As journalists, it's impossible to have a conversation with anyone in the business world these days without the tone at some point turning somber: “How's it going?” they ask. “How are you guys doing?”
The news earlier this month that the state's largest media company is shedding more than 150 jobs, including a sizable chunk of its newsroom, means those questions have started again in earnest.
Make no mistake about it: The Star-Ledger is a competitor, and as in other times when the Ledger's operations have gotten smaller, there is an opportunity here for us at NJBIZ to further distinguish ourselves as the leading source of business news in New Jersey. But as in any business, the competition makes us a better newspaper, keeps us honest and keeps us hungry to get the scoop to deliver the best product to our readers. More than that, competition allows us to do our most important job better — that is, being the watchdog of society.
The Ledger's layoffs represent a blow to the business community, also. Without the knowledge that will soon walk out of the Ledger's doors, decision-making will be less sure, insight less available and good news less able to get in front of the public. We've heard before that job cuts at other papers have left companies invisible when they open new locations or introduce new products.
So the hand-wringing is going on in every corner of the state, but to be fair, the writing has been on the wall at the Ledger, and every media company, for years. Production costs have risen, advertising revenue has faltered, and readers have abandoned the centuries-old model of paying for news in favor of free content online. The bottom-line impact has been as predictable as some legislators' voting records. This is an industry in desperate need of reinvention.
Print media has done it before. Newspapers were dead when commercial radio became the American pastime and when television took over the airwaves. Each time it has been tested, this business model found a way to remain a force. So the challenge is out there: Who's innovative enough to save print journalism by fixing its business model?
Can the Ledger find a way to get more revenue from its website? If it can't, and papers continue to lose jobs, the impact will be far-reaching for business. A free press and a hard-charging executive don't always get along, as well we know — but no business benefits if newspapers disappear.