Sources that I believe to be reliable and independent tell me that The Billings Gazette is going through another round of layoffs – this time with a twist. Gazette Publisher Mike Gulledge has not yet responded to my messages.
Layoffs are common enough in the newspaper business these days that they are scarcely news. According to the Paper Cuts blog, more than 10 percent of all newspaper jobs – nearly 40,000 jobs - have been eliminated since 2007. And the blog acknowledges that its estimate is probably low. The Gazette’s owner, Lee Enterprises, has laid off 234 people since 2008 just at its largest newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But these latest layoffs are a bit different. Reports are that a half-dozen lost jobs will be covered by outsourcing ad design to companies in India or the Philippines, or both. It’s an increasingly common practice; by one estimate, metro newspapers can save $500,000 a year by tapping into cheaper ad production overseas.
But it may not be surprising that Lee Enterprises would want to keep quiet. When public radio’s “This American Life” reported that American newspapers were trying to save money by outsourcing local news coverage to Journatic, which hires reporters in the Philippines to crank out thinly sourced local stories, the Chicago Tribune suspended use of the company’s stories. Some customers have cut off advertising when they learned that their ads would be built overseas instead of by local workers.
But if Lee is keeping quiet, others aren’t. Express KCS LLC, an American-owned company with more than 600 workers in India, brags on its website about its relationship with Lee. When Lee Enterprises declared bankruptcy last year, it listed a trade debt of $55,554 owed to KCS.
Montana’s loss, apparently, is India’s gain.
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Yet another arts and entertainment publication has hit the streets in Billings. Noise & Color is a free, glossy magazine with a press run of about 3,000 copies and no visible means of advertising support.
Outpost readers will see familiar names there. Staff writer Anna Paige used to write a weekly music column for the Outpost. Editor James Hickman has occasionally written music pieces for us, and his Noise & Color piece on the Farthest Edge band contains remarkable similarities to a piece he wrote on the same band for us.
Editor Pete Tolton hasn’t written for the Outpost, dang it, but we have published some of his poetry. One of the features in the premiere issue of the magazine is about Jason Jam, who once drew a weekly comic strip and has occasionally done editorial cartoons for the Outpost.
The first issue contains the usual share of glitches. At least one photo is a bit pixilated and one is reversed. Some articles are replete with typos, and the magazine has the most illegible and incoherent calendar listings I have ever seen in any publication.
I wish I could say that the Outpost is free of such errors, but I can’t. It’s not that I am above lying, but my lies do conform to certain size restrictions.
More significant may be that the first issue of Noise & Color contains almost no advertising, and in my exhaustive weekly journey through 100 or so of the city’s top delivery locations, I saw it at only a handful. Doesn’t sound like much of a business plan.
The Outpost hits its 15th anniversary this month, and if I have learned anything, it is that it takes a certain madness to go on doing this year after year. Perhaps the people behind Noise & Color aren’t yet crazy enough. But if they keep at it, they will be.
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I was sorry to see that the Gazette’s Ed Kemmick has decided to quit writing his weekly column. It was the first thing I turned to each Sunday and one of the key attractions in the Sunday paper.
In his farewell column, Ed said he was running out of things to say. Not much of an excuse. Real columnists, like David Broder and George Will, manage to keep going for decades after they run out of things to say.
My own column continues to appear weekly without fail in the Outpost, as it has for 15 years. Except for about three times a month.