Cawley: Tough times for the Fourth Estate

It’s a tough time for journalism right now, especially on the local level.

Journalists have known it’s been a rough time for awhile, but now the general public is starting to catch on.

It would be hard not to notice the brutal start to the beginning of 2019. As many as 2,100 media employees, including writers and editors have lost their jobs in the past few weeks, The Cut reported.

News broke last month that Gannett Company, which owns more than 1,000 daily and weekly newspapers across the country, including USA Today, planned to start slashing jobs. By last week, the number of jobs lost was reported at approximately 400.

The report was followed by news that BuzzFeed, which may be known more to some for their quizzes that myself and others mindlessly take sometimes than its news reporting, laid off 15 percent of its staff. Other cuts have included those at Vice Media, or 10 percent of its staff.

This follows countless stories about papers folding due to lack of revenue across the country or competing newspapers becoming part of the same media company with consolidation. According to the Associated Press, 1,800 newspapers have shut down since 2004, most of them weeklies.

But the dailies that do remain open have seen their staff slashed significantly, leaving them unable to cover nearly as much news as they once did.

There’s been more attention on what this loss of journalism does to a community. A new study published in the Journal of Communication found a continued loss of local journalism contributes to the nation’s political polarization.

The research found that in communities without local newspapers or sufficient reporting, citizens become less informed and more likely to only consume national news, and apply how they feel about those national politicians to local candidates.

In other words, a supporter of the president, a Republican, may feel compelled to support a local Republican candidate.

In The Item on Wednesday, an article from State House News Service detailed a bill filed by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) with co-sponsors, including state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), that would create a 17-member commission to study “communities underserved by local journalism.”

Ehrlich told State House News that shrinking newsrooms means less information and accountability, which is not good for democracy.

This is not a new phenomenon for anyone who’s been in the news industry. Journalism is already a competitive field, but then think of fewer jobs available with more journalists competing for them and then try to grasp the concept of these media professionals being laid off.

For me personally, the job search following college and beyond was stressful.

There are a couple of instances I remember well.

I was freelancing for a daily newspaper in Connecticut, along with the weekly that ran out of the office and their monthly magazines. I had applied for the job but someone got hired over me and I was offered a freelancing position as an alternative.

Months into that gig, I applied for one of the company’s other daily newspapers in Connecticut, which had the same editor as the daily I was freelancing for. I went on the interview and then was told there had been a hiring freeze and the position was not going to be filled because the company couldn’t afford it.

I finally got offered the position with the paper I was freelancing for and tried so hard to get hired at the time, but the job offer was made the day I was set to move three hours to Lynn, with plans to start at The Item the next day. I turned the job down, one I would have jumped at if it had come two years earlier.

I went on an interview with another daily newspaper in Connecticut, which went well. The executive editor asked me: “What’s a smart girl like you doing in journalism?”

Two weeks later, he called me, saying there had been a hiring freeze there too, and the position wasn’t going to be filled after all.

It worked out as a managing editor of another daily in Connecticut asked me to keep him informed on how that interview turned out and when I told him about the hiring freeze, he offered me a job, which I accepted.

This is the reality though. Most of us in journalism are smart. We chose the field because we believe in what we do, knowing that we’d continue to see jobs slashed and the industry continue to shrink.

There was one tweet from a New York-based writer, Rachel Syme, that I saw about the recent mass layoffs that stuck out to me.

“When these rounds of media layoffs happen, a lot of great writers not only lose jobs, but their taste for writing at all. I know so many great writers who are stagnating or stuck not because they don’t love the work, but the work hasn’t loved them and we are all worse off for that.”

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