Another Round Of Layoffs Hit Nation's Print Media This week, newspapers and magazines across the country were again hit with massive layoffs. For more on the impact of these cutbacks and how black reporters are faring, Farai Chideya speaks with Neil Henry, dean of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
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Another Round Of Layoffs Hit Nation's Print Media

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Another Round Of Layoffs Hit Nation's Print Media

Another Round Of Layoffs Hit Nation's Print Media

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. Early voters are turning out in record numbers to cast a ballot in this historic election. How will the presidential candidate's last-minute media blitz affect the polls on Tuesday? Our reporter's round table is going to take a look at these topics and more in a few minutes.

But first, we're going to look at the news affecting the media industry itself. This week, newspapers and magazines across the country were hit again with massive layoffs. The Christian Science Monitor announced this week that after a century, it would stop publishing a daily-print paper. Joining us to talk about the cuts is Neil Henry.

He's the dean of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and the author of " American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media." Welcome Neil.

Mr. NEIL HENRY (Dean, U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism; Author, "American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media"): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, I'm not exactly the newest babe on the media block, I have worked in print for Newsweek and, you know, on-air for television, off-air, blah, blah, blah. And it just - it hurts me.

I have to say it really hurts me to hear about these incredibly steep cuts. You know, Time Inc. saying 600 jobs, Genet(ph) laying off people, I mean the L.A. Times. Aside from the personal-journalism-pity party, what is this doing at a time like this election?

Mr. HENRY: I gave a talk not long ago, actually, in Europe to a consortium of students at Journalism schools in Denmark. The point I made was that one thing that they - these people in Europe might not understand is the severe contraction in the American news industry, an untold story of coverage of this particular campaign, that there are fewer and fewer organizations involved and actually covering it, and fewer and fewer reporters due to the industry's contraction.

And it's a hard thing to get outsiders to appreciate how important and significant a trend like this is, because we don't know the stories that aren't being covered.

CHIDEYA: Let's take a look at how information is moving, from one medium to another. You have something like the Christian Science Monitor, and it's migrating to the web for most of its editions. What are the pros and cons of a move like that?

Mr. HENRY: You save a lot of money, because you don't put it out in hard copy as they have for many years. And another advantage is that you're trying to attract audiences, who are gravitating to the web and digital media in - by the millions.

The question is whether people actually go to a place like the Monitor for journalistic content, and that's just the very struggle that every news organization that's attempting the transition is trying to make. You know, we talk about the personal repercussions of this. I was with the Washington Post for 17 years, and came of age at a time when newsrooms were really opening to all kinds of different people, African Americans, Latinos, Asians.

I came of age and my career at there, ended back in early '90s. And I visited there just a few months ago, and I can't tell you how heartbreaking it was to see all of these people, sort of my generation who were at the top of their game, struggling with the issue of buyouts, because they had become too expensive. I mean, their talent was - is the best in the country.

But they had to take buyouts in order for a bit of the corporation to survive. What happens to these people? Well, they use the money, and maybe go into other fields like academia, perhaps they go into public relations. Perhaps they start with blogging or other developments on the web. But what we've lost is very difficult to recoup. I mean, you're talking like a whole generation of training.

CHIDEYA: Let's talk about race. The L.A. Times again, some were editorial staff cuts, and John Mitchell, who's a Metro reporter, was one of those let go. He wrote this in his farewell email to his colleagues, and it was published on the website L.A. Observed. So he wrote, as this phase of my life comes to a close, my good fortune is tempered by a troubling reality.

I'm the only African-American male on a Metro staff responsible for covering the most diverse city in the nation. There are no blacks in foreign - meaning the foreign desk - and at a time when the nation may elect the first African-American President, there are none on the national staff. What does that say about where we are as not just an industry, but also many people consider journalism one of the organs of Democracy.

Mr. HENRY: Yeah. Well, it's pretty ironic, isn't it? That we live in age of dazzling communications possibilities, and extraordinary ways to inform the public. Yet the people who I believe are responsible for providing the most important, meaningful, trustworthy, credible information are the ones that are losing their positions.

It's also particularly ironic that this heartfelt statement was made by the reporter at the Times, because it was the Times back in 1965 that was - played a role in the changes in the American newsrooms that had occurred after the riots in the inner cities in the late '60s. Back in 1965, when the Watts riots broke out, the reporters and editors of the Los Angeles Times tried to cover it, and they looked around the newsroom, and they didn't see a single African-American reporter on staff. So they went down to the press room, found a guy named Bob Richardson, who was a printer, sent him out to watch the cover, and he phoned in reports from the scene.

He was instrumental in the Times that year winning a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage. And it was after the Kerner Commission came out with its report in 1968, looking at the great divide among the racism in American society that pointed to the American news media in particular, that needed to do a better job in covering the great diversity of American society.

CHIDEYA: What are the upsides? What are the upsides for journalism as it evolves, because it has to evolve?

Mr. HENRY: The upsides are the incredible access you have to audiences now. Anybody in this age can be a publisher, a writer, a communicator. And there are tremendous possibilities.

CHIDEYA: Well, Neil, thanks so much.

Mr. HENRY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Neil Henry is the dean of the U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and the author "American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media." He joined us from the studios at the journalism school.

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