I got news about two of my former newspapers Thursday. Both surprised me, but I suppose neither should stun me.
Logic in the newspaper industry would probably stun me.
I learned from a blog post by Burlington Times-News Editor Madison Taylor that carriers for the Times-News have started delivering the Greensboro News & Record. It's not quite like Mike Krzyzewski sharing scouting reports with Roy Williams, but it's very hard to believe. (As an aside, I delivered the Greensboro Daily News during my senior year of high school in Chapel Hill.)
Why the two biggest papers in the Triangle, the Herald-Sun and the News & Observer, will go without on-site copy desks before something crazy like that happens. Wait. All of that has happened.
When I was at the Times-News, we battled the News & Record on a daily basis and hated when it scooped us on a story. It was more competition to us than we were for it, but the battle lines definitely were there.
I remember having to sign a non-compete agreement that wouldn't allow me to work for the competition for one year after I left the Times-News. The agreement was really only enforced if you wanted to go to the News & Record. I left the Times-News for the The Herald-Sun, and it was no problem.
Sadly, the other news was much less surprising. The Newport News Daily Press, which laid me off in March 2010 after I had survived 6 rounds of layoffs in 5 years, had yet another round of layoffs. This time it was 31 people, including three in the newsroom. It sounds like two of the newsroom people departing took buyouts, which turns a huge negative into a slight positive.
I have that unsettling feeling I've had many times before: Very sad for the friends who no longer have jobs but very happy for my friends who still have jobs.
The first I heard of the DP layoffs was from something called the James River Journal, which was new to me. It ran a poorly-written story that said said the DP would lay off 150 people "over the next few weeks." When I heard it was "only" 31, I was a little relieved. I question the accuracy of the story knowing that this week it was 31 and not 150. I do worry about the "over the next few weeks" part.
When I see all the bad publicity that Mitt Romney is getting because of the "vulture capitalist" activities that are alleged to have happened at Bain Capital when he worked there, I can't help but think of Sam Zell. What he set into motion at Tribune is not quite the same, but is no less sad.
Obviously, plenty of newspapers have been trimming staff for years. But what Zell did to Tribune newspapers sounds similar to Bain. He sold off Newsday and made decisions that have led to a massive amount of layoffs in the chain.
I don't know about the other Tribune newspapers, but the Daily Press was a thriving newspaper with many more writers, copy editors and photographers before Zell's people started carving it up. From what I understand, the DP was doing pretty well financially. There are still good people there, but the numbers are way down.
I'm happy for folks who still are working in newspapers, but I'm awfully glad I'm not one of them!