, in an industry already hard hit by a steady decline in readership and sinking ad revenues.”

Job cuts began at the Ledger back in 2008 when 304 people accepted buyouts, with some 150 of them coming from the ranks of newsroom workers.

As a journalism-obsessed kid growing up in Essex County, I loved the thunk of the Ledger hitting our front porch every day, tossed by a cute paperboy on a bicycle who rarely missed his target.

Even when I’d moved on to different daily news habits – the New York Times, CNN, and various websites – it’s always been a little reassuring, when something happens in New Jersey, to know I can still pick up a copy of the Ledger at a local shop – just as people have been doing since 1832 when the paper began as the Newark Daily Advertiser.

How about you?

32 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Carl Bergmanson  |  January 17, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    Lisa,

    I have bad news for you – old school Journalism is dead. Of course, you already know that.

  2. POSTED BY huh_wha  |  January 17, 2013 @ 10:25 am

    I also grew up with the Ledger (and the Newark Evening News) delivered daily to our doorstep, and I still subscribe to the Ledger.

    The usual rub against print newspapers is that you can get “the news” instantly from the Internet. But, a newspaper is a lot more than just the daily news.

    In the past few years, the Ledger has done the best it can with limited resources. Although most of the first section is filled with wire-service stories, the first page usually has at least one major piece of investigative journalism. Mark DiIonno puts out regular Jimmy Breslin-type human-interest columns, and the arts staff, including Tris McCall (music), Alan Sepinwall (tv) and Stephen Whitty (movies) produce a prodigious amount of excellent commentary.

    Most important, the Ledger is the place I learn about New Jersey politics, crime, business, entertainment, and which department store chain is having a big sale. I’ll keep subscribing, and hope they prosper.

  3. POSTED BY herbeverschmel  |  January 17, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    another hostage crisis and cnn has lance armstrong and man’tei on front page, i’ve been watching cnbc all morning and not a mention…. why hasn’t the king trotted himself in front of the camera about this? only news source these days is foxnews

  4. POSTED BY Carl Bergmanson  |  January 17, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    I, too, am a subscriber. But I find that I am subscribing to less and less…

  5. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  January 17, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    For local news, hyper-local blogs like Baristanet will suffice. Couple that with a few enterprising blogger/journalist (many former newsroom folk) and you’ll have your local covered.

    For national news, the NYTimes model– some delivery along with a digital subscription– will be the norm.

    What this points out though, is that like so many other things (film, music, art, writing, photography, etc.) lots of “untrained” folks can do it, and do it well. The idea that one must have some “print media” past in order to “report” a story is false.

    This, however, requires work from the reader to check the sources of the news. But as we see here on a daily basis– having a vibrant comment community (and the ability to self-correct), this can work.

    I would also add that many schools that teach journalism have not updated their curriculum to teach these new techniques. This is true. And it is sad to watch.

  6. POSTED BY walleroo  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:08 am

    The issue is not print v. digital so much as revenue. It’s hard to do much reporting when you can’t get paid for it.

    You’re right, Carl, in that we’re descending into the valley of death. I choose to be optimistic that it’s a valley and not a bottomless pit, but dammit I sure wish the slope would start to level off. As Bob says, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

  7. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    “only news source these days is foxnews”

    —what about wnd? or infowars? or westborobaptistchurch.com?

    herb, don’t sell your teabagger news orgs short!

  8. POSTED BY cathar  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    The Ledger saw this all coming at least 20 years ago. Yet they refused to gear up for it. The Newhouses have always treated the paper as a cash cow, and for the longest time it was, of course. So the Ledger, to get Biblical about it, had its “seven fat years” and didn’t care that it’d inevitably also have its “seven lean years.”

    Journalistically, the Ledger got lazy, made outright stupid decisions and kept hacks on well past their time. Anyone remember the series and subsequent book, “Gems of New Jersey” and a follow-up by the same author about what a wonderful place Newark is? Anyone ever wonder why Jerry Izenberg was retained for so long and still pops up there when it’s time for an all-expenses paid trip to either the Super Bowl or a championship fight in Vegas? (And no one else winced when the Ledger termed him its “columnist emeritus?”) Simultaneously, they let their coverage of things like state and local politics lapse. Its writers seemed fat and unindustrious, its op-ed pages creaked audibly, its advertising practices (all those advertorials about real estate and health care!) became questionably and confusingly-on-purpose laid out. The paper dumbed down year after year, something it didn’t really have to do.

