Just about every print media outlet—newspapers, in particular, but magazines too—has fewer editorial employees than it did five years ago. When these layoffs and buyouts come down, the usual pep talk goes like this: "We know this will be hard for all of you. It's not just here— the news business is facing challenges across the board. But we firmly believe that if we all buckle down and work hard and, I don't know, start some extra blogs and shit, we can do MORE WITH LESS, which will rescue us from this fucking financial quagmire, etc."
Stirring words, yes. But the only people who actually have to do more with less are the non-laid-off reporters: their bosses order them to pick up the slack of the people who are gone, and, since this internet thing seems important, to do some extra online work, too.
Does this actually mean that the publication is producing "more" for "less?" No. It means that quality declines, because you're devoting less time to each story. Employee satisfaction declines. And, because your advertising continues to decline, it's likely you're actually putting out a smaller print product. So the reader gets less (and less, and less) for the same price.
This is a formula that leads to a downward spiral (see Nick Denton's fancy graph). Here's a better idea: Do less with less. For success! For example, the Seattle P-I is folding its print edition, retaining a relative handful of reporters, and remaking itself as a sort of Seattle version of the HuffPo or something. The Christian Science Monitor is going online-only, with a print version once a week. The Washington Post is condensing its business section. And wisely. How many people buy the WaPo for business coverage? Only broke people!
These are "less." Less is cheaper. Which gives the enterprise an actual chance of success, possibly! Instead of clinging to its old model unto death, a newspaper could ask itself: How much of this crap in our paper do we actually need? How many papers need a food section or a fashion section? None, really, if they don't bring in ad money. The Seattle P-I is focusing on what it needs: Seattle news and commentarianism. Local papers could cut back to covering local governments, sports, and crime. The number of US papers that can truly justify publishing a book review, or a weekly magazine, or extensive movie coverage can be counted on fewer than one hand's worth of fingers.
Oh, you like those sections? So do we. Unfortunately they cost too much so you can't have them any more. Or you can, and they will bankrupt the paper, which spreads its dwindling editorial resources thinner and thinner until the entire product is just one big lump of suck. Which has already happened, in many places! So do less. Spend less. And stop lying about it. [Pics: Martin Gee]