Monday, November 2, 2009

Standing By, Helpless

I never learned to swim. I’ve learned to live with that deficiency, that failure to be able to fully enjoy water sports with family and friends. But I’ve always wondered what would happen if I saw someone drowning in deep water, too far out to reach with a pole or some other life-saving device. I couldn’t jump in to save them. I’d be tormented by the prospect of just having to stand there, helpless.

Three more editorial staffers at my former publication lost their jobs today. It hurts beyond description not being able to help. There’s nothing I can, or could, do. But that doesn’t soften the blow, dry the tears, shake me out of the miasma of depression.

Job reductions throughout journalism no longer surprise. Large and small publishing enterprises keep hacking away at the one resource that made them great—their people.

One long-term and one hopefully short-term problem stripped the publishing industry. An unforgiving economy doesn’t want to invest in capital spending. It refuses to invest in more employment, so consumer spending remains sluggish, keeping advertisers at bay, forcing publications to cut back. Soon, hopefully soon, the economy will right itself. We may not return to previous spending levels, but times will be more robust than now.

It is the second problem that is more vexing.

The Internet has been seen as an information blessing. True. Information is more readily available than ever before. It has opened up communication and information to all quadrants of the world.

But the Internet is a curse for all but a relative few information-providers. Thousands of hard-working (and probably thousands who didn’t work so hard) journalists, advertising salespeople, production associates, and support personnel have lost their jobs because of the free-flow of information. “Making money on the Web” is an oxymoron for most publishers. It drains resources. Those remaining, employed journalists must dilute their work, contributing to print, online, audio and even video reports. More often than not, they are working for reduced wages.

I don’t know where it will end. For three of my former associates, it ended today.