Gannett, The Commercial Appeal's corporate overlord, began rolling out the company's "Newsroom of the Future" concept in Memphis last week. Apparently, the newsroom of the future will fit into a nice-sized basement rec room. Twenty journalists were laid off, including many folks whose bylines are familiar to all of us. The CA is now reportedly down to 48 people in its editorial department.
Gannett treats its papers like McDonald's franchises, and its Tennessee franchises have been consolidated into a network that will create and share content, most notably from the Nashville Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel, which also suffered layoffs last week. Gannett's flagship paper is USA Today, which supplies national content to the chain's regional news properties.
The truth is that the Newsroom of the Future should be called the "Newsroom of Shareholder Value." Gannett is cutting costs to boost (or maintain) its stock price and earn a profit margin that will please Wall Street.
In the wake of last week's layoffs, I heard and read comments from many Memphians that they were going to cancel their subscription; that the CA was worthless; that they could get all the local news they needed from television, The Daily News, the Memphis Business Journal, and the Flyer.
No, you can't.
Sure, you can get good reporting from all of those news outlets, but none of them are staffed adequately to provide what a good daily newspaper — even one that's been "right-sized" — can bring.
But the paper is just a shell of its former self, you say. Yes, it is, but it is still essential and invaluable. Let's take a look at Tuesday's CA.
On page one, there was a story about Wiseacre Brewing declining to expand into the Mid-South Coliseum; a feature about a Memphis saxophone player Dr. Martin Luther King spoke to from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, before being hit by an assassin's bullet; and a USA Today Network story about our Nashville legislators double-dipping on their expense accounts.
The rest of the front section featured mostly national news, much of it reported the day before on the web. But if your job doesn't allow you to surf the net all day, the Tuesday paper had a good aggregation of major national and world news.
The Business section was all local reporting, much of it fresh. The Local section broke news on Memphis Judge Jon McCalla's ruling on billboards as "free speech," which will likely be contested all the way to the Supreme Court. A solid story not reported elsewhere.
We also got stories on musician David Porter and the "penny for your parks" issue in Mississippi, David Waters' column about the late Benjamin Hooks, the police report, and two pages of obits. All local.
The "M" section, which used to be about Memphis society, food, and general soft features, is now basically all generated from elsewhere. You want a chicken thighs recipe from the Associated Press? Got you covered. Also Chess Quiz, Horoscope, Answers (from God?), Ask Annie, Today in History, Jumble, Crossword, Sudoku, and Daily Bridge Club. (Bridge? Seriously? Okay.)
So none of that is local, but it goes well with coffee. Then there's the Sports section, which features local reporting on the Grizzlies and Tigers and lots of national and regional wire stories.
No, the CA is not The New York Times (which isn't failing, by the way), but it's still a vital part of the fabric of the city. Without a daily paper, we might as well be Covington.
So, folks, don't cancel your subscription to the CA. And if you don't have a subscription, then go online and pay the small charge for access.
If you don't support the organizations (however corporately flawed) that are reporting the news in Memphis (and that includes the Flyer and other local print media), they might not be around when you need them.
And we do need them. Every day.