    And the atttitude that nobody left at the Ledger really cares became way too evident. Bloated coverage of stuff like “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” and Springsteen (article after lengthy article but they all say pretty much the same thing)but never any real real attempt at copy editing; for example, the paper apparently lacks any copyeditors who can tell the difference between “it’s” and “its,” and its surviving columnists all seem to doze as they go through the motions of simply collecting their paychecks.

    It did not have to be this way. Again, the Ledger made a lot of money for the Newhouse family over the last 40 or so years, even as its key editorial and advertising management people grew distant, unconcerned and lazy. They were well paid but they never seemed comparably interested in truly contributing to this state.

    So it is appropriately now having its lunch eaten in so many ways by its feistier, better run and certainly more journalistically aggressive competitor, the Record, here in north Jersey. It may not be the greatest paper out there, but it displays editorial enterprise on a daily basis and never, ever (seems to take its readers for granted.

    Who really will miss the Ledger? Who posting here even remembers when the Newark Evening News was the accurate, sober-sided paper of record for NJ and the Ledger was merely its raffish, low comedy competitor for advertising crumbs? Stuff happens.

  9. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    “only news source these days is foxnews”

    They have an unfair advantage; they don’t have to wait until the news actually happens to report it.

  10. POSTED BY Mrs Martta  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    We subscribe and we’ve have noticed that the paper has been getting thinner and thinner. They do have some nice feature stories and my husband likes the sports section but other sections are not edited as well. Some newspapers have gone totally digital (Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Hoy, to name a couple) as a sign of the times. I think in order to survive today, a newspaper needs to do both, have hard copy and digital versions. And this is where the Star-Ledger is weak. The web site needs a major renovation.

  11. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    Carl, ‘Roo, intersting — I still get the weekend print Edition of the NY Times delivered out on the West Coast, along with the Santa Barbara daily News-Press — not a bad paper for a smallish town. But I am thinking of going all electronic with the Times. Cost is one reason, but I find myself reading the Monday – Friday NYT solely online so why do I still want that fat Sunday edition (without Metropolitan, unfortunately) in hard copy? It is the same news, the same writers, almost the same layout online. It may be tactile, it may just be symbolic, but I can’t drag myself into cancelling. My last move away from NYC took me to Fayetteville, AR in the early 90s. On Sundays I would have to drive to the airport (after 1 PM) to find a same-day copy of the NYT (printed in Dallas) which I would consume right down to the crossword over a couple of margaritas at Jose’s Mexican Restaurant. These days, I pay to do the puzzles electronically (because they erase easier), but I am still carting four pounds of newsprint out to the recycling bins every week.
    Habits are habits, I guess.

  12. POSTED BY kbanda  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    I couldn’t face my mornings without the Ledger. I need more print, less digital. (I can’t imagine ever having a Kindle.) Seth Augenstein, a current Ledger reporter and former reporter for local papers, is excellent. I hope he retains his job and I hope the Ledger finds a way to continue printing.

  13. POSTED BY hrhppg  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    I stopped subscribing when I really looked at the amount of paper I was wasting each day for news that was a full day behind what I could find online. Now the SL dumps a pile of papers in front of my building every so often that just gets tossed out. It is sad and a waste of trees.

  14. POSTED BY Carl Bergmanson  |  January 17, 2013 @ 11:56 am

    While there are big challenges facing all media, and specifically print, the Ledger has brought many of its woes on itself. Many of their reporters are good, or even excellent (Seth – who I remember from his days at the GR Voice – comes to mind), the specific problems with the Ledger (as is so often the case) are with management and ownership (in these cases, it is often hard to discern which, but since management serves at the pleasure of ownership, ultimately the fault lies with the owners, either through their incompetence or their negligence).

    It’s not unlike the problems of our lovely state (the owners being us).

  15. POSTED BY bannerchemical  |  January 17, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    “only news source these days is foxnews”

    no wonder you’re so uninformed.

  16. POSTED BY cathar  |  January 17, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    It’s interesting, to me anyway (and perhaps to the likes of herb), that while posters as above inevitably cite Fox News as being politically “biased,” no one ever makes comparable comments about MSNBC. Is this because, seriously now, nobody finds MSNBC as slanted as Fox? Or is it simply that no one actually watches MSNBC in the first place? (Which would of course be borne out by its actual ratings compared to those of Fox.)

