Friday, May 1, 2009

The Sun is Setting

Yesterday, my favorite city in the whole world, my hometown, my Baltimore, took a huge blow. The Baltimore Sun, its largest circulating daily newspaper, laid off 61 employees. That's 27% of its staff. A publication that 5 years ago had over 400 employees is now down to 150. There's a good chance that it will end up folding.
Every day when I was younger, I came home to The Sun on our kitchen table. I always pulled out the Today section and read the comics and Ann Landers while having an afternoon snack. My opinions about my city were influenced by three people - my mom, my dad, and Kevin Cowherd. I was never the most well-informed kid in the world (my mom was one of those "you can't watch the news; it's too violent" types), but what I did know, I learned from The Baltimore Sun.

Granted, it's not a very good newspaper. It reports an extremely skewed, biased, and incomplete version of the news, but isn't that par for the course in today's media? With the increasing use of the Internet for news updates, though, subscription cancellations are at an all time high, and with the recession, advertising dollars are few and far between. It's not just the economic downturn at work here though - it's gross incompetence.

The Sun is owned by the Tribune Company, a Chicago-based multimedia corporation, who acquired the newspaper in 2000. In 2007 Chicago billionaire Sam Zell bought out the Tribune Co., resulting in its privatization on December 20th. Zell is, by all accounts from my boss, who used to live in Chicago, a land and money grubbing shyster who thought it'd be a hoot to own a newspaper. Since he took over, the Tribune Co. has incurred 13 billion dollars in debt, and after just one year the company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. And so Baltimore suffers.

The layoffs were unannounced and came without warning. The fired staff members were escorted from the building by security. Three reporters and a photographer who were working the Orioles game received phone calls telling them to leave Camden Yards, as they no longer had jobs. There was nothing classy about this situation or the way it was handled.

These people need jobs, and Baltimore needs a newspaper. Here's hoping we're in for a turnaround.

 But just in case - thanks for all your columns, Kevin.


Ozkirbas said...

It may not be a very good paper, but it's Baltimore's paper.

Joseph Johns the Populist said...

One of my favorite college professors was a chief copy editor at the Sun: John McIntyre, a debonair dresser and grammar Maven. I also headed a small college newspaper in Baltimore for a year, and from both situations I heard both stories of horror and stunning success about Baltimore's flagship paper. It's sad to watch it go down. And the list grows sadder when you consider that ships are sinking all over America -- a once great navy slipping below the black line.

Scotty said...

I remember, as a lad, hearing about some mythical newspaper called the "Washington Star," and being absolutely perplexed by the notion that newspapers could go under. I mean, how can a newspaper go out of business? Everybody reads the newspaper! Right?


Stephen said...

I was listening to CSPAN radio yesterday and heard a snippet of a congressional hearing with various newspaper heads on this issue. Apparently anti-trust laws are preventing newspapers from coming together and formulating a viable method of generating income in the digital world.

Now I'm not saying that the government should get into the newspaper business, but I do think these restrictions could be eased a bit for the sake of the industry. A strong media serves as an effective fourth branch of government. Less competition in the media is hurtful to our freedom here in the USA.

Chris Evans said...

It's really scary that the print media is dying. We're in desperate need of some sort of innovation that will get people reading again (and paying for it).