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The LinkUp Blog The Industry's Best-Kept Secret

August 27, 2008 / Toby Dayton

Talent Drain From Dailies Accelerating Their Decline

The visible decline of the dailies probably began 5 years ago with readers abandoning the daily newspapers for better, cheaper, more convenient alternatives. The slow decline in subscriptions turned into a pretty rapid decline and eventually forced advertisers to re-examine the deteriorating value proposition that newspapers offered. The decline in subscription revenue, combined with the accelerating decline in advertising revenue, forced newspapers to stop investing in their products which further eroded their value proposition and caused further declines in readership and advertising revenue. In the last few years, newspapers have been forced to start cutting costs to stem the bleeding and bring costs in line with a smaller, permanently impaired revenue base.

Cost-cutting started first with easy, non-core, non-essential things like eliminating stock tables, reducing paper width, outsourcing and off-shoring certain functions, and a range of other superfluous cuts. But eventually, the papers discovered that limiting cuts only to fat were not sufficient and so began the cutting into muscle. The employee buy-outs and layoffs began, first with behind-the-scenes positions but eventually migrating into bone – meaningful content areas such as the newsroom, the sports desk, business news, and arts and entertainment coverage.

That’s where we are today, with a vicious, negative, reinforcing, downward spiraling cycle that will persist indefinitely over the next decade or so until there are, essentially, no daily newspapers left. While there will undoubtedly be some survivors, there really isn’t any conceivable hope for recovery, especially when one considers the newest phase of the industry’s decline that is beginning to materialize – voluntary abandonment from within.

The most recent departure of Jay Mariotti from the Chicago Sun-Times caught my attention (Thanks Nick) and is indicative of what is certainly happening in daily newspapers around the country. Writers, journalists, editors, sales people, columnists, and anyone in the business with half a brain and any type of marketable skills are abandoning the sinking ship before they get sucked down with it. A few laggards may be holding out for the next buy-out offer from ownership, but the best people are most likely bailing sooner to grab whatever lifeboat of opportunity they can.

And can you imagine anyone in school today thinking that they want to begin a career in the daily newspaper business? Not that newspapers are actively recruiting on campus today anyway, but what an impossible job recruiters and HR professionals in the newspaper business must have trying to attract talent into the industry. It’s a grim picture that gets worse and worse with every new chapter.