This evening at the Trib, editor in chief Janet Coats sat in a rolling chair in the center of the newsroom while everyone gathered around for the latest news on layoffs.
She went over the list of who was layed off and why. Then she reexplained that 10 more layoffs were to come in the following weeks and how the newsroom would start reorganizing around its new business model.
It was a hard plan for some people to accept. The fact Janet made up her own crazy new business model for a newspaper without a prototype or any idea where it would take her was frightening to a lot of people. They didn’t seem to like an emphasis on changing the reporting model to focus on immediacy instead of the beat system. That didn’t stop her.
There would be mistakes, she said. And sometimes those in charge would fuck up. But there is nothing else to do.
“We can see a better future for journalism right across the bridge on the other side, but the bridge is on fire, and if we just stand here, we are going to burn up with it.”
A few hands shot up into the air.
“Does this mean the Tribune isn’t bringing in any profits?” someone asked
“The Tribune hasn’t been bringing in profits for a long time … This isn’t about profit margins anymore … We weren’t even in the black this year.”
“How is this new model going to affect our competition with The St. Petersburg Times?”
That set Janet off on quite a diatribe.
First, she said people needed to stop thinking of the Times as competition. She said she understood that it’s hard to think that way when the paper is right across the Bay, but that it is the truth. Not every story will be covered and it won’t be covered in the same way the SPT will cover it. The Trib simply doesn’t have the resources for the old business model.
“I hope (The St. Petersburg Times) keeps doing more of the same,” she said. “I’d like to see them try and do it with a reduced staff. It will only make us stronger.”
Then she dropped the reality bomb:
“People need to stop looking at TBO.com as an add on to The Tampa Tribune,” she said. “The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.”
Wow. Someone said that? And that someone was the editor in chief? But wait… there’s more.
She continued from this point, saying she wasn’t sure, but that this had to be a step in the right direction. If we don’t move, she said, newspapers will continue their “death spiral – because that’s what this is.”
She compared newspapers to the music industry. Having increased access to music has undermined the corporate giants of the music industry. They are not making money, but demand is just as high if not higher than it ever has been.
That’s how the news is, she said. There is a high demand for it, but with abundant access to it, it’s time to rethink how we can carve out a niche. Her idea? Hyperlocal journalism.
A sports reporter in the Tallahassee bureau was layed off for no other reason other than the fact that it didn’t make sense to keep a full-time staff member there. The layoff was purely geographic. It’s better to keep one more reporter in Tampa than a sports reporter in a town about four hours north of Tampa.
Now there will be more of an emphasis on the hyperlocal and giving the community news about itself. If they want national news, they have several national news sources to get it. Instead, the Trib should be used to give the community something they can’t get from the NY Times or WaPo. Give them their news.
Through most of this meeting, I just wanted to shout, “Amen!” and “You go girl!” because Janet understands what’s up. She can see the trend in the industry: Innovate or obliterate. She stressed more than several times that if newspapers don’t change then NEWSPAPERS WILL DIE.
It’s hard, she admitted. Sometimes she feels temptation to get out of this business and join PricewaterhouseCoopers where she can have a decent salary and lifestyle. But then she thinks of the role of a news organization, and she knows she could never do that.
“This is who I am,” Janet said. “If you asked me who I am, I would first respond that I’m a journalist – probably before I even said I’m a mother.”
Janet believes in the news industry. She believes in holding government, media and the public accountable. And she knows there is not another job that makes such a huge difference and weilds such power. News organizations offer society so much, and that is why she cannot take another job – because journalism is her calling, and she knows there is nothing else she could ever imagine herself doing.
“It’s worth fighting for,” Janet said.
Out of all her quoteable moments, those were the words that stuck with me. It was that powerful statement that conveyed the hope, faith and prayers of all journalists worldwide. That maybe this industry can’t be demolished because of its importance and that maybe our love and passion for it could be enough to keep it running.
Well, it’s going to take more than love and passion. That love and passion must move us to find solutions to keep our industry, our jobs and our identities alive and well. Still, it’s going to take passionate people like Janet Coats to figure it out.
People might be angry or frightened by what Janet is saying, but she’s right, and they need to start recognizing that. She is doing this because she cares. That woman is not only carrying the burdens of an entire newsroom on her shoulders, but the burdens of a community entitled to quality news. And I know she’s taking the right steps.
On my way out of the newsroom, I saw Janet hobbling on her crutches (she broke her ankle) on her way to the elevator and talking to someone. I wanted to tell her how much I supported what she did, but I didn’t want to interupt. Plus, I’m just an intern. But if I had the chance, I would have said this:
Janet, you’re my hero, and I think this is worth fighting for too.