Serious Newspaper Cuts Hit Syracuse

Advance Publications’ cuts at the New Orleans Times-Picayune took effect this week, and many longtime employees left the newsroom for good. Almost simultaneously, word leaked out that Advance planned to cut about 115 jobs at the Syracuse Post Standard. News of these cuts hit home for me in part because I grew up outside Syracuse, but also because journalism in Syracuse has already been gutted so badly.

When I was growing up, all of the TV stations that served my area were broadcast out of the city. But a lot has changed since then.

In 2009, two Syracuse broadcasters, Granite Broadcasting and Barrington Broadcasting, entered into a joint venture that eventually cost more than 40 jobs at local TV stations. Barrington Broadcasting’s station, WSTM, took over production of local news at Granite Broadcasting’s station, WTVH. That’s right: One station was producing the news for both channels — what we call covert consolidation.

In 2011, Free Press sounded the alarm over the damaging impact covert consolidation was having on more than 100 communities around the U.S. and held up Syracuse as a prime example. 

“They emptied the building, and the newscasts are identical at this point,” Bill Murray, a Syracuse member of the Communications Workers of America, told us in our 2011 paper Outsourcing the News. “It’s the same people. It’s the same crew. It’s the same reporters. It has to be, because Granite has literally no news employees.” Viewers who change the channel from WTVH to WSTM will find the exact same feed rolling — only the logo in the corner of the screen changes.

Syracuse is about one-third the size of New Orleans and has far fewer local journalism resources. New Orleans has its own set of challenges, but is blessed with strong nonprofit, alternative and public media and journalism organizations. Syracuse houses WCNY, the regional public radio and TV hub, and a longstanding alt-weekly, but the newsroom staff of these organizations combined is still less than that of the Post Standard. This isn't by any means a comprehensive survey of local media but a snap shot of the most popular sources.

Syracuse is also home to one of the nation’s leading journalism schools, which features some interesting student and faculty reporting projects (like this, this, this and this). However, there is nothing like the Lens, New Orleans’ ambitious nonprofit online startup. And there’s no sign of the kind of collaboration that has sprung up in New Orleans, and no evidence as there is in the Big Easy that competing papers might move into the city.

As in New Orleans, Advance Publications is also cutting the print run for the Post Standard down to three days a week (starting in January). Advance has argued that these cuts are all part of its move toward a more digital product. Unfortunately, not everyone in the Syracuse region will be able to get online to enjoy that product.

While Syracuse itself enjoys fairly reliable high-speed Internet access, the rural areas surrounding the city are still underserved. According to data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC, New York ranks 23rd in the nation for broadband adoption. Last year, almost six and a half million people in New York lacked high-speed Internet access. As in New Orleans, the digital divide is swiftly becoming an information divide. I’m all for smart experimentation and companies that want to move more swiftly toward their digital future, but slashing newsroom jobs isn’t going to produce a better digital product.  

My concern about these cuts is less about the Post Standard as an institution, and more about the people that institution once housed. While Syracuse itself is a small city, the Syracuse media market encompasses almost 600,000 people and soon only a skeleton crew of print and broadcast journalists will be available to cover the region.

With absentee media owners making deep cuts, there is a unique opening for a new generation of journalists to come in and make their mark on a city that is full of stories. I hope someone will jump at the opportunity ­— but I worry about what will happen in the meantime.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good