  17. POSTED BY nutley  |  January 17, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

    people fail to point out the extreme left wing bias of the ny times.. home of paul krugman and the other psuedo-intellectuals who called for the destruction of the constitution.

    oh also baristanet i imagine the blacksmiths and others involved in the horse and carriage industry complained the same way when the automobile was invented. i thought lefties were all for “progress”?

  18. POSTED BY bannerchemical  |  January 17, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    the point is that if you only get your news from any of the propaganda channels, as herb confessed to doing, you are not going to be informed.

    that being said, the truth has a liberal bias. Independent studies show that fox viewers are the least informed and npr listeners are the most informed.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2011/11/21/fox-news-viewers-uninformed-npr-listeners-not-poll-suggests/

    no wonder herb thought Romney was going to win in a landslide. BC that’s what fox news was saying.

  19. POSTED BY herbeverschmel  |  January 17, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

    There is a difference between the news on FN and those that have opinion shows on FN later in the evening. CNN, MSNC same thing.

  20. POSTED BY bannerchemical  |  January 17, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    You’re not being honest herb. If that’s the case then why don’t you watch MSNBC, or CNN during the day for their news?

    You even stated above that the news on the so called liberal stations doesn’t present you with the stories you find relevant.

    The answer is that although they may masquerade the daytime programming as news, its just blatant propaganda. aka FAUX news.

  21. POSTED BY mike 91  |  January 17, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

    It’s interesting, to me anyway (and perhaps to the likes of herb), that while posters as above inevitably cite Fox News as being politically “biased,” no one ever makes comparable comments about MSNBC.

    I think its a question of reach. Fox News has substantially more impact than MSNBC. Plus, they have a corner on the looney tune take, which is always entertaining.

    people fail to point out the extreme left wing bias of the ny times.. home of paul krugman and the other psuedo-intellectuals who called for the destruction of the constitution.

    If this is what you really believe, your login name is more appropriate than you perhaps imagine. Also, I love how anyone who doesn’t agree with your views is a “psuedo-intellectual,” despite being a professor at Princeton.

    There is a difference between the news on FN and those that have opinion shows on FN later in the evening. CNN, MSNC same thing.

    Propaganda about propaganda. How meta.

  22. POSTED BY PAZ  |  January 17, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    It’s the same old crying jag….My news is better than your news. Give it a break. Make your own news, shout it from your rooftop. Yell….”A Shocking story about”!….. “Those lousy lefties those nutty neo-cons, the myth of climate change. Kill all the deer?” “This just in…..A new old story rehashed and retreaded for short attention spanned X,Y,Millenias out there chimping on their smartphones while crossing the mean streaked streets of whatever town your stuck in”….Take your friggin’ hat off, their playing the national anthem and don’t forget to clap before the last verse is over. “Don’t tell me what to do ’cause I’m telling you-raise the ceiling, lower the debt, kick out the jams ’cause the revolution will be….video conferenced.”

    Now stop this nonsense, get back to work, you got the man to pay!

    PAZ in PHX

  23. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  January 17, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    herb, I was hoping you’d be getting your right wing vitamins from the WSJ or perhaps the American Enterprise Institute. But your news source is Steve Doocy? C’mon, man, don’t let me down !

  24. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 17, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

    MSNBC may be the Fox news of the left, but without the Murdochs in the mix the chances are you are going to get something less than criminal distortion of facts and quotations. The problem is there are too many talking heads on network and basic cable television, and way, way, way, way too many in the other electronic delivery media. That very much includes the radio. And FOX and MSNBC don’t cancel each other out but extend the schisms in both directions.

  25. POSTED BY paolo  |  January 17, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

    Advance Publications / Newhouse has been milking its newspapers for years, and re-investing the money in its fashion and lifestyle glossy publications like Vogue, The New Yorker, and so on.

    Several (Times-Picayune, Michigan papers etc) properties have already gone to three days a week print schedules, so the Star-Ledger isn’t far behind.

    It’s their money, and their choice…

  26. POSTED BY cathar  |  January 17, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

    “The truth has a liberal bia?” With a howler like that, I suspect that bannerchemical has been at the, uh, chemicals. But this is Baristanet, so of course such tommyrot goes unchallenged.

