“In the morning we gathered in a meeting room for the two-minute reports on the state of our newspapers. Most everyone was glum. Richmond was doing only regional stories. San Diego had gone from a staff of four to a staff of one, with no budget for freelance and no budget for travel. Vancouver was “doing pretty well,” though the travel editor added that she’d been recruited to do the automotive section and the video games page, “which I know nothing about,” she said. “All I can tell you is that the grammar is correct.” In Chicago, the Sun-Times didn’t travel but it did buy freelance; the Tribune’s staff of six was now four-and-a-half. “The paper,” the editor said dejectedly, “has given up on print.” The New Orleans Times Picayune Travel section was now “three pages in the back of the Living section.” (The paper lost 100,000 readers after Katrina.) The editor from the Philadelphia Inquirer got up and said: “I wish I’d remembered to bring tissues to this,” and then told of 71 recent layoffs in the newsroom, bringing the total to 265 over the last two and a half years. The Orange County Register lost a long-time assistant who was not being replaced. There’d been a 15-20% reduction in content. “I’ve launched a blog,” the editor said, “which my mom reads.” The Detroit Free Press planned its story budget 18 months in advance. John Flinn from the San Francisco Chronicle said, “The shit hasn’t hit the fan yet, but I think it’s inches away. We’ve been told to expect some big cuts by the end of the year. … Podcasts,” he added, “they’re so six months ago. I just let it go over my head. The same with blogs.” The editor of the Contra Costa Times was almost in tears as she talked about her understaffed and overworked newsroom. “I don’t like watching people suffer,” she said. “It shouldn’t be like that.” The former editor at the Seattle Times said, “I took a buyout in 2000, and every time I come to one of these meetings I feel that I made the right decision.” He told of his morning walk through the market. “I saw all these newspapers wrapping flowers. Maybe the industry should think of promoting the post-reading use of newspapers.” The Kansas City Star, another one-person department, had “less money for travel, less money for freelance.” In November, the section name was changed to “Go.” Janet from the Bee said that she went to Antarctica and came back to find out that “we were a regional section and I was a regional writer. But we got a huge response. I’m still on the Antarctica lecture circuit.” Al Borcover, a retired Tribune travel editor who still did a consumer column for the paper, said: “My heart aches for all of you in the newspaper business, having so many problems.”
“I thought of the freelancer who had spoken to us in 1990, and of how much we all now sounded like her, faced with extinction. I was sorry she wasn’t there to hear us.”
Former South Florida Sun-Sentinel Travel Editor Thomas Swick writes one hell of a piece on the near extinction of the newspaper travel section. I know it’s probably difficult for those facing the loss of jobs in “hard news” to care about the plight of travel writers and editors. But I found this piece well-written and poignant. As a writer, it was interesting to hear the editor’s perspective.
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