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Dallas Morning News’ role remains critical despite layoffs and dustups

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By Shawn Williams

The American media scene is in utter chaos.  There’s no way to quantify the uncertainty that is taking place in newsrooms across the country.  People are scared and that includes folks right here in our own back yard.

This week, the Dallas Morning News implemented more layoffs.  The DMNcuts blog posts positions and of individuals that were terminated, though they don’t go so far as to name names.  They also link to a Scibd document that lists the ages of those let go.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to attend the Sensemaking Program at the Poynter Institute of Media studies.  There were about 30 folks who gathered from traditional media, online media and no media to discuss the future of journalism.

Before then I’d never give much thought to the profession of journalism or the values of the profession.   Back then I still read the newspaper everyday and was a subscriber. But I was ready for the old media walls to come tumbling down and welcome the new era of citizen journalists and new media.

While I’m still and advocate for the open web and all the wonderful things that have resulted from the internet’s contribution to media, none of that dismisses the fact that the role played by working journalists is vitally important.  It’s important to a healthy democracy and important to healthy communities.  Newspaper reporters still provide the bulk of the content that radio folks comment on throughout the day.

I understand those who find delight in the pain of our local daily though I disagree with their sentiment. And honestly, I’ve run across my fair share of journos who needed to be taken down a few pegs.  But the work that goes on at places like the Dallas Observer, the Dallas Weekly, D Magazine and the like make our city better. Too often we mix up personalities with the mission.

By no means am I discounting the contributions of organizations like ours.  Whether it’s West Seattle Blog, Voice of San Diego or Q City Metro; hyperlocal sites, blogs,  aggregators and content curators have exponentially increased the information options for citizens.  The appetite for news has never been stronger and it’s almost insatiable.  It the physical piece of paper that has lost it’s place in American society, not the content itself.

However the business model on which most newspapers are built is broken.  It’s a model that is similar to most American business which are all top heavy.  What makes it more difficult is the role newspapers play (or should play) in local communities is in the interest of the public, just like water works, the police department or the sanitation department.

Those businesses would have a tough time making a return to investors too.  Something will eventually have to give on the top end, that’s just a fact.

I think the DMN deserves credit for efforts to reinvent their organization.  The business/news integration strategy implemented a couple of years ago make some folks uncomfortable, but it’s a reality.  I know because I live it everyday.

Their focus on investigations is logical, though I don’t always agree with their execution.  Local politicians have been turned off by local coverage and rightly so. And I still don’t get the whole Parkland thing.

By and large DMN gets it right on the news side more than they get it wrong because of writers like Gromer Jeffers, Scott Goldstein and Tawnell Hobbs as well as editors like Sharon Grigsby.  I hope The News can tinker with their model until they reach something sustainable for the long term, but we’re not there yet.

As the industry works towards a solution it will be important that diversity is valued and the interests of underserved populations are fairly represented.  It will continue to be painful for all of us, but our communities are better for the effort.

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