At too many newspapers reporters have been given smart phones to use when they’re out in their beats only to return to the office and work on circa-1980s desktop computers. They sit on chairs that are held together by bubblegum and Scotch tape and talk on phones that are a mix of handsets, cords and cables scavenged from other phones. Photographers use digital still cameras and hi-def video cameras and work on new(ish) computers with big monitors that receive power thanks to enough extension cords and outlet multipliers to bring a fire marshal to tears.
I can not think of a more fitting symbol for a troubled industry then crumbling offices and derelict buildings.
While much of this may exist outside of the watchful, critical eye of readers and advertisers, it is not lost on a newspaper’s staff who, understandably, interpret the poor conditions as a symbol of low regard. To them, if their corporate or private owners cared about them and respected what they did, they would not let them work in that environment.
With revenues continuing to shrink, it is understandable that there will be those readers of this post who will argue that I cannot in good consciousness be suggesting that companies invest limited dollars in infrastructure. While I respect that opinion I think it misses the point. I would say how can you not invest in infrastructure. All the equipment a staff uses, from the pens and pads to the computers and servers to the copy machines and printers have a direct impact on bottom line. Can you imagine an automobile manufacturer expecting its employees to churn out contemporary vehicles using old and broken equipment in an antiquated facility?
I recognize that increasingly, newspaper companies are faced with difficult decisions about how and on what to spend limited funds. But I think the approach of ignoring infrastructure, from office furniture to computers, to phones, to even the paint on the wall and the bulbs that go in the lights, needs to stop. Everyday, editors and publishers expect more and more of their staffs and, all too often, offer less in return. Frankly, there needs to be more of a balancing act otherwise performance will continue to degrade, morale will continue to suffer and more and more employees will continue to leave the industry.
So my advice to newspaper companies is to look elsewhere for savings and to spend at least some of what is needed to improve their facilities. And if the response is that there is no where else to look, I would reply look harder — your business and your future depends on it.