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Swept Away

Okay, we go from Red and Norm to this. I know. The childish humor will return in short order.


Over the last ten years, it's been abundantly clear that the best sports desk in the state of Iowa has been at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Yes, there's been nothing like the Big Peach in its heyday, but those days are just plain over; when Gannett calls the shots, good reporting dies.

And it's also pretty clear that with the Gazette's quality, the newspaper's independent status, itself a rarity, was no coincidence. All profits stayed "in-house," so the company wasn't paying for someone else's mistakes a thousand miles away. They even got the blogging part right, putting the blogs on wordpress, making them more author-specific than content-specific, and not bothering with making people sign up for yet another username. This all seems like a "well, fucking duh" sort of proposition, but understand this: nobody else in Iowa was getting it. Remember that Randy Peterson blog we linked a while back? Here's the URL for that, and we promise we are not making this up.

How accessible!

But those cruel, cruel waters are taking their toll once again. From that dreadful week in July until even now, Cedar Rapids has been, in effect, a smaller city; downtown remains in traction and neighborhoods close to the river are, in effect, never coming back. We can't imagine that an insurance agency will take that sort of risk again after the last 16 years. Some businesses are back. Some businesses are coming back. Some aren't.

It's the worst thing that could have happened to the Gazette, all as a national economy is in freefall and the Internet devalues the written word. So while the Gazoo is currently operational, unlike the Rocky Mountain News, it operates today with many, many fewer employees.

Sure, there are euphemisms like "reorganization" or "trimming," and it's a lot easier to talk about newspapers with these types of nebulous terms. "What should the industry do," "Is reorganization the key?" and so on. But let's tell it like it is: people who spent years and years with the company are now fired in one fell swoop; careers have just been ended prematurely, swept away like so much flotsam in a flood. Their work experience is in an industry bleeding jobs, not adding them.

We can't necessarily begrudge the Gazette for this move; 2009 Cedar Rapids barely resembles 1999 Cedar Rapids, especially where the balance sheets are probably concerned. It wasn't unexpected. We're told the CEO has a new plan, and for that we suppose we're happy.

Yet at the same time, even though we're clearly trying to stop the rain by shouting at it, it's worrisome--to say the least--that such an across-the-board cutback is taking place at the "good" paper. Reporting will suffer. The 60 years of experience cut from the sports desk will be missed. And anyone who says definitively that they know if this will work is lying. So it goes.