A.H. Belo, The Morning News and more layoffs

The news that Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper will undergo layoffs – the second round in six months — is not news. Those of us who were paying attention during the first round last summer noted that this was probably going to happen. The question is: Why didn’t the bosses at The News do enough the first time to prevent this from happening?

And make no mistake about it. These are serious, coverage-cutting layoffs that we will notice. The News was mostly spared the painful cuts the last time, which fell on its brethren in A.H. Belo, the company that owns The News, the Providence Journal and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. These cuts will almost certainly gut local coverage, the sports section, and even the editorial page, the most sacred cow among the many at the The News.

After the jump, why this happened and what it means:
Anyone who looked at the details when Belo announced the first round of layoffs knew it wasn’t enough. It was classic Belo denial – yes, bad stuff is going on, but we’re too special too have it happen to us. Well, the company isn’t too special. The recession, with its attendant collapse in advertising, is smacking The News. Gone are big-time companies who spent tons of money on newspaper advertising – Linens ‘n Things and Circuit City among them. Gone, too, are crucial classified revenues, decimated by the Internet (which is actually about the only thing the Internet has done to newspaper revenue.)

Which means that part of what has happened to The News is because nothing like this has happened in the newspaper business since the early 1990s. That was the last time ad revenue came close to what it is doing now, and a bunch of newspapers, including the Times Herald and the Houston Post, went out of business.

But someone over there should have noticed what was happening. We did, and so far, we’re OK (though expect to see more layoffs at other media outlets around town). But because we saw this coming, we made provisions. The bosses at The News apparently didn’t.  It will apparently have to borrow money again to make payroll, the equivalent of a person using a credit card to pay the mortgage. This mismanagement is hard to believe.

But maybe not. Its previous recovery plan, which included replacing those vanished national advertisers with the Mom and Pops who buy ads from us, was a fairy tale. Circuit City alone probably spent more with The News in a year than we take in from all five magazines. There’s a line in the company’s letter to employees that is dumbfounding: “That said, the decline in advertising revenues for the newspaper industry and all media persists.” Like it’s not supposed to? Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns are gone, but Belo is supposed to remain unscathed?

So what’s next? The News will cover less, and that will affect everyone, even those who don’t read the paper. What too many people don’t understand about the Internet is that news doesn’t mysteriously get posted. Someone has to attend the city council meeting, the school board meeting, and the like. Someone has to call the city manager and the school board members and ask why they’re doing what they’re doing. If the News doesn’t do that anymore, they won’t get done, because most of the rest of us don’t have the resources to pick up the slack. We may not want to admit it, but we need The News, or something like the News, to point us in the right direction.


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