Thursday, February 5, 2009

Austin American-Statesman sharpens ax

I predicted this a while back, but just now heard of the announcement from a friend who works there: The Austin American-Statesman is offering buyouts to early retirees who are over age 55 and have been at the paper for at least 10 years. They say 130 people fit the bill. Let me list some of the writers you're likely to see flee: John Kelso, Diane Holloway, Michael Corcoran, Kirk Bohls, Brad Buchholz, Denise Gamino... Those last two may not be quite old enough, but you get the idea. Voluntary buyouts are the first step before the bloodletting at newspapers. And they often take away the best writers and the established voices that keep readers coming back for more (see my list).

The Statesman has been largely immune to the staff cuts that have been common elsewhere, but plans by the Cox chain to sell it off apparently have them wanting to get lean and mean in advance. Once the sale goes through, look for larger staffs cuts. It's the same story everywhere as newspapers contribute to their own demises by chopping off their arms and legs. It's a sad story that seems to be unstoppable. The Statesman is a case study in contraction: kill the weekly TV section, nix a separate Sunday classified section for jobs (thanks, Craigslist!), fold the business section more often into the metro section, permanently fold the weekly film section into lifestyles. Slow new hires to a trickle. You get the idea.

I've been saying we'll see major daily newspapers begin to drop their print editions within the next five years. I think that figure may be too generous.

The oddest thing I've notice from the Statesman camp has to do with circulation. They now give away a handful of papers at Austin Community College, where I teach, and have removed the sales rack completely. The free ones are gone by 8 a.m. So they don't want people to buy their paper and are limiting their readers say 10 people? Out of sight; out of mind.


Todd said...

Oh, man, I'd hate to see any of those writers go, but Brad Bucholz especially, one of their best feature writers, one I read regularly, someone I learned from to make my feature writing better.

And I can't agree more . . . papers cutting off their arms and legs --- insane.

Joe M. O'Connell said...

Todd, I'm with you on Brad. He's the best writer they have. It's really sad to watch our newspapers not-so-slowly die...