A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Work from home has been the norm for five months now. Some journalists who were previously accustomed to commuting to the office love this new rhythm. Others deeply miss the office and can’t wait to come back. Some soon won’t have a choice in the matter.
Tribune (TPCO) Publishing has decided to save money by giving up its newsroom space in New York, Allentown, Annapolis, and Orlando. Other publishers have done the same, or are thinking about it. Television networks and other types of media companies are also expected to shrink their footprints in whatever the post-pandemic “new normal” is.
Flexibility and cost savings will be gained, but some things will be lost. Intangibles like newsroom comradery and a sense of place.
Tribune announcement on Wednesday was a “gut punch,” Stephanie Sigafoos of the Morning Call newspaper in eastern Pennsylvania told me.
It was “devastating,” her colleague Jennifer Sheehan added. “We’ve been part of downtown Allentown for almost a century.”
“It’s really difficult working at home but we’ve all done it to be safe, keep our families safe and do our jobs,” Sheehan said. “But it’s not what any of us want. A newsroom allows reporters to bounce ideas off each other, share ideas and offer a sounding board. You don’t get any of that working at home on your kitchen table.”
The bottom line, Sigafoos said: “It’s painful to think of being a newsroom without a newsroom.” When you “take the people out of a newsroom, you take some of the soul of the paper.”
>> Among the papers impacted by Tribune’s decision: the New York Daily News. “A tabloid once famous for its bustling, big-city newsroom no longer has a newsroom,” the New York Times’ Marc Tracy wrote.
‘Journalism isn’t meant to be done in isolation’
Kerry Flynn writes: “It’s no surprise to see Tribune cut real estate costs. During the company’s earnings call last week, CFO Mike Lavey said ‘reducing our real estate footprint’ was among the priorities to ‘sustain ourselves for the long term.’ Gannett CEO Mike Reed made similar remarks in its earnings call last week, noting that the company planned ‘to sell $100 million to $125 million of property by the end of 2021.’ And McClatchy put up for sale the Lexington-Herald Leader newsroom which had an interested buyer earlier this summer.”
Flynn continues: “Papers like the Herald-Leader have a lot of unused space due to cutbacks, regionalization and for other reasons. But these cost-cutting decisions are disheartening to already exhausted newsroom staffers. In Annapolis, Capital Gazette reporter Olivia Sanchez tweeted, ‘This announcement completely extinguished the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic work-wise. Journalism isn’t meant to be done in isolation, we are stronger when we are together and integrated in the communities we serve. We need a newsroom.’”
>> Flynn adds: “Back in May, I wrote about the pandemic pushing journalists out of DC and New York City and how distributed newsrooms could be good for journalism. But journalists still thrive in physical newsrooms. For that story, Medium’s vice president of editorial Siobhan O’Connor told me, ‘I just love nothing more than sitting in a room with other creatives batting story ideas. I get a lot of energy from that and we’re doing that on Zoom and on the phone. I just honestly miss the IRL camaraderie.’”