HUNGRY GHOSTS AND JUDAS GOATS
A former co-worker died a couple days ago. He was let go, as was I, in the purges of ‘09-‘14. The paper we both worked for posted a nice obit. But I suspect the writer missed the irony that what was the former journalist was praised for in the write-up – being old-school, long-serving even having a sense of humor – were the very traits that moved him to the top of the lay-off list.
So have a look at how I imagine that newsroom today. The space, for no logical reason, has been renamed “The Local Information Center.” It was designed in the ‘80s to accommodate three times as many employees as I imagine currently remain. I’ve compressed the stage for aesthetic reasons; in reality it would look more desolate.
One reason for that desolation would be that the reporters, the would-be Woodward and Bernsteins, and the fantasized Clarks, Loises or Jimmys, don’t work there any more. They have their smart phones, laptops, and probably even drone cameras by now, and they report from wherever the news – or press conference – is.
But a bigger reason for all the open space is that the suits have laid off a super majority of the staff who were not reporters. “What technology allows greed soon requires” is unquestioned corporate dogma.
These disappeareds were on the production side of things who did the work to get the news from the reporters to the pressmen and then to you. There were two of these journalists for ever one reporter, back in the day.
They were the copy editors who spell- and fact-checked, edited for clarity and if necessary trimmed to fit the rough copy from the reporters; the layout and photo editors who, as you would suspect, worked with layouts and photos; the artists who made charts, maps and illustrations and the clerks who gathered press releases and organized of lists from outside sources.
These professionals worked at the half-wall of semi-cubicles in the middle of the open office. They are mostly all gone now, they who remain are shown here. On the right-most sits an inexpensive neophyte who knows the latest mechanics of the trade but little else, he or she has taken this job, but is still looking of a career in a more lucrative trade. When she or he quits, another beginner who also knows nothing but the latest apps, will sit there. Or not.
Next is the “labor saving” computer, it’s a symbol for the technology that has allowed fewer and less experienced people on the job. The technology also allowed these jobs to be located in more efficient locales, hence the shipping box in slot three. Finally we have an empty work station. The former inhabitant there is the latest victim of the ongoing “rightsizing.” He or she is show being metaphorically discarded by an independent contractor as it is more visually interesting than the literal scene of a worker being called to HR and handed papers to sign by a brought-in-for-the-event suit.
Going back deeper into the scene we come to the “news” meeting where the local managers – anachronistically still called editors – discuss (diss and cuss, more like it) about what the reporters have hoovered up and which of that will get the most clicks, yet cost no OT, nor piss off advertisers. Then the boss looks up from his phone and picks something else. These managers, then, scurry out to bleat and bark to their minions what to slice, dice, cook and serve up as today’s special. Some of the creatures are still upwardly mobile and some are already at their level of incompetence. But they are all political beasts, so I show them as a sacrificial lamb and a sleeping dog. The boss is a Judas goat.
Finally we see the corporate leadership team in action. Theses hungry ghosts aren’t physically in the news room but their actions are felt there. They are transferring the profits of the company to their private accounts. They’ve been doing this all along, but back in the day they let some small change fall to ground where it could be put back in to circulation as better wages and/or an improved product. They don’t do that any more. To keep their compensation at before internet/recession levels they squeeze the company, its employees and customers for every penny they can.
The business model that created the great newspapers of the 20th century is gone. Their monopolies are no longer protected by prohibitively large capital requirements or kept isolated and profitable by limiting technology. So newspapers are doomed. The top heavy superstructure – VP upon VP, corporate towers/jets and multi-million dollar compensation packages – all were predicated on the inflow from the local sites of millions and millions of dollars of profit, and that’s all gone.
But I hope the free press remains, that the small digital and fleshy creatures, who survived the internet asteroid will thrive and grow to fill the “guardians of democracy” niches. This tired metaphor is sadly more a hope than a prediction, as the internet only killed off some of the dinosaurs, For some, it was just another opportunity that created more carcasses to scavenge.
So the c-suite scavenger parasites don’t care about print’s demise. The transfer of wealth is almost complete and by the time newspapers die, these general purpose corporate opportunists will have the money safely tucked away and will be infesting and recycling other industries. They will grow stronger and the lives of small creatures will be more precarious than before.