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News libraries: crisis?

This was posted Monday (11/14) on the Newslib-L mailing list for SLA's News Division by MJ Crowley of the Star-Ledger (NJ):

Today there is news of Knight-Ridder considering a sale of itself. However, beyond that most of you probably are not aware of the downsizing (basically the elimination) of the News Research Library at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Here's a bit of background:
There is yet another buy-out in Philadelphia (along with other KRT sites) in an attempt to reduce the staff of the two newsrooms to save money and increase revenue. Circulation is down (Latest Inquirer circ at 714,609 Sunday, 357,679 daily) at these newspapers as it is among many of the major papers in the U.S. The Philadelphia papers are owned and publicly traded by Knight-Ridder. Both papers are affiliated with a union. When I left the Inquirer/Daily News in 1995 there were 15 people on the library staff.

Here's the current situation: by this past summer, through retirements and prior forced layoffs, the staff size was down to 6 people for two newsrooms (serving staff of approx 600). For this most recent buy-out initiative, The Philadelphia Inquