For your discussion: The news cycle

In this business, like so many others, you never exhale and get comfortable. As the Paul Douglas layoff at WCCO showed last week, the end can come at any time. As many have pointed out, Douglas will be fine. But he was only one of several to get the boot. He had the benefit of being the face in front of the camera. A bunch of others at WCCO are similarly going to be chopped through buyouts.

Around the CBS empire last week, lots of people lost their jobs, and a lot of flaks — spokespersons — had to reassure the public that nothing will change, which sounds like one final insult to the dearly departed.

For example. In Boston, 30 people were let go last week. Said a spokeswoman:

“There have been staff reductions stationwide as a result of our restructuring for efficiencies and streamlining our operations while maintaining quality programming and service to the community.”

In San Francisco, five journalists were among those eliminated. And the San Francisco Chronicle reported…

KPIX spokeswoman Akilah Monifa said the cutbacks won’t affect the station’s coverage or any of its newscasts. Last month, the station added another 30-minute newscast to its lineup, producing a 10 p.m. program on sister station KBCW, staffed by their prime-time parent news team.

It’s a familiar theme: “we’re getting rid of people, but it won’t affect our coverage.” How is that possible unless those let go weren’t contributing quality programming in the first place? And nobody seems to be saying that.

The term “quality,” of course, is a definition in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. On the first night after announcing the cuts, WCCO provided a story on the history of the hockey puck. Two other stories in the newscast were provided by the same reporter.

The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press have cut back their staffs in recent years. Has it made a difference? The Pulitzers are being announced today and the Star Tribune is in the running for one based on its coverage of the bridge disaster.

If it has, then what we have here is a Catch 22 situation, the depths of which aren’t yet clear. Cutbacks change the quality, the change in quality means a loss in readers/viewers/listeners, which results in lost revenue, which inspires more cutbacks.

How can that cycle change?

  • Bob: Your question is a valid one, and it’s one that we actually posed in this story on WCCO last week.

    We had two stories Friday from the same reporter because there was a breaking news story Friday night, and he was moved to that story. That’s routine, and has happened in the 5 years I’ve been at WCCO.

    And the hockey puck story was in our Good Question segment, which typically is lighter in tone on Friday night. Thankfully, MPR never would stoop to covering something so frivolous.

    All businesses deal with these same pressures: how to make the bottom line look good on a quarter-to-quarter basis, while still looking out for the long-term success of the business.

  • Pat

    You bet the staff cutbacks have made a difference in recent years. Witness the quality of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It’s not the same paper it used to be. It’s a lighter, dumber, more sensational version. That’s why it’s not on my doorstep anymore.

  • Bob Collins

    So, when we talk about “quality,” what are we talking about in terms of a vision for our media? I hear the word thrown around a lot, but what does it look like in practice?

    If businesses say, “these cuts won’t affect our quality,” how is that possible unless the bar was already pretty low?

    I hear people talk about these sorts of things, but what I don’t usually hear is WHAT stories aren’t being done right now because of resources that would be done if those resources existed?

    And I hear this disconnect with people saying “I’m not going to watch WCCO anymore because Paul Douglas isn’t there.” But Douglas was a weatherman and in the big scheme of things, can’t just about anyone give a forecast that’s right (and, by the way, the Friday forecast sans Douglas on ‘CCO was dead on the money)?

    So clearly they’re not looking for an accurate weather forecast, they’re looking for something more. Is it entertainment? Companionship? What?

    How do we reconcile this desire that translates into ratings and, presumably, more money for the business while also adhering to this undefined “quality.” TV news is probably the thinnest in terms of substance, but is the most influential in terms of audience. What begats what in this age?

    In much of the media cutbacks, you don’t really hear a roadmap — a vision, if you will — for the future. You get a sort of “let’s just get through this quarter” approach.

    One of my favorite quotes is from former Sen. Dave Durenberger, who said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

    Design the perfect news outlet.

  • dwp4401

    I was never a Paul Douglas fan. His global warming stance is extreme, in my opinion. The “goof on the roof” moniker that he acquired in his Chicago years was well earned.

    When I heard he got the axe at ‘CCO, I have to admit I laughed out loud. However………..

    In the few days since his lay off. Paul Douglas has shown a lot of character. The Main Stream Media in this area has shed a lot of members recently and their collective attitude has been that of a 3 year old whose lollipop had been taken away.

    Paul Douglas’ attitude has been a refreshing change.

    He has earned my respect. Best wishes to Paul and his family.

  • Bob Collins

    //The Main Stream Media in this area has shed a lot of members recently and their collective attitude has been that of a 3 year old whose lollipop had been taken away.

    It’s an interesting view. Their (our) concern has been voiced louder because it’s them (us), whereas a layoff somewhere else doesn’t get as much attention.

    On the other hand, people seem to have a vested interest and an emotional attachment (even if it’s hatred) to the media.

    The blogosphere often seems to wish that mainstream media would simply go away. And, yet, I’ll bet 99% of the links on area blogs go back to the Star Tribune. So despite a few exceptions, is there really a working alternative where original reporting is being done?

    And the bigger question remains: what does all of this look like 5 years from now. If mainstream media intends to remake itself, what does it remake itself into? Otherwise, where is the long-term logic of improving by cutting? Doesn’t there have to be another aspect of it?

  • Rae

    I must say I am still so VERY disappointed in the decision to let Paul Douglas go. ‘CCO I really think you missed the big picture on this one. Paul had excellent chemistry on air w/ all of the anchors and his sense of humor was awesome. Paul you have been having “dinner” with our family for a good many years and you are sorely missed here in Brainerd, MN. Hope to see you around town soon!

  • Janice

    John Reger and Paul Douglas are both class acts. When will ‘CCO realize that if they want folks to watch they have to get rid of Amelia ‘I’m so ugly they have to tie a pork chop around my neck to get the dog to play with me and how in the world did I get this job in the first place?!’ Santanello? And then some idiot hires her hubby as co-anchor? Gimme a break! Or better yet, give me real journalists, such as, oh, I don’t know, John Reger? Paul Douglas? Seems to me the one who really needs to lose his job is the fella in charge of hiring, and firing.

  • rose sobek

    REALLY miss Paul Douglas. !!!!!!!