It’s not just the fact that Lee Enterprises is struggling to meet its debt obligations. The people who run local newspapers make decisions, too.
John Doran, editor of the Independent Record, offered a fascinating look at the priorities of the local daily newspaper, combining some sleight of hand accounting with a breathless recounting of all the new innovations that the IR has developed in the past year.
First, the finances. Doran writes:
While here at the Independent Record we had our own share of painful cutbacks — we lost five people and eliminated our TV Weekly guide — for the most part our business has been stable, mirroring that of the Helena economy. . .
So, to simply look at the tumbling stock price for our parent company Lee Enterprises (what stocks besides McDonald’s and Wal-Mart haven’t tanked?), or to consider the bankruptcy reorganization of media pillar Tribune Co., doesn’t entirely paint the portrait of every single paper nationwide.
I may be wrong, but I’d say most stocks haven’t lost value in quite the same way as Lee Enterprises. It’s been a rough year for the stock market, but I can’t buy most stocks for less than the cost of a newspaper.
So what did the IR do with the savings reaped from the elimination of five staff positions? They began producing incredibly amateurish videos, and not inexpensively, as Doran notes:
It’s also a new way to help offset the significant investment our paper made last year in videography equipment and production computers and software. It’s a giant step forward from the two-minute online news video we’ve come to expect and deliver.
Does a ‘significant investment’ in videography equipment make sense when the newspaper is cutting staffing? Do poorly produced and infrequently completed videos contribute to news gathering or a better informed public?
It appears not. Over the weekend, two national stories with major implications for Montana broke and were reported in the Associated Press. Did the Independent Record even re-word and develop the initial reporting from the wire? Ask a reporter to contact one of our representatives in Washington for comment? Send out a video team to cover those stories?
None of the above. The innovation most of us would like to see is some reporting and investment in what newspapers are supposed to provide.