Friday, June 6, 2008

The DesNews Ax Comes Down

[Utah Media] No one in Utah media circles ever expected this day would come: Deseret News editor (and former D.C. lobbyist) Joe Cannon announced yesterday 35 editorial positions will be cut from the paper by mid-July.

The daily paper, like most across the country, has struggled with declining circulation for years. The main reasons for the endless slump are starting to sound like a mantra--Online competition, combined with aging (and frankly, dying) readers.

But the LDS Church-owned DN has never in its history engaged in mass layoffs. Most media observers have figured the healthy subsidy from the church would always keep the paper chugging along. Also, along with broadcasting giant KSL, the DN has been a key media property/propaganda tool for the church in reaching and influencing its members.

Cannon signals this isn't any kind of death knell, and laid out the newspaper's goals for hopefully, long-term survival: "We will become more local, more online, and more Mormon."

Huh? More Mormon? How is that possible? But whatever.

Meantime, I called several editorial staff members at the DN today for their reaction. All declined to talk much, and asked I not use their names. It's a small journalism community, and I know many DN reporters, photographers and artists. I worked with many of them more than 25 years ago. These were tough conversations.

"We've known something like this was coming for a while now," said one. "It's still pretty depressing."

Three employees told me many older, veteran staffers will probably take the buyout being offered. Said another: "It's gone downhill here since Joe Cannon came on."

On a related note, it's fascinating to read in The Salt Lake Tribune's account that editor Nancy Conway sees no layoffs in the future for her 170 editorial employees. It's sort of an argument of semantics, actually. Publisher Dean Singleton, via Conway, has been melding jobs together to save personnel costs and hiring more part-timers (no obligation to provide benefits) for at least the past two years. Former theater critic Ellen Fagg is now a features editor who doubles as a drama critic. Film critic Sean Means continues to reviews movies, but recently took over duties of former "Culture Vulture" and general arts writer Brandon Griggs. Essentially, it means Means is working two jobs and getting paid for one. (Griggs left the Trib last month for an online job at CNN in Atlanta.)

Conway has been telling her people for a long time now they won't have to "work harder, just smarter. And differently."

And leaner, always leaner. (Holly Mullen)

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking how sad I am about what is happening at the DNews. But I'm not. My sadness occurred when Cannon became editor. As I look back, the writing was smeared all over the wall. The "church" no longer wanted to be in a competitive, journalistic world involved in truth-telling and objectivity. Cannon had no qualifications whatsoever to claim title as Editor. He was, and probably still is, a Republican flunky who's lone accomplishment was to run Geneva into the ground.

    The "church" literally has taken over the DNews, even though it owns it. It's now hands-on.

    My sadness also is for the few DNews journalists who have given so much in competing with the Tribune.

    My sadness now focuses on the Tribune staff because Singleton is in the wings with scissors in hand. I see this newsroom also cut, probably by 25 percent. Maybe more. The paper no longer will tolerate half a dozen editorial writers, as many photographers. And, the many bloggers and columnists will be reduced to nearly nothing.

    This valley has not had a good daily newspaper in many years. It was good - journalists were given license - under former publisher Jack Gallivan. There was good writing, good story selection and much of the production was award-winning.

    Today's paper, under Singleton and Conway, is, to be polite, bland. and the reporters and editors are lazy. Read the Readers' Advocate lately?

    The editorial page mirrors Singleton's inanity. No new ideas, no constructive criticism, just a repugnant shallowness, like Singleton. I recall with horror its unthinking endorsement of George Bush.

    Gone now are my hopes for a good newspaper in this valley. With its present owner the Tribune won't come close. The good reporters, the good editors are gone, save a few - Rolly, Walsh, LaPlante.

    My last fear is this: the DNews announcing it will be more Mormon, the Tribune braintrust will feel a need to compete. So the valley will have two dailies front-paging propaganda from headquarters, each trying to outdo the other.

    It is beyond pathetic. It is a tragedy.


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