    I can only wonder, too, what NPR listeners are “most informed” about. (Not least because yesterday even the good prof was citing something he’d heard there.)

  27. POSTED BY cathar  |  January 17, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

    Really, too, Conan, “criminal distortion of facts and quotations?” I honestly didn’t realize that Oliver Stone’s “look” back at American history post-WWII was running on Fox as well as showtime.

  28. POSTED BY Conan  |  January 17, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    The criminal factor is certainly deeply embedded in Murdoch’s journalistic enterprises. They consider themselves well above the law if it will result in the latest news about Michael Jackson’s alien abduction. And Fox (heartily supported by the ultra conservatives and tea party wingnuts) still thinks that our President was born in a foreign country. For that matter, so does Donald Trump, so it just must be true. I see the liberal bias in the editorials and opinion pieces in the NYT, and the absolute opposite in the WSJ. Even my clumsy brain has a warning system when some writer has an agenda — like almost all of us here — and whatever is in such a piece gets filtered very critically. And, as you mentioned Oliver Stone, even paranoids have real enemies. So be wary.

  29. POSTED BY Nellie  |  January 17, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

    I still enjoy the Star-Ledger with my morning coffee. But I lost a lot of respect for it when, right before the election, the Benghazi story was reduced to a couple of small paragraphs on page 2. Where did unbiased journalism go?

  30. POSTED BY oliver  |  January 17, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    I tried reading the Star-Ledger over 20 years ago when I moved to NJ. Didn’t think much of it; stuck to the NYT and the local weekly. Periodically picked it up at the barber shop while waiting for my son’s turn in the chair. Nope, still sub-standard writing and editing. Last saw it online a few years ago; still no reason to read it.

    I know people who read it for local sports and local (county) news. That’s not compelling for me.

    I like getting the Montclair Times delivered every Thursday for the old-timey factor, and the NYT on the weekend because I love handling an actual paper–and that one is still worth it to me, to savor all weekend long (and into the next week if I’m too busy over the weekend). Everything else I (reluctantly) read online.

  31. POSTED BY Pork Roll  |  January 18, 2013 @ 1:01 am

    But I lost a lot of respect for it when, right before the election, the Benghazi story was reduced to a couple of small paragraphs on page 2. Where did unbiased journalism go?

    Right, ok, so the fact that New Jersey’s largest daily paper put a two month-old story, over which the national media was still obsessing on cable and online 24/7, on the second page, just a few days before Election Day (I don’t know which day, so I’ll take your word for it), or rather, right after Hurricane Sandy in the midst of widespread devastation, power outages, and gasoline lines that dominated the paper’s coverage, is prime facie evidence of a conspiracy on the part of the Star-Ledger to bury stories potentially unfavorable to the President.

    As if you would not have even heard of Benghazi had you not glanced at page 2 (which in any case would represent a very poor job indeed at burying that story, since the Ledger was still running their PC Richards gift card sweepstakes, the entry form for which was printed at the very tippy-top of page 2. If anything, I would think readers would have been more likely to see stories on page 2 if they were inclined to enter the contest.)

    Really, it has become so tiresome to read comments from people accusing this paper or that of harboring some bias because they didn’t devote more coverage to wire-service stories that are plastered all over the Internet before the paper is even delivered. Why would they devote shrinking column space to stories that people have likely already heard about elsewhere?

    I don’t see papers like the Ledger surviving by regurgitating content that has been commoditized on the net. Rather, I think their value proposition must arise from filling the void not satisfied by the national or hyperlocal media, by focusing on issues and stories of statewide or regional interest, like much of the superb scandal-breaking investigative reporting they have done in recent years.

  32. POSTED BY kit schackner  |  January 18, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    It’s a generational thing. I’m in the older generation, and I strongly feel there is no comparison between print news and online news in terms of finding articles that interest you, re-reading the things you want to understand more deeply, seeing something and making a mental note to come back to it later, and just finding items of interest. I’ll often read an article in the dead tree Times and when I come to work to show my partner, I can’t find it. I subscribe to daily print versions of the Ledger and the Times. NJ would/will suffer for the loss of this paper; the Times simply doesn’t cover us, or Connecticut, in depth. And the Star Ledger has done some excellent investigative reporting — particularly about the State Police. We lose if they shrink. Plus their online news is terrible, unless you like pop ups.

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