Democracy dies in darkness

I’ve cancelled my subscription to the News & Record, my employer for 27 years and the paper I was editor of for 13.

If this were Twitter, I’d end the above sentence with “That’s the tweet. 27 years.”

I didn’t cancel because the paper laid off several of my friends yesterday. I cancelled a few months ago, when there was so little in it that I could no longer justify the rising cost.

Yesterday, the paper sent more than 100 years of memory out the door. It now has no graphic artist. No sports columnist. The owners even laid off the editor. (I assume someone will get the title, although probably not in Greensboro. Worth noting that the owners haven’t had the decency to tell the community that it sent the editor and some of the most recognizable names out the door.)

As I understand it, there are now six news reporters to cover the third largest city in North Carolina. One sports reporter.

This is difficult for me to write about; I know the role I played in the decline of the News & Record. I’m not going to revisit that. Jeri Rowe writes about part of that eloquently here. (Although I hate that that photo of me explaining the first layoff in 2007 is becoming my legacy.)

Greensboro and Guilford County deserve better, but it won’t get it. Warren Buffett’s purchase of the paper didn’t save it. It’s not clear that Lee Enterprises has any intention of doing anything more than taking whatever remaining money it can out of Greensboro.

The editor, Cindy Loman, wrote on Facebook: “The revenue impact of COVID really is beyond comprehension. I think N&R revenue dropped by 90 percent for most of the months of the pandemic, and that’s not counting “bad debt” from customers who just can’t pay their bills.”

I used to hear that laying off newspaper journalists was no more important than laying off furniture workers, which happened a few decades ago in Guilford County. I’d often smugly reply that manufacturing a sofa isn’t protected by the Constitution. (Yes, I can be an asshole, I’m sorry to admit.)

I’m aware that by canceling my subscription I have contributed to the paper’s demise. And it’s funny, because if the ownership had presented a vision for the future of its journalism — how it was investing in the community,, what it was doing to understand the needs of its readers, how it was trying to meet me where I am — I’d pay top dollar to help sustain it.

But it hasn’t. And by this move yesterday, it is clear it won’t. I hate it for my friends still there.

Soon, there won’t be a daily paper in the third largest city in North Carolina. It’s time to imagine whether that matters.

5 thoughts on “Democracy dies in darkness

  1. I suppose it’s a truism that a slow death by attrition (or more accurately, serial amputations) is always more excruciating than a quick pulling of the plug. But with a newspaper, the situation is a little more complicated. On the outside, the community is weaned by stages onto other information sources of varying reliability. Or possibly into a state of ignorant indifference. On the inside, the hardy survivors get the benefit of a few more months or even years of income. If they’re lucky, they’re able to use the borrowed time to reinvent themselves in another, more dependable occupation. In the end, it’s left for those of us who’ve been there, who’ve known the joys and heartaches of being part of a robust daily newspaper at it’s prime, to feel a special sadness no one else can fully appreciate. To be sure, a sadness mixed with gratitude for having been there then.

  2. We all know the billionaire owner. Guess he doesn’t like truth either. Will the building be raised for yet another unnecessary hotel? So sorry
    Greensboro. You’ve reshuffled the best, but they (like JRowe) will continue to write & you can’t stop him, we will continue to read, think, read again, and maybe write.

  3. Great comment, Mary Oyewole! What is happening is so sad. I read the paper every day and will miss it when it’s totally gone! Maybe Jeri, John, Cindy and the others should start their own paper!

  4. Well, as Tessio said in Godfather ll: “Tell Mike it was only business”. And that’s pretty much what it comes down to with the N&R. Its coming demise–at least in print–is only about business. Nothing more. Paper and Ink are expensive. And that big beautiful hunk of printing press doesn’t run on air. I’m surprised the Print edition has lasted this long. And I am so impressed at how the ads bounced back after the lockdown. Maybe not full steam, but enough to look respectable. I panicked at the absence of the Rooms to Go double truck. But, hey, its back.

    I worked at the N&R for about 12 years either selling the paper or selling advertising. But I’ve been a subscriber for almost 50 years. I can’t quit now.

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