Before coming to the Seattle Times in 2018, I worked for six years at the Los Angeles Times where I frequently heard newsroom veterans lament that things were just not as good as they used to be at the West’s largest newspaper.
As recently as the mid-1990s, the LA Times reporting and editing staff numbered over a thousand people. Paintings by Picasso adorned the walls of the upstairs dining room. The yearly in-house awards ceremony rivaled the Golden Globes in opulence. The newspaper had bureaus scattered all over the world. The Sunday paper, thick with advertising, had as many pages as a book. By the time I joined the team in 2012, though, the news staff had been cut to 500, the Picassos were gone and so was the big awards dinner, most of the foreign bureaus and much of the advertising.
Now, 2012 is the new good old days. Hammered by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, LA Times management and staff this week negotiated a work sharing agreement to avoid major layoffs. Rather than some people losing their jobs, everybody will take a cut in hours and a consequent cut in pay.
But weep not for the LA Times. The newspaper has a billionaire local owner and a big circulation that will get it through the economic disaster that has befallen the newspaper industry. Your tears should be shed, instead, for the scores of much smaller newspapers serving cities and towns of all sizes that are dying day after day for want of financial resources.
Information deserts — regions of the country without any healthy local newspapers — had already been forming before the virus hit. Now, those deserts are growing much bigger. If something is not done soon, the free press in America will wither away, leaving only a few large survivors like the LA Times to soldier on. Citizens in most places will be left to rummage through the propaganda and paranoia on the Internet to find snippets of factual information about their local communities.
That would truly be something to weep about.
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