It’s been quite the week, huh? On Friday, Radar magazine shut down, firing all of its employees. Yesterday the Christian Science Monitor announced it would shutter its 100-year-old print operation. And today we learn that Time Inc. will fire 600 workers and that Gannett will lay off 10 percent of its local staff. Oh, and also, the Audit Bureau of Circulations informed us that newspapers are down in circulation across the board. Bad news all around, right?
Not necessarily. Forgive us for stating the obvious, but painful necessity — as the person who figured out that you can eat honey knows all too well — is the mother of invention, and sometimes strokes of brilliance and efficiency are made when there’s no other choice. In each of the above cases, the media companies are having to face a reality that’s unwelcoming and make the best of it. All print outlets are going to have to do it at some point — and before the economic crisis, most were just delaying the inevitable. It’s like how everyone talked about hybrid cars, but no one really pushed them until the price of gas went through the roof and car companies had to start making ones that didn’t look like seventies microwave ovens.
It’ll be a long time until we see which of these experiments will work. Gannett, for its part, is going the way of many newspaper conglomerates before it and cutting down on local staff, hoping to replace that type of reporting with inexpensive wire services. This is bad for regional consumers. Likewise, as Gawker pointed out, the remaining husk of Radar’s online operation has already been ruined by new owners AMI, who turned it into yet another Perez Hilton knockoff.
On the other hand, Time Inc. might just get a boost from their new streamlined operations. Having the financial reporters from Fortune write for Time and Sports Illustrated, for example, isn’t a bad idea at all, and sharing staff across their entertainment brands like People, Entertainment Weekly, and In Style will probably clear up a lot of redundancy. And the Christian Science Monitor, which made perhaps the boldest sacrifice of all, seems to have the right idea. Its editors decided to risk an online-only publication life in order to save its eight foreign bureaus and maintain its prize-winning international reporting.
If the CSM flourishes under these conditions, it’ll be proof that the transition is possible. What better publication to test these waters than one with such an impeccable reputation (and one that doesn’t have to answer to shareholders)? And who knows? Maybe, in the local reporting vacuum left by Gannett (and Tribune, and Knight Ridder), layoffs will be filled by low-cost, hard-working reported Websites. We’re always optimistic about these things. We even believe deep down in our little heart of hearts that newspapers and magazines won’t actually die in the end. People like holding them!
Are we being naive? It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been called cock-eyed.