LSJ Layoffs Show Tough Times for Newspapers

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The blog post is simply titled "The End of an Era."

Former Lansing State Journal Columnist John Schneider wrote it after finding out his successor, Mark Mayes was losing his job -- the latest in a string of cutbacks from the newspaper. That means the end of the LSJ's daily metro column, he says.

"The 'lay-off' was a sudden and unexpected blow to Mark and his family, and, I believe, to the entire Lansing area," wrote Schneider. "In my opinion, the column served one of the highest principles of journalism - comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It was a voice for the voiceless, a watchdog, a vehicle for celebrating the goodness in people, a venue for the quirky and the commonplace."

Just a few weeks ago, the LSJ announced it would be consolidating its management, eliminating the executive editor position held by Mickey Hirten for more than a decade.

"Journalism is in trouble," said Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. "Hard copy, particularly print journalism over the last decade or so because of the internet. It's in trouble everywhere: big city, small city, dailies, weeklies, they're all in trouble."

Free online publications have sapped more and more readers from newspapers.

"Not very often," said one man walking downtown, when asked how often he reads a newspaper. "Most of the time it's easier for me to get the same content from the news website. The LSJ doesn't provide a lot of news stories I would actually want to read."

A subscriber called the LSJ's trajectory "disappointing."

"I think it's kind of getting thinner and thinner," she said. "It's less local news and less analysis."

Bill Ballenger says newspapers have to adapt, something radio proved could be done, but print has yet to catch on to.

"Radio's still got a huge place in our society, but it's changed dramatically," he said. "They've adapted.

"The problem is, print hasn't really found a way to adapt yet. They have been downsizing, they have been losing circulation, they have been losing money, I'm sure, and they're trying to do everything they can to stay afloat financially. Unfortunately that means cutting a lot of their editorial talent and making them a weaker paper for readers.

"The problem is, when you cut talent, when you cut your staff, you get rid of top writers, you're not presenting really good stuff to readers. All it does is make it less likely people are going to subscribe to your publication which is the problem they had in the first place."

Ballenger says he thinks the future is in small, niche publications that serve a small audience that's willing to pay for it.

"It's a very narrow market," he said in regard to his own publication. "There aren't many people who want to take it, but those who do want to take it are willing to pay almost anything to get it."

Multiple calls and messages were left with the Lansing State Journal. Those calls were not returned.

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