Pending sale of Pioneer Press comes in tight job market

IB sign
Internet Broadcasting compiles and manages web sites. It has headquarters in Mendota Heights and New York.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

Outside the walls of the Pioneer Press building, managers at media organizations across the Twin Cities are discussing how to take advantage of any bad fortune that might affect the paper's collection of talent. Informed observers see a continuum of possibilities ranging from a handful of layoffs to severe cuts depending on who the successful bidder is.

Mike Sweeney, head of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, whose members make up the editorial staffs at both the Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune says any reporter or editor at the paper who is realistic is preparing a plan B.

"I think they're looking at other things," Sweeney said. "I think they're looking at (public relations) jobs, looking at university jobs--anything that kind of fits into the general area of communications and media."

As far as securing new jobs in print journalism, don't count on it, Sweeney said.

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Nancy Cassutt
Nancy Cassutt is head of content at Internet Broadcasting. She does not envision a time when Internet news sources take the place of newspapers.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

Both Twin Cities large daily papers have little to no hiring outlook. Sweeney has already seen his editorial guild membership at the Pioneer Press shrink by nearly 40 positions in the past five years.

The grim picture is not just in the Twin Cities. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts continued consolidation and convergence of news corporations will make for fierce competition nationwide for jobs at large newspapers. The department says job growth will be slower than average for news reporters over at least the next eight years.

Smaller dailies, alternative weeklies and suburban papers are in a similar situation. Hans Eisenbeis, editor-in-chief at Rake Magazine, a monthly news and arts publication said he's always looking for good writers. But the Rake probably can't help much toward paying down their mortgages.

"That's something that we're always looking for at Rake and would welcome the opportunity," Eisenbies said. "I say that as a kind of backhanded fear for all of those wonderful people over there and keep my fingers crossed. That's a big newsroom and we're a tiny operation here. If you think their margins are bad, ours are pretty bad too."

Rake has a small staff and pays a number of freelancers. Its website lists an opening for an unpaid news intern.

The people who are used to breaking news, and hard investigative types, I think there will be a place. I don't know that we're in that space quite yet.

If there's any hope of growth in the journalism field it might be represented best at a Mendota Heights office park where Internet Broadcasting creates and manages web sites for local television stations. Nancy Cassutt is in charge of content.

"I'm looking always for good copy writers, good copy editors, people who can write snappy headlines, people who know how to lay out a story well," Cassutt said.

While the work is different it can translate well for print reporters, editors and managers who have expanded their bag of skills beyond hard-copy print.

"It's so nice to have the journalist come in and say, 'at least I know how to get the news, I know how to write a good headline, I know my facts are solid. Now, how do I make this much more of a multi-media, clickable, interesting type story,'" she said.

Internet Broadcasting has about 300 employees around the country with headquarters here and in New York City. They work with 72 TV stations. The company recently assembled the online presence for NBC's Olympics coverage.

The trouble is, while Internet Broadcasting can package and present news, it doesn't generate any. The concept relies on television news. Often those stories first appeared on the pages of daily newspapers. Cassutt said while print sources are losing advertising revenue, she doesn't ever see the Internet supplanting newspapers.

"I don't care what you say, you can't sell something if you don't have good content," she said.

Journalists leaving the business have little trouble finding work in public relations, advertising or college level instruction. But such a migration leaves a void of people with a commitment to cover city council meetings, write obituaries and keep tabs on local school boards. Internet sources have yet to find a way to fill those roles, she says.

"The people who are used to breaking news, and hard investigative types, I think there will be a place. I don't know that we're in that space quite yet," Cassutt said.

Pioneer Press reporters say any discussion over finding new jobs is premature and would be moot if an organization buys the paper that values its journalistic mission and is satisfied with its proven, if modest, profitability.

Besides the large media companies bidding for the Pioneer Press, the Newspaper Guild has enlisted a California investment company to come up with its own financing scheme to buy the paper and other former Knight-Ridder properties McClatchy is selling.