Guillotine day at the C-J

Dec 3, 2008 at 6:00 am

By the time you read this, we’ll probably have in hand the casualty report for the latest round of layoffs at The Courier-Journal.

This time, the figurative bloodbath is part of Gannett’s sweeping 3,000-employee layoff, the most substantial hack at the newspaper industry in history.

My fundamental antipathy to Gannett notwithstanding — from USA Today to the C-J and its ancillaries, this company has perpetrated some unspeakable atrocities on the Fourth Estate — I really do feel bad about this, not only because some good people will lose their jobs, but because a dying newspaper suggests so many bad things for a city.

Many, including me, have complained in the pages of this newspaper about the C-J’s decline in quality since being upended by Gannett in 1986 — a time when, for the record, I was 5. It is well known that the newspaper giant quickly moved the business model from one of public service reporting and investigation (with funds reinvested in the newspaper’s coverage) to one of high profit and minimized loss (where the funds escaped the city, and a higher profit margin required reduced spending on vital resources). In fact, a major factor in the founding of LEO — and the reason my colleagues here and I are not currently A) awaiting the Gannett ax, or B) in some other city, toiling at a task far less noble than this — was the decline of our daily newspaper. The emergence of LEO generated some hostility among our competition, and that hasn’t totally subsided, even 18 years later.

I mentioned earlier being 5 years old in ’86 because people of my generation are often misinterpreted as not caring about news, particularly newspapers, and are just as often cited as a primary source for the decline in subscription revenue for beasts like the C-J. Every morning I remember, from the time I started remembering things to the day I moved north for a little university action, the newspaper was spread out in its various forms over our kitchen table, my parents judiciously trading sections. Each devoured the thing cover to cover, every day — and, naturally, so did I.

Early on, I’m sure in part because of this ritual, I developed a healthy appreciation for being informed. Pre-Internet, I recall being on vacation and my frustrated folks leaving the complimentary USA Today picked clean on the table. There was a general sense of unease about not having the C-J around for consumption.

It seems silly now that I don’t have a subscription (we get it at the office, of course), but I read the thing online — every morning, and throughout the day. I will continue to do so, no matter what happens or how much more the editors and managers there replace actual news and good narrative with garish updates about the renovations at the local Kroger store or thin perpetuations of mayor’s office claptrap. Part of the reason the actual print edition has less value to me is because it features considerably less local news than it used to, and thus it fails to present itself as essential. I get the local stuff I need from the website, and find the syndicated stuff at its actual source online. There is no reason, save nostalgia, for me to invest in the print edition.

Were it not for the actual jobs/incomes/livelihoods of good reporters, editors, photographers and designers at stake here, this dramatic misinterpretation of what young-ish news consumers want from their city’s major daily newspaper — format isn’t as meaningful as those cutting the function would have us believe — would make me laugh. I don’t buy a subscription to your paper because your paper doesn’t much reflect what’s happening around me, nor does it approach my immediate surroundings in a way that is interesting or deep or reflective of the complexities I observe on a daily basis.

I am certainly thankful for the opening it has left this little newspaper and its five-person editorial staff. We remain in business because people want something more out of their city than simple rehash. And so here is my offer: If you’re a reporter who’s just been laid off by Gannett and you still have the itch in you to spend some time crafting a good story, call me. Louisville still wants good writing and reporting, and the majority of reporters who remain at Sixth and Broadway can hack it, I’m sure, given the chance.