The latest round of shrinkage would hit the people with the most instititutional memory the hardest. The mood is funereal these days. "We just clench our fists and grind our teeth," one reporter told me. The bosses say they have no choice with a budget that is nothing more than a Hobson's choice. People with families must choose between accepting a meaningless buyout package or face layoffs later. What to do when somebody's turned off all the lights?
The front office is quick to remind the critics that their problems are industry-wide, and so they are. Circulating internally at the BJ is dire piece from the Poynter Institute, the respected journalism education center, that reads like an obituary. It quotes a startling prediction by Vin Crosbie, an industry consultant: "More than half of the 1,439 daily newspapers in the U.S." says Crosbie, " won't exist in print, e-paper, or Web formats by the end of the next decade. They will go out of business." There's a lot more downbeat stuff from Crosbie, but you get the point. Small wonder that some of the BJ staffers are gravely pondering who will make the cut.
For those of us who have followed the media battlefield reports for a long time, none of this seems overblown. Cable TV, bloggers, electronic access to everything from home-fried recipes to 5-star resorts - all have taken their toll of once-healthy newspapers. But some of the plunge was hastened by dumb decisions by the stubborn people who claimed prescience in reviving the patient.
Editors and their consultants who should have known better 20 years ago opted for glittering graphics, gallery-size color photos and minimal text (We used to call it news) and when circulation continued to fall despite the hip look of the front page, the deciders force-fed even more of the same. The new era of graphics-inspired encapsulated newspapers didn't produce a miracle then, and it's producing even less today. The young people it was supposed to attract didn't bother. And the older core readers, largely unimpressed with their hometown paper, began drifting away along with editors and publishers who stayed long enough for coffee and a taxi ride to Cleveland Hopkins to higher corporate ground - or oblivion.
Papers are now past the point of no return with few battle ribbons for those who clung to their ways to brake the fall. I have no idea what will happen to the PD and BJ in the near future. But the cross pollination of delivery, as well as the exchange of bylined stories beween the papers, is clear evidence of a creeping synergy that will doubtless increase in other ways. One possibility: the PD will begin printing the BJ at its modern West Side plant and ship it south to distribution points in the Akron circulation area. Only a guess, mind you.
But what is the media today if nothing more than organized guesswork?