SMG: The villain is the world

First, it was Gannett.

Then, it was Advance Media.

Then, it was Alden Capital.

This week, it’s Tronc.

Obviously, Monday’s layoffs at the New York Daily News are cataclysmic for that city and for the industry. They feel bigger and worse because they hit the nation’s biggest media market and are shredding a proud and vibrant newsroom.

It’s easy to blame Tronc for this – and it’s proper to do so. Like so many corporate owners, they have prioritized executive pay and benefits over their workers. They, like so many corporate owners, treat journalism like a commodity rather than as a public service, looking at the work as just numbers on a spreadsheet rather than as a part of a larger community.

But the villain is Tronc today. It’s been Gannett, Advanced, Alden in the past. Tomorrow, it will be another corporate owner that is the villain.

It reminds me of my interview with Bryan Curtis for The Other 51 earlier this year.

The sad fact is, the business model that newspapers were built on for most of the 20th century is not compatible with the 21st century media world. In the parlance of Vin Crosbie, my grad-school professor, the economics of newspapers (and all other mass media outlets) were built for a world of scarcity, not our current world of abundance. It’s not just that people aren’t paying for news, or that Craigslist took over the classified ad section, or Google and Facebook dominate online advertising. It’s all of these things combined and more.

The corporate owners who have valued their own profit margins and executive bonuses will always be the easy villains in this story.

But there’s also unavoidable fact that the world has changed, and the business model that sustained daily journalism for a century is no longer viable. That doesn’t justify corporate greed. But if we are going to look at this issue with clear eyes and look for a real solution, we need to recognized the fact that sometimes, the villain is just the world.