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.