[19 February 2008]
The world is changing before our eyes. Fidel Castro has brought his rule to an end in Cuba. President Musharraf is accepting defeat in elections in Pakistan. Kosovo has declared its independence. The International Herald Tribune has mused about Kosovo’s future by drawing comparisons with the world’s other tiny, impoverished, newly free state, East Timor, whose President, Jose Ramos Horta, remains seriously ill in a hospital in Darwin in Australia after what seems to have been a failed kidnap attempt.
The large media organizations, who for the last century have explained the world to us, wherever we are, are making further cuts to their news gathering operations. The New York Times is cutting one hundred news staff.
The Times has 1,332 newsroom employees, the largest number in its history; no other American newspaper has more than about 900. There were scattered buyouts and job eliminations in The Times’ newsroom in recent years, but the overall number continued to rise, largely because of the growth of its Internet operations…
The Times Company has made significant cuts in the newsrooms of some of its other properties, including The Boston Globe, as well as in non-news operations. Company executives say the overall head count is 3.8 percent lower than it was a year ago.
But with the industry’s economic picture worsening, the company is under increased pressure from shareholders — notably two hedge funds that recently bought almost 10 percent of the common stock — to do something dramatic to improve its bottom line.
More disturbing are editorial changes being suggested by Los Angeles Times publisher, David Hiller, who, along with another round of staff cuts, is seeking to further collapse the walls between editorial and advertising.
Top Times executives have discussed letting marketing executives control the monthly Sunday magazine, rather than leaving it to editors, though Mr. Hiller says no decisions about that have been made. The idea touches on the traditional tension in journalism, between profiting as a business and making independent judgments about what information to deliver, without concern for advertisers’ interests.
The costs of maintaining foreign bureaus and extensive newsdesks have contributed to their demise. The Frontline Club in London grew out of the ashes of the Frontline Television News Agency, in London.
The Frontline Club opened its doors soon after the Frontline Television News agency closed down. Frontline TV was created over Christmas lunch in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the Romanian revolution. It went on to become a key player in the independent fringe of television newsgathering. The Club was set up by the surviving members of the original team of maverick cameramen, and dedicated to the memory of friends and colleagues who lost their lives gathering news and images from the world’s conflict zones. This history is reflected throughout the building in our changing photographic exhibitions. The current War and Protest exhibition is made up of iconic black and white from some of the world’s finest photographers, including the legendary Robert Capa. The Club quickly became a centre for a diverse group of people united by their passion for quality journalism and dedication to ensuring that stories that fade from headlines are kept in sharp focus. It exists to promote freedom of expression and support journalists, cameramen and photographers who risk their lives in the course of their work.
A recent entry on the Frontline blog discusses a model for a new kind of foreign correspondent, with reliable, portable technology. It’s a fascinating, inspiring assessment of the future of reporting, from economic and editorial perspectives, well studded with links to background and further reading.