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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Last one out, please turn off the lights

In the final scene of the iconic Mary Tyler Moore Show, WJM-TV producer Mary Richards -- fired from her job -- looks wistfully at the empty newsroom, turns out the lights and walks away.

That scene has already been repeated at WLVI-TV in Boston and may soon be reality TV (and print) for other media outlets here: WCVB-TV just lost reporter David Boeri and 18 others from behind the scenes through layoffs, buyouts or folks just seeing the writing on the wall; WBZ-TV, struggling with its identity, has eliminated its freelance budget and faces impending layoffs this year.

On the print side of the house, the Boston Herald carefully chronicles the steady drip, drip drip of positions and space on Morrissey Boulevard -- including the latest decision to jettison 19 positions at The Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

If only the Herald were as diligent in marking the depopulation of its own newsroom.

The biggest question about the Globe's latest move is why did it come with editor Marty Baron out of town?

Any one who reads the Boston papers on dead trees can see what has happened. The newshole has shrunk to embarrassing levels. What used to take 30 minutes or more to read in the Globe can usually be dispensed with in 10 minutes or less. The Herald's descent into tabloid hell has been amply chronicled here.

On the TV side, local stations are rushing to the bottom with a mish-mash of fires, accidents and hero victim stories. Serious coverage of state government is non-existent across the media.

The suits will tell you that they are giving people what they want: shorter articles for harried readers (I'm giving up my newspaper reading time for this posting); human interest stories that tear at the heart strings.

In the meantime, Massachusetts had a series of four governors who basically quit work on the job and walked away. The federal government is headed by a tone deaf man who places his legacy above people's lives. And Paris Hilton and Britney Spears dominate the airwaves, print and websites.

The impending changes at the Globe don't augur well -- even if some things get moved to the web. The vapidization of television news (and that of course includes the national fascination whether Katie Couric will or won't make it at night) is already well along, pushed by the pathetic competition among cable TV outlets to sensationalize a sneeze.

The media moguls might argue you get what you pay for -- TV and the web are, for the most part free and ever increasing parts of the newspapers are too when you read them on the web.

But those moguls' argument lose water when you realize the cuts come in defense of "slipping" profit margins -- that is margins that are slipping below 20 percent. They aren't squeezing as many last drops out of the cows.

Eventually, we will get what we pay for -- freebies from people like me (and others with less actually training in news).

Oh Lou.

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