Young journos doomed to poverty and pink slips

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Cub reporters are finding it increasingly difficult to climb out of bed each day.

The pay sucks, everyone's eager to inform you of the real story you're failing to cover, and no matter how many late nights you put in, opportunities for advancement throughout the biz are slimming down with every new round of announced layoffs.

Spend each waking moment learning how to navigate Byzantine government bureaucracies so you can write a few cool stories, and the thanks you'll get in return is the axe to help save expenses in the short term for the paper's media parent. Here's what management might say these days as an explanation:

“We are not trying to make any other statement here other than it is a competitive world out there and we are doing what we can to make sure we are putting out an excellent paper in the communities we serve.”

From whose mouth did that gem drop? Phil Bronstein? Dean Singleton? Nope. Not from the dailies. Chief executive Ben Eason of the Atlanta-based alt weekly newspaper chain Creative Loafing gave that non-statement -- better suited for any top daily exec -- to a media critic from the New York Times who this morning skewered newspaper bosses for continuing their onward march of self-annihilation by ousting the very people who create their product.

Why is all of this so funny? Because alt weeklies have spent the last 40 or so years ribbing dailies for offering up the same ridiculous non-statements each time they made a colossal mistake while "serving their communities." Now weeklies are dishing out their own spoonfuls of PR drivel to the communities they serve. And a media critic who once helped operate an alt weekly, David Carr, now working for the nation's largest daily newspaper, is giving them shit for it.

Cruel world, but we're fair game.

Last week, the respected alt weekly Chicago Reader, which was purchased by Creative Loafing earlier this year, let go of four experienced investigative reporters due to declining revenue. At the same time, another alt weekly of high journalistic standards, the Washington City Paper, announced five newsroom layoffs. Among the dead at the Reader was Steve Bogira, one of the nation's finest and most powerful courts reporters beloved by former Guardian staffer A.C. Thompson and myself. The cuts also included 20-year veteran John Conroy.

From Carr on the Reader's cuts:

"Serious reporting used to be baked into the business, but under pressure from the public markets or their private equity owners, newsrooms have been cutting foreign bureaus, Washington reporters and investigative capacity. Under this model, the newsroom is no longer the core purpose of media, it’s just overhead. At the same time, the consumer is feeling more empowered, with Google, Digg and all manner of RSS feeds pushing current data to their desktops. But Google and Digg never made a phone call, never asked hard questions of public officials, never got an innocent man out of jail. The smartest Web robot in the world is going to come back dumb if there is nothing out there to crawl across. Thousands of bloggers could type for a millennium and not come up with the kind of deeply reported story that freed innocent men -- an effort that takes years of inquiry, deep sources and a touch for making unholy secrets knowable."

I'd hoped to spend the next 35 years of my life doing this work. I think I'll go get viciously drunk now.

*Image credit goes to Bob Eason who actually used this axe to severe the heads of his devoted reporters. Just kidding. It goes to Antique-used-tools.com.

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