Layoffs are good for newspapers: Globe and Mail communities ed

Mathew Ingram of The Globe and Mail has put himself out there — way out there — with a post for the Nieman Journalism Lab saying that newspaper layoffs are actually a good thing.

“What better way to force some change than by administering a large but hopefully non-lethal shock to the system?”

He asserts a shake-up would jolt the management ranks about moving more quickly to a digital environment. He considers this radical surgery in order to preserve the life of the patient.

He writes:

“The only flaw in this argument — one I am willing to admit up front — is that this presumes that newspaper managers and executives actually know what the proper course of action is, and are only cutting those staff and duties they no longer require, while strengthening those areas of the paper that need more resources.”

There are a few things also in need of consideration:

1. Taking talent out of newsrooms isn’t going to make the digital transformation any speedier or easier. Given layoff provisions in unionized newsrooms, the newest (and often most digitally-savvy) employees are the most vulnerable, so it might actually make transformation more challenging.

2. The notion that losing staff would prompt management to apprehend the challenges is hard to accept. Newsrooms I know may be experiencing difficulty in meeting challenges, but they aren’t unaware of them. It’s hard to figure out how jettisoning talent will help meet those challenges. If those same people are there after layoffs, they’ll keep struggling.

3. Another supposition — that it’s possible to lay off in one newsroom area and furnish more talent to another area — isn’t all that cognizant of the way newsrooms are organized under collective agreements. Your digital operation is bound (with some exceptions) to find itself prone to the same layoffs as the print operation — it’s one collective workforce that’s tough to segregate when layoffs ensue.

Anyway, Ingram scores points for bravery and taps into a sentiment that journalists bear responsibility for some of the ailments of the industry. Judging by the comments at the Nieman Lab, some quarrel with his argument and some think he’s on the right critical track.