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Thoughts On 25 Years In Newspapers

It's ironic. On the 25th anniversary of my start as a newspaper columnist, the very newspaper that gave me that start laid off 250 people, including 150 editorial positions. The layoffs didn't affect me, I stopped writing for the LA Times in 2002 but it's still sad to see colleagues lose their jobs and to see likely further erosion of quality in one of the world's best media outlets.

And the culprit – to some extent – is the very technology that I've been covering for the past quarter century. The LA Times quoted its own editor, Russ Stanton "Thanks to the Internet, we have more readers for our great journalism than at any time in our history. But also thanks to the Internet, our advertisers have more choices, and we have less money."

It's true. The Internet and technology in general is disruptive. It creates jobs and opportunities and enormous wealth for some but has also helped to put others out of work. Whether it's executives at record companies who've lost their jobs because people are downloading music to iPods rather than buying them on CDs to TV networks that have had to cut back because their audiences are spending more time at the computer and less time in front of a TV, the Internet is having a profound and not always good impact on American media.

It could be said that it really doesn't matter if the LA Times has fewer reporters because for every journalist who's loses a job at a major media company there are dozens of bloggers who have a new platform to shed light on the world around us. Yes, there are lots of bloggers doing incredible work. Some are more energetic and more effective than many so-called professional journalists. But there is something to be said about a well-staffed and well-funded newsroom full of people who spend their time digging up facts and checking them twice. It's great newspapers that do the daily research that often winds up on TV and radio news. Whether it's a story about city hall or national policy, it has historically been beat reporters at the major dailies who did much of the digging.

The blogosphere provides plenty of opinion but not as much reliable reporting as the old press. Yes, there are bloggers who are doing some great reporting but, without a budget, it's hard to sustain that. And, despite some occasional lapses, professional journalists hold each other to some ethical standards that aren't always understood or followed by citizen journalists.

Call me old fashioned but I think of newspapers – along with TV and radio stations – as far more than just businesses. Because they reach millions of people with news and information they are sort of a sacred trust with a social responsibility to their audience as well as a financial responsibility to their stockholders. I'm not close enough to the situation to know if the LA Times really had much of a choice about laying off reporters but I do know that it affects all of us – not just those who lost their jobs but those of us who are losing access to some of the information we need to be good citizens.
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