Newsrooms are more than the place where our desks are. They are a hive of activity. We discuss more than just our families and the latest Raider game. Newsrooms enable us to collaborate and wonder together. We develop some of our best ideas while standing around the computer brainstorming. We uncover new angles by working together through a difficult issue. Our Wednesday morning writers meeting allows everyone to massage the best ideas for the week.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of newsrooms across the country, including ours, went to remote work. This was a challenge as we covered one of the most impactful stories of our careers. Some, like ours, have returned to the office. Others are still holding off.
But some received the news from their parent company Tribune Publishing last week that their newsrooms will never reopen. These papers will be permanently working from home. Among the casualties is the Orlando Sentinel, our publisher Sandi Kemp’s hometown paper. They’d been in their building since 1951.
This is a horrible decision made out of greed rather than the best interest of the communities served by these papers. Par for the course with corporate monoliths, but our fellow reporters in these newsroom-no-more are no doubt frustrated by this decision. Or maybe outright furious. It’s a disservice to their readers that they have no power to change, despite best intentions. We find it dumbfounding that companies could consistently make decisions of this magnitude that make it inherently harder for their employees to succeed and bring in revenue.
Local news coverage is slowly fading from communities across the U.S. This leaves us poorer as a nation. Boots on the ground journalism in our readers’ backyards keeps local governments humble, citizens informed and the wheels of democracy rolling. These papers should play a critical role in dispelling myths and rumors spread on social media while shining a spotlight on local issues that matter.
And newsrooms play a vital part in that process. We have countless stories that were generated simply because someone walked into our front office with a question or concern. Sometimes these stories are personally painful or hard to share. A kind face and open ear can help ease the process in a way phone calls rarely can. People need people.
In these communities where that physical newsroom will no longer exist, we wonder what stories will go untold.
In our newsroom, there is a poster hanging containing the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. It’s right there for us to reference and as a visual reminder to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Hanging beside it is a poster with a quote from Berkshire Eagle executive editor Kevin Moran.
“I want our newspaper to love its readers. And I want its readers to love the newspaper back. Because if they don’t have an emotional connection to the newspaper, they are not going to cry when you are gone.”
Does continually outsourcing tasks and closing the hubs of your papers sound like loving your readers and community? In a few years, if those papers fold will their readers miss them?
Probably the hardest news to hear was the closing of the Capital Gazette’s newsroom. Just two years ago that same newsroom was the scene of a mass shooting. Those same reporters, editors, photographers and staff stood outside the newsroom that day and ensured the paper still went to press, even after watching their friends die.
In the aftermath, they returned to that same office to continue to get the job done. Memorials to the ones they lost hung on the walls. They kept going in their memory, not letting the threat of violence deter the publishing of fact.
And they found out last week that they will not be able to return to their newsroom. What a cruel joke.
The erosion and closure of the American newsroom is a tragedy that every citizen should fear and fight. And corporate leadership should reassess their priorities, or else they may find we don’t miss them when they are gone.