The death throes of Louisville’s Courier-Journal [The Arena]

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The Gannett Company, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, is reportedly laying off another 700 employees today.  Some reports indicate that few as 30, or as many as 70 of these redundancies will occur at it’s Louisville Courier-Journal publication.  Gannett's newspaper operations employ 22,400 people, and the current layoffs are the largest since 2009, when the company cut about 3,000 people.  Since 2006, Gannett's annual revenue has fallen more than $2 billion, or nearly 30 percent.

Today's cuts came after many Gannett employees took one-week unpaid furloughs during the current quarter; virtually all took a furlough in the first quarter. And they come three months after it was disclosed that Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow got paid $9.4 million last year -- twice what he earned in 2009.

Arnold Garson, Courier-Journal publisher, sent a memo to employees about noon today, announcing a company-wide job elimination program.  Saying that “the simple reality is that the economy has not rebounded as rapidly as we had hoped,”  Garson complained that job creation in Louisville has lagged, and that the C-J’s revenue “ is not meeting expectations.”  “Payroll reduction,” he said, “is the only option we have to keep expenses in line with revenue.”

Poor Arnold Garson.  The distinguished president and publisher of Louisville’s venerable Courier-Journal has been spending a great deal of his time lately rearranging the deck chairs on the once-titanic “one great newspaper,” as they used to call Derby City’s sole remaining daily.  A couple of years back, there appeared a pitiful four-page Forum section in a Sunday Courier that was half-full with a reprint of Garson’s speech to Louisville’s Downtown Kiwanis.

Arnie’s speech is worth reading.  He starts off with a little paraphrase of a famous quotation from Mark Twain, to the effect that the “… reports you have been hearing about the pending death of the newspaper industry are dead wrong.”  He admits that newspaper circulation is continuing in its death spiral, but finds consolation in the fact that the Courier-Journal’s circulation only declined 8.4 percent the previous year:  one of the few patients on the death ward whose disease is almost in remission. 

He then gets a little snarky:  “For those who think that start-up local news websites and blogs can replace newspapers, here are some things you may wish to think about:  Who would perform the expensive oversight function that guards our democracy against tyranny without newspapers to fill that role?”  The C-J’s circulation might be down, but its ego is in fine shape.  We used to laugh at the Chicago Trib when it put on its logo:  “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”  Look for the C-J to start bragging:  “We Guard Our Democracy Against Tyranny.”

Please.  We could write a book about the state and local scandals which have escaped the notice of our once-great newspaper.  Lately, a local candidate for Louisville Metro Mayor admitted to paying a bribe to effect a zoning change, and the C-J was noticeably silent.  But we can think of no liberty-quashing state or local power grab that didn’t command the full support of the leftists at the C-J.  They were foursquare in favor of criminalizing indoor smoking, imposing juvenile curfews, and giving increased power to state social workers to take kids away from their parents.  The last time we can recall the C-J striking a blow against tyranny was when the Louisville Metro Council passed a law restricting the little green plastic bags of advertisements their minions attempted—often with little success—to throw onto our front porches.  If the Courier-Journal is the only thing standing between the citizens of Louisville and a police state, then God help us.

He concludes his exhortation with the boast that the C-J has 175,000 “paying customers.”  Then he asks, “Think about it. How many websites do people in the Louisville area value enough to pay $250 a year for access?”  Well, Arnie, we think you know the answer to that.  Internet journalism has developed a new paradigm that attracts enough advertising to pay expenses, make a decent profit, and yet provide quality (and timely) information to its readers for free.  Like those furry little mammals scurrying around at the end of the Jurassic Period, internet journalists are just biding their time until the great behemoths like the Courier-Journal realize that their era has passed, and collapse under their own weight.

We confess to having a soft spot in his heart for the Courier-Journal.  We have been reading it daily for more than 60 years (longer than Arnie Garson has been eating solid food), and still hold it in respectful reverence.  The C-J has received 10 Pulitzer Prizes, and used to be considered one of the top 20 daily newspapers in the nation.  Since Gannett took over, the C-J has started to slip, and is now in 47th place, by circulation.  We never had the pleasure of meeting old Henry Watterson; but we grew up imbued with the wisdom of such luminaries as Barry Bingham, Carol Sutton, John Ed Pearce, Hugh Haynie, Vince Crowdus, Bob Hill, Dick Kaukas, Joe Creason, Bert Emke, and Adele Brandeis.  They’re all gone now, and—so long as Arnie Garson and his bean-counters continue to run the show—it appears that their likes will not be seen again.