The Chicago Reader cut more costs last week by firing four of its most experienced journalists. "Thousands of bloggers could type for a millennium and not come up with the kind of deeply reported story that freed innocent men," writes New York Times media columnist David Carr of the work of those fired. A millennium is a long time but that is probably totally true! But what's more: Does firing real journalists actually cut costs? A look at any newspaper's most popular stories suggests the most obvious thing of all: That reporting actually makes money for newspapers.
Of the most-blogged stories listed at the Times, for one, winners include reported stories on the rise of security in Baghdad and two stories on the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes (which also scored high on the most-emailed list for a time); the top three search terms on NYTimes.com right now are "Bush" and "China" and "Immigration."
News (and strong opinion, and stories about animals having sex, and politics analysis, and funny stories about moms on Facebook) are what bring traffic; So why does the Chicago Reader think ditching the asset of news will bring them profitability?
Instead, they are still literally blaming their troubles on Craigslist and the death of alt-weekly classified ads, as if it were 2003. That is pretty unreal. And, yup, they may be dying in print ads—but they're still also dying on the web, and that should have been fixed years ago. Compare the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun to the Reader and Baltimore City Paper at Quantcast:
And the Washington Post versus Washington City Paper.
The little squiggles are the alt-weekly's traffic. Now this is beyond David and Goliath—we understand!—but there's no reason these sites shouldn't own local traffic.
Meanwhile, you can see the bare bones of the alt-weekly's operations showing through. For one thing, Washington City Paper's editor in chief, Erik Wemple, is all up on that WCP blog himself, doing funny items on bad holiday gifts and stuff in his "spare time."
Each of these three weeklies have nice websites—they look good, they work good—but they're only as full of content as a bunch of people hired to put out a weekly can handle doing in their spare time. When every weekly has to also run a daily, how can they do either well enough to bring in any real revenue? And when will their owners figure out that out already? So far, the owners' response to financial crisis seems to be: Devote fewer staff to both web and print and squawk a lot, which is just stupid.