Today we introduce a new feature called The Media Speculum.
A speculum, of course, is a medical tool for investigating body cavities. When your doctor sticks that funny little flashlight thingy up your nose or in your ear, that's a speculum. OK, technically the whole thing's called an otoscope, but the business end -- that little funnel-shaped disposable tip that does the actual penetration -- is a speculum.
Which is where the inspiration for The Media Speculum originates. He probes the media-related questions of the day -- peering into the big, scary orifice that is modern journalism -- so you don't have to.
This week's question posed to The Media Speculum is, "Have newspapers gone crazy?"
The short answer: Yes.
The long answer: Y-e-e-e-e-e-e-s-s-s-s-s-s.
Following close examination of the local news media the past few weeks, The Media Speculum's professional diagnosis is:
That's right, people. Examining the news media turns out to be an awful lot like peering into a body cavity. It's dark in there. And it smells funny. And it's usually full of all sorts of icky things. Earwax. Boogers. Glenn Beck. That creepy lawyer who created TMZ.
It has been, to say the least, a wild few weeks in the newspaper business here in the Beehive State. And the Deseret News got the ball rolling on Aug. 30 when it announced it was laying off 85 people -- roughly 43 percent of its newsroom.
Cutting your staff by almost half would, in most circles, be seen as "cutbacks." Not so on Planet Deseret, where they choose to see the Dixie Cup of Kool-Aid as half-full.
"Our plan actually expands news coverage and analysis even in the face of the economic realities we face," Deseret News CEO and President Clark Gilbert told The Associated Press.
Ah, the ol' expansion-by-contraction theory, eh?
Well, The Media Speculum has a bit of friendly advice for the folks at the Deseret News:
Look. We get it. It had to be done. For years, we've all winked at the fact that your newsroom was as bloated as a week-old dead cow. The conventional wisdom in newspapering had always been one newsroom employee for every 1,000 subscribers. The Deseret News, with a daily circulation of 72,000, had nearly 200 employees in the newsroom. You do the math.
Cutting costs? Completely understandable. But don't lay off 85 professional journalists, add a bunch of volunteer "values-based" writers or some such, and try to tell us that you've "expanded" coverage. C'mon, you're a newspaper (or were, anyway). Your whole raison d'etre was cutting through all the doublespeak and explaining things in straightforward terms.
For its part, The Salt Lake Tribune couldn't help jumping on the Deseret News story with both feet. And The Media Speculum's favorite media moment in this recent upheaval came when Tribune reporter Paul Beebe wrote that "any significant change (to the Deseret News) could affect The Salt Lake Tribune, which has a joint operating agreement with the News that doesn't expire until 2020. Under the agreement, the papers jointly own MediaOne, a company that provides advertising, printing and circulation services for both."
Certainly, a valid concern. But then, came the kicker:
"Tribune executives declined to comment for this story," Beebe wrote.
Whaaaa? So, basically, what you're saying is that The Salt Lake Tribune actually got a "no comment" ... from itself?
And just when it sounded like it was all bad news for newspapers this month, The Media Speculum has learned of some very good news. A bit closer to home, the Davis County Clipper has announced it will now be publishing its first-ever Sunday edition.
Well, sort of.
"The Sunday issue will actually be printed on Saturday mornings and will be distributed to carriers by 10 a.m. Saturday for distribution," according to a front-page story in the Sept. 9 Clipper. This will, among other things, keep the carriers from having to work on Sunday.
OK, so the Clipper will publish a Sunday paper, but deliver it on Saturday. Not to split hairs here, but doesn't that, by definition, sorta make it a Saturday paper?
And finally, no column by The Media Speculum would be complete without a little self-examination. That's right, we here at the Standard-Examiner are not afraid to turn the otoscope of media criticism on ourselves and peer into our own dirty little orifices.
Indeed, The Media Speculum has two primary bones to pick with the Standard-Examiner this week. Namely, he continues to chafe at the newspaper's silly name change from "newsroom" to "content center."
That, and he believes The Media Speculum is GROSSLY underpaid.
Got a media question? Contact The Media Speculum at 801- 625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.