Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News rant 2: What the headline should have been

There is so much that bothers, angers and saddens me about the current news about the changes at Alabama’s three largest newspapers.

But what struck me strongest this morning, when I opened my newsPAPER to see the news about workers’ notification of job losses, is just how un-newspaper-like the story (company announcement) was presented, and, at least for now, printed.

It was not until paragraph seven that the “lead” of the story emerged – “about 400 employees statewide will experience an employment loss.” There’s your story, almost at the end of the story, and this in a news story about a news company.

When I worked for 15 years in corporate communications --writing news releases about job cuts and reorganizations, acquisitions, layoffs and closures more times than I care to remember, including the one that eliminated my job and more than half of our department – this would not have been accepted or even tried.

If we sent a news release to any newspaper or media outlet leading with dribble-drabble about “new focus” and buried the information about impact on people and communities, it would not fly with even a small town reporter-editor, much less a big city one. And rightly so. And we didn’t try. We in corporate communications – usually with former reporters in the mix – knew that the media would not and should not accept and run as presented a news release that buried the real news, the real impact on communities and people.
Reporter and editors would ask the questions about jobs and numbers and impact and rewrite the company statement to lead with 400 job cuts. (That’s 400 out of how many jobs?)

That would be the headline. It always was, and always should be, because that is the NEWS.

But when the company doing the downsizing owns the media outlets, the rules are obviously different.

To me, it’s just another disappointment.

For the reporters, editors, copyeditors, production, sales and delivery folks who got their manila envelopes Tuesday, the disappointment and worry is personal and devastating. Some apparently received the message that they would stay and others were invited to compete for some 100 jobs in the new companies. Others got the word that they are gone, job eliminated, and here’s the process to find out about your severance package.

There’s no doubt what was the NEWS in the newsrooms and composing rooms and print and delivery offices yesterday. I know that the reporters and editors at these fine publications recognize the irony that their news story was not really treated like other news stories. But, they have other concerns, most of them, like finding a job and applying for that max $225 in weekly unemployment. Good luck my friends, it’s tough out here, said the journalist-corporate communications manager-turned office administrator.

It's a small thing in the big picture, I suppose, when media companies bury the bad news in their news releases about job cuts, because they can.  I’m ranting, and I know it.

“Media company restructuring to eliminate 400 jobs statewide” -- That’s the headline that should have come with this latest announcement about digital focus changes, and it would have if this was an announcement by a manufacturer or a retail company, service center, sawmill, steel mill or a power plant.
And, it really doesn’t matter if this headline appears digitally (which it does in this blog) or in print. 

It’s the news, it’s reporting. It’s a free press in a free country.

And we’re going to miss it when it’s gone.