Friday, May 31, 2013

People won’t realize until too late that quality costs more, but also means more

I managed to miss the gathering of a couple dozen people who picketed briefly this week outside the Tribune Tower to express their disgust with the very notion that the billionaire (and highly ideological) Koch brothers could wind up as the new owners of the Chicago Tribune.

But while I don’t doubt the Kochs would do funky things with the content of our city’s larger newspaper (I don’t buy into the concocted math that the Chicago Sun-Times uses to claim it is bigger), I think those people who are concerned about the quality of the news reports we get ought to be more concerned about what’s happening these days at the one-time “Bright One.”

AS I WRITE this, I’m still trying to accept the Sun-Times’ announcement that it found another 20 to 30 people it can lay off from their jobs – the Chicago Sun-Times no longer employs photographers.

Which strikes the historian in me as ironic in that one of the Sun-Times predecessors (the Daily Times created in the 1920s) billed itself as the first Chicago newspaper to rely heavily on photographs to tell the news.

Not that there won’t be photographs in the Sun-Times. The newspaper (along with its websites and any other products the Wrapports company decides to create) says it will rely on freelance photographers, along with the possibility of its news reporters being expected to take a camera of sorts with them to assignments.

A reporter trying to comprehend the intricacies of public policy so as to explain it properly to the public will have to take pauses in their mental process to snap a picture.

AND IF THEY wind up having to spend too much time getting that exact right shot, they’re likely to miss details.

Trust me when I say that it is going to impact the quality of images in the newspaper/website/whatever, it will hurt the reporting as well.

I write this knowing full well that I am not capable of doing both, and I know I’m not unique. I realize there are some professional newspeople who can point to times in their careers where they worked for publications that expected them to do double duty.

But that is evidence of the fact those people worked for cheap publications – ones that were small-staffed enough because they didn’t expect to publish anything of any substance.

SOMEHOW, I DOUBT that the Sun-Times’ key to financial success is to publish a less substantial newspaper – which would lead to less substantial websites and other information-oriented products.

Because the reality of our news is that while an increasing number of people may want to read their stories on the Internet, the websites that are the most highly-read are the ones that are affiliated with existing newspapers or television stations or other newsgathering outfits.

They are the ones that can reappropriate the content for the Internet. And in cases where they first publish a breaking story on the website, it can be updated and rewritten for the following day’s newspaper.

Which can result in better copy – except in cases where editors think the printed word is supposed to be less substantial than what turns up on the website.

I DON’T DOUBT that some, if not most, of the freelance photographers the Sun-Times winds up relying upon will be the same individuals who were, until Thursday, gainfully employed by the newspaper.

Some of them may even draw so many assignments that the amount of money in their paychecks will be about the same as they were taking home before. But freelancers don’t get the benefits or job security that usually inspires an employee to take his company’s product seriously.

What this all comes down to is an attempt to reduce the budget by not having to cover health insurance benefits. Because these workers are now going to have to figure out how to get themselves coverage.

Which means that it would be a heck of a lot of nerve on the Sun-Times’ part if they take up the cause of ranting and raging against “Obama-care,” because they’re adding to the number of uninsured who will have to take advantage of federal benefits – all so they can try to bolster their financial bottom line.


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