Once upon a time, I was a journalist writing about the business of journalism, and it was one of the most educational experiences in my life.
I learned there was a real difference between companies who made profits based on the strength and demand of their products, and those who could make a profit on feasting off the body of a shaky property.
Newspapers were no longer in the former category by the time I was on the scene. They were losing advertising revenue and readers way back in the late 1990s, and it was a very obvious.
But what was also equally obvious to me was how may of these parent companies operated: they squeezed assets and parsed definitions of what defined certain successes.
For one, the definition of paid circulation changed: from those who actually bought a newspaper, either at the stand or through circulation, to those giveaways they shoved in diners, universities, and laundry mats.
Technically, those were counted as being "sold" for one cent, and that was good enough.
Of course, it was a ridiculous notion. People who buy a newspaper are different than those who are just sitting around and reading free material out of boredom -- and with the latter -- most of those newspapers remained unread -- but would be consideration as part of the circulation numbers.
But that's just the definition parsing.
There is also the asset squeezing that is absolutely contingent on having a property that has nowhere to go but down.
Asset squeezing could still be considered "profitable", but it is akin to someone hard up for cash with little job prospects, so they sell their gold, kick people out of the house to keep costs down, hold garage sales, and then sell off the car and the house.
You can say technically, money is coming in, except it is a short-term smash and grab way of doing it. You are not bringing in any new source of income -- you are just jettisoning cargo as you sell piece by piece until there is nothing left to sell.
And that is precisely what you are seeing now in journalism.
You have asset-squeezers selling off real estate and other assets, while letting journalists go. There is no "profit." It is not as if these companies would be as profitable if they didn't fire their staff. Their corporate strategy is cutting and squeezing until it has gone as far as it can go -- then they either sell the shell to a lower-tier bottom feeding asset-squeezer -- or they close up the property because there is nothing left to squeeze.
That is what we are seeing now, but journalists are throwing fits, as they did in this Philadelphia Inquirer article, absolutely convinced that they should keep their jobs because these overlords are getting rich.
This is utter nonsense. The kind of owners who now are in possession of these properties are asset squeezers because newspapers are dead.
This is the reality of the situation. No one is going to invest in a property that is obsolete.
It didn't have to be this way, however. Had the industry kept up with the times and understood the mandate and focus had to shift, there wouldn't be this problem.
The "dissent" is misplaced. Journalists needed to dissent -- but should have rebelled against their refusal of seeing reality and making the necessary changes to stay relevant.
But when people like me sounded the alarm, we were ignored. It was very distressing watching the destruction of the profession -- because it would have been fairly simple to rejig the focus and get ahead of the future.
It didn't happen -- and we are still seeing denial. It won't change the outcome. It can't.
But that's what happens when you forget to observe the nuances to understand what is happening around you -- and why...