When the Observers fall silent

Posted: March 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: journalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | View Comments

twotowersIf I was a gambling person, or had any luck, or any money, I’d start making my bets now on when The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer will close their doors for good.

The fatal blows at the newspapers have already begun. Like a bully hastily overcompensating for his own inadequacies by demanding milk money from the nerdy kids, parent company McClatchy has put the squeeze on both organizations, forcing 160 people out of the job. Almost 60 of those layoffs come from the newsrooms of the N&O and The Charlotte Observer.

All of this, of course, is in an attempt to defy a continuing recession and make up for McClatchy’s $2 billion of debt by cleaving into the bone of these two still profitable newspapers.

It’s an effort to become a leaner organization, according to McClatchy Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt. In his words, the cuts will “realign our workforce and make our operations more efficient.”

That’s funny, since it didn’t seem like McClatchy was too interested in efficiency when it bought Knight-Ridder Inc. (and The Charlotte Observer) in 2006, weighing the company down with another 20 papers — oh, and that $2 billion in debt it’s now so eager to pay down at the expense of its employees’ livelihood.

But the other effect of the buy was more foreboding for the future of North Carolina.

The purchase consolidated the state’s two largest and most powerful watchdogs under one company.  Success — the unlikely scenario in an age of declining readership and ad revenues — would mean great things. Failure would mean the collapse of the Two Towers of North Carolina journalism.

In that single irresponsible act — committed apparently while Pruitt twirled his thin mustache with a dastardly grin –  the McClatchy Co. doomed North Carolina to a crippled ability to hold its government accountable. Read the rest of this entry »