Media General to Lay Off 11% of Staff

Bad news from Media General: they’re laying off 11% of their employees. In advance of this, the Media General-owned Richmond Times Dispatch announced that they’re increasing their subscription rates, publishing 16-20 fewer pages each week, and shrinking their distribution region. The logic is that, somehow, the way to improve your business is to make your product worse, charge more, and sell it to less people.

As always with media outlets, cost-cutting doesn’t mean firing the folks on the business side — since they’re the ones who bring in the money — it means the elimination of reporters, photographers, and their support staff. Which means their newspapers — like the Daily Progress — will get worse. Stockholders are demanding profit margins on the order of 15-30%, which is 3-6 times better than most of the S&P 500 is doing.

The relentless focus on big profit margins is demonstrably terrible for publications and their readers. With Seth Rosen and Jeremy Borden leaving the Progress soon, and Bob Gibson having recently left, the paper shouldn’t have to fire people — they’ll probably just fail to fill some or all of those positions. And that will leave us with more wire stories and less coverage of the things that matter in our community.

It’s a good thing we’ve got C-Ville Weekly, The Hook, the Charlottesville Podcasting Network and Charlottesville Tomorrow. If Media General thinks that their real competition is coming from the web, they should figure out that the competition isn’t the web itself — it’s more relevant, more in-depth information that happens to come in the form of websites. Making their coverage suck by shafting their reporters isn’t going to make them more competitive. It’s going to sink them.

37 thoughts on “Media General to Lay Off 11% of Staff”

  1. I just added Charlottesville Podcasting Network and Charlottesville Tomorrow to Charlottesville Headlines. My original goal for Charlottesville Headlines was to focus solely on local media outlets, but it seems a foolish consistency at this point. Both websites provide such great news-rooted information that is certainly of value to people who read Charlottesville Headlines, so it’s just goofy not to include them.

  2. Obituaries. Now, that’s an idea for an enterprising blogger. Local, on-line obituaries. Stories about the lives of recently deceased local citizens that allow for comments from those who knew them. Eulogies and remembrances from friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors… not just expressions of sympathy, but interesting immediate biographies that reveal the character of the deceased.

    Any takers?

  3. Harry Landers has a great idea. I know that I am not alone when I say that generally I only read The Progress for the obits. Many interesting people and people I have known most of my life finish their lives here and I would like to read more about them. The Washington Post’s “A Local Life” column is one of the better parts of that paper.

  4. I hear that Barney Breen-Portnoy is leaving, too. Adios education coverage. Last one out, turn off the lights.

  5. What is this Daily Progress?
    And how can I get a copy?
    Is it free like C-ville Weekly? No?
    Does it have interesting local stories like the Hook?
    How the hell are they still in business?
    Does anyone know people who actually buy this paper?
    (and not just of rthe obits)

  6. This Daily Progress bashing is so tiring, guys. With the disappearing reporting staff at the DP, it’s amazing the amount of hard news and other interesting stories have been covered (water issues, education, complex court cases, even the hilarious story of Harry the Hot Dog, which only a local newspaper could deliver). Those guys are working their tails off. We’re lucky in Charlottesville to have such a diverse selection of print media but I’m afraid the C-Ville Weekly doesn’t come close to covering the bread and butter news like the Progress. The industry is changing and I hope that Media General and other media companies can figure out a way to keep the daily newspaper relevant. I’m not sure cutting an already overworked staff is the way to go.

  7. As a former Media General employee I cannot fully explain how happy I am to be out from under their corporate squeeze.

    Trust me, in these hundreds of job loses, none of the country club-membership level of managers in Richmond will be given the heave-ho. It will, instead, be the rank and file who can least afford it and are least responsible for the company’s problems who are put out on the streets. The cuts will cost a lot of $30k/year people their jobs. The $300k managers in Richmond will somehow manage to stay on the payroll and the million dollar CEO will wring his hands all the way home to his gaited community.

    Media General is not alone in the near criminal transformation of local news into quarterly profit centers, but they are among the most guilty of destroying what had been a tradition of family-owned, community oriented, responsible and locally driven media outlets — both print and TV.

    And Tony, while I agree with your sentiments, to hope that “Media General and other media companies can figure out a way to keep the daily newspaper relevant” …ignores their only corporate reason for being.

    The fatcats and ass-sitters in these Fortune-500 media conglomerates are not about news, not about their communities, and not about the constitutional responsibility they have in this society. Their only concern is about quarterly bottom lines.


  8. let me tell you thqat Media general has newspapers in lynchburg and danville and a tv station in roanoke that serves lynchburg danville and roanoke and the surrounding area. the tv station is a joke. the station is WSLS i think it’s third behind WDBJ AND WSET.

  9. I worked for Media General back in the 80s at Richmond Times Dispatch (and News Leader) in the Ad Production Dept. — night shift. That was back when you got your copy out of a film processor and “waxed” it onto the ad boards. Sounds like everything is still the same except for the technology. Think I’ll turn on CNN or NBC-29 or WINA.

  10. With the decline of one business comes the growth of new because it opens doors and makes room for invention, e.g. Harry Landers’. Karl Ackerman’s observation may get some minds going. Compare the circulations of DP, Hook, and Cville-Weekly. I don’t believe DP’s circulation has increased any in decades, even with a substantial increase in population in its target region. Ask people in their sixties and seventies and many will say the DP has been on a decline since the Lindsays left. I guess it’s what you’re used to. I think the first sign of trouble was when they got rid of paper boys years ago when their subscribers became too spread out for a 12 year old to cover on foot or a bike.

  11. Gaited communities: only pedestrian-friendly to Tennesee Walking Horses. Really, rather like the old days….

  12. DP did get better in the 1990s than it was in the 1980s… MG let it get politically moderate, to agree with Cvillishness, seemed to me. And they picked up some good beat reporters from time to time. Journalism school is competitive these days, right?

    As for Wall Sreet, they ain’t so smart. That’s a giant misconception many us have.

    “The fatcats and ass-sitters in these Fortune-500 media conglomerates are not about news, not about their communities, and not about the constitutional responsibility they have in this society. Their only concern is about quarterly bottom lines.”

    It’s a bunch of loudmouthed jocks and aggressive technoids jumping on bandwagons, not rational actors in Adam Smith land.

    Look at the mortgage crisis. Other, subtler examples abound, such as all the investment in ethanol plants in the Midwest starting a few years ago. Because it was new. A frenzy developed to the point it was hard to get building materials for the conversion plants. That worked out well, about as well as tulips. If tulips had been a staple crop turned into peat.

  13. The Daily Progress is one of the worst newspapers I’ve ever read (even worse than the LA Times). We made fun of it growing up here in the 80’s and 90’s, but since then it’s gotten somehow even more terrible. Their coverage is less and less relevant, their conservative bias is laughable and transparent on those rare occasions when they do ever discuss any actual topic… it’s like 30% human interest stories, 20% condescending, generic notices of local goings-on, and the rest is all real estate ads. and since they’ve started doing the paper’s layout on computers… ugh, it’s like looking at a middle-school student’s poorly formatted word-file. It literally hurts my eyes to look at.

  14. Media General also some of the local weeklies in surrounding counties. They’re on shoestring budgets already. I hate to think what this will for them.

    And is it sad that I enjoy reading these smaller papers more than the Progress? It’s scattershot, uneven reporting and terrible page layout makes Weekly Reader look like the New York Times.

    It’s not that medium-sized cities CAN’T support great newspapers. Look at the Republican in Springfield, MA or Fredericksburg’s paper. Both are exceptional, LOCAL publications that defy the “shoestring” convention.

  15. I worked at the DP a few years back, and it pains me to read people ripping it. We were incredibly understaffed, and I made $22K working 50 to 60 hours a week (with a completely erratic schedule, so no chance to take a second job). And I still think we provided the community with in-depth coverage of Board of Supervisors meetings, court cases, Virginia politics (thanks, Bob!), etc.

    I fully believe the Web is where it’s at (thanks, Waldo!), but that doesn’t mean local daily newspapers aren’t incredibly important parts of a community. I’d sit at some of these long meetings and try to jam four hours of information — as well as background — into a 15-inch story (and then watch the local news play one sound byte and recite a three-sentence story with no context). I don’t even understand how a story about a Planning Commission vote or a new superintendent of schools can be considered condescending. (WTF, anonymous? And conservative bias? You do realize the opinion page is completely separate from the rest of the paper, right? How can a story about downtown parking have conservative bias?)

    I urge you all to read Al Gore’s “An Assault on Reason.” Newspapers are freakin’ important. And it’s sad to watch them die. (Though let me say here that I have no — NO — respect for Media General. And I totally concur with the sentiment Waldo expressed in his first paragraph. The company’s a mess. Too bad it’s taking important local resources down with it.)

    Hang in there, McGregor!

  16. I worked at the DP a few years back, and it pains me to read people ripping it.

    As it’s awkward for many of us to be ragging on it — or, at least, it’s awkward for me. The fact that Media General is starving the Progress of resources, causing the publication to slide in quality, should in no way impugn the hard work of the massively overworked, embarrassingly underpaid journalists who do the day-to-day work of making each issue happen. So the trick is how to say “wow, the Progress is in trouble” without implying “jeez, these writers suck.”

    It’s too bad that Media General doesn’t let their reporters talk about their jobs on the record. I would love to write a ~1,000 word article about a day in the life of a DP reporter. Most people would be really surprised — and a great deal more sympathetic — if they knew what the job is like.

  17. There’s a horse-and-buggy-vs-the-car aspect to this conversation, isn’t there? Yes, it’s wonderful to hold up that floppy newsprint with the morning cup of coffee (ah, the bracing smell of manure!) But now that Gibson’s gone, all of what I really want from the Daily Progress can (or soon should be) found on the web: indexed video of those long-winded meetings (so that you can hear it from the horse’s mouth); more detailed HS sports reports on HS websites! (maybe equal coverage for the girls now that we are two generations beyond the passage of Title 9); more and better obits as noted above; a comprehensive crime roundup from the police?; better news on property sales; etc, etc. As sad as the demise of newspapers might seem to be, we’ll get over it, I think.

    I won’t miss 98% of the Daily Progress editorials, that’s for sure.

    And I’m (still!) a subscriber.

  18. PS, I would miss David Maurer’s features. But as fast and as well as that guy can write, I’d expect to see him jump to the web, supported by advertising…

  19. But, I think there’s more to it than just “holding the floppy newsprint”. The Daily Progress (or some daily, local newspaper) is important to maintaining the fabric of community. I have no problem if the format of the newspaper gradually evolves away from paper and to electronic format, but this is a case where the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. In my view, it’s not healthy to have citizens turning exclusively to specific sites for specific kinds of information.

    There’s value in knowing things that you don’t think you’d be interested in. I don’t have children in the public school system, so I may not be willing to listen to a video of a 3-hour school board meeting, but I ought to know about it if the schools decide to eliminate music classes to spend more time on standardized testing procedures. I have no real interest in high school sports, but it’s nice to know that my neighbor’s daughter scored the winning goal in the soccer tournament, so I can congratulate her, when I see her at the bus stop. If I didn’t have to let me eyes slide over the obituaries as I turn the page, I might never have known that the fellow who owns the service station where I get my gas, was part of the landing force at Normandy.

    It’s the aggregate of all these small details, over a period of years, even generations, that create the fabric of a community. And, if these aren’t shared experiences, the community is diminished.

    So, if we belly-ache about the Daily Progress, it’s not because we don’t value the contributions of their writers, graphic artists, layout designers, editors, delivery-persons (and, yes, advertising salespeople). It’s because we know that this newspaper is the glue that holds the community together. And we resent Media General for not respecting the value of that which they own and for not living up to the responsibility of letting the newspaper be as good as the people who work there want it to be.

  20. I think that rather than a “horse and buggy vs auto” comparison, the electronic vs newsprint media is more like “bookstore vs online booksellers”. Bookstores (even chain stores) are still important because you find treasures you did not know you needed while online sellers are more convenient and less expensive when you know exactly what you want. A local newspaper gives me something in common with my neighbors and at least a glancing knowledge of local issues which I would not otherwise “click” on. For me, it is sad to think of a world with no local papers or bookstores.

  21. Newspapers are freakin’ important.

    No, they aren’t – at least not when they are owned by media corporations that care far less about “news” than they care about advertising. I don’t think anybody is saying that the DP sucks (and my God does it ever!) because of the personnel who work there. The paper sucks because it provides little of value to the community and doesn’t reflect the community’s values and mores. You can get incalculably more local news from C-ville or The Hook and they’re free! They poke and probe and actually do more than re-publish NBC 29’s lead story. And while they are both weeklies, they are far more timely than the DP and take ten times longer to read

    I think I gave up completely on the Progress several years ago when I noticed that they edited wire stories for space, cutting them off when the alloted space had been filled, regardless of whether doing so corrupted the content being edited – easy to do when you get the Regress and the Post. We found some cases where they literally cut pieces in the middle of sentences and inserted periods. That sure illustrates how the DP management and editors felt about their content.

  22. Information is important, newspapers aren’t. The sooner the higher-ups realize that and join the rest of the publishing world, the better.

  23. I also worked at the DP a few years back, and echo much of what “letearsplash” says. We thought we were understaffed a couple of years ago, when we had–I don’t know, maybe a dozen reporters? Now I think there’s roughly 4.
    Seriously, the shortsightedness of Media General is nothing short of breathtaking. While I have never once regretted getting away from that terrible company’s clutches, I cannot begin to express how badly I feel for the editors there, all of whom are hardworking, wonderful people who have just been dealt a rotten hand by a mess of an organization.

  24. “I think I gave up completely on the Progress several years ago when I noticed that they edited wire stories for space, cutting them off when the alloted space had been filled, regardless of whether doing so corrupted the content being edited – easy to do when you get the Regress and the Post. We found some cases where they literally cut pieces in the middle of sentences and inserted periods.”

    ALL newspapers do this, FYI.

  25. Big Al: Dumb point. One of the main points of wire copy is that clients can snip it or not snip it to fit their space. Much of it is written with that in mind.

  26. I moved here 7 years ago, and right off the bat I found that the singlemost disappointing element in cville, to me, was the DP. I had lived in another public university town, not nearly as nice as cville and no where near as prestigious as UVa, and the daily paper (family owned) was much better. For that matter, so was the school paper, but then again, the other U had a journalism school.

    If DP went out of business tomorrow I wouldn’t miss it. I read the WP and WSJ for news. And as for obituaries, I prefer the long ones in The Economist.

  27. The big issue here is not whether or not the DP is a rag, which it is, but the way in which massive companies can impact one’s life at the local level. This would be happening even if the DP were a fabulous paper, simply because it suits a large company to have it this way. Sadly, we don’t have much protection from massive companies, developers, etc…. who can make changes at the corporate level without consulting with the people who are most impacted. It’s a bit feudal if you ask me.

  28. Harry Landers: Since you won’t read it today in the DP, just thougth you might want to know that the CHS girls soccer team went to Brentsville last night for the Region 1 semifinal. Brentsville has almost always been where our season ends. Last year, CHS won 1-0 during the season at Brentsville and lost 1-0 on a looping goal late in the second half in the region semifinal. So the stage was set: Yesterday CHS scored quickly in the opening minutes on a Liza Little blast. Brentsville equalized a few minutes later with a magnificent corner kick header. Emily Perrin broke past the defensive line and put a right footed shot just inside the left post. 2-1 CHS. And there it stood at half. Coach Fernando Opere must have spoken the magic words to his team because in the second half Emily Perrin netted two more for a hat trick (8 goals for her in the last three games: district final, regional qtr and semi, if my count is right) and Annie Fitzhugh put in a long shot from close to the spot CHS was beaten from last year. (Sweet revenge.) Brentsville’s Northwestern District Player of the year was held scoreless. (Full disclosure: my daughter Zoe was marking her most of the game) Clay Eure was strong once again in the goal.

    Final 5-1 CHS. On to Broad Run Friday, and the State Quarter Finals next Tuesday (at home if we win, somewhere to the east, if we lose). Go Black Knights!

    No photo, no story in the Daily Progress. How sad.

  29. GO CHS!!!!! Finally some good news about CHS from the DP! When I was at CHS (it was from 1997-2001) it was the football and basketball teams at that time they got some coverage from the DP

  30. I may be another “horse and buggy” holdout but I’m very much on board with the comments from letearsplash, Harry, and Gail.

    I *like* the Progress! If the Progress isn’t its stories and its reporters and its coverage, exactly what is it? I will subscribe forever; it’s my community newspaper for better or worse. I’d feel differently if it was mean-spirited and biased but it’s not.

    One idea for them that I think would be a breakthrough for this community, in particular: I’ve seen many local newspapers create an editorial column by community members,appointed for a year to write 2-3 columns. They were farmers, professors, housewives, retirees, etc. The fact that DP doesn’t use its resources to highlight broader thinking (other than the Letters to Editor) is a mystery to me. No cost; more papers sold.

  31. Werdsworth,
    I’ve always thought that the Progress could have a much more interesting editorial page if an effort was made to get local people to contribute. Years ago there used to be far more letters to the editor than there are now. I beleive that the heavy handed editing of the editorial page editor, Anita Shelburne is the reason that so few local contributions are published. I have known her to edit letters for style in a way that influenced the content and the message. There are many articulate and thoughtful people living nearby but you’d never know it from the barren wasteland that is the Progress’s editorial page. The Progress missed a great opportunity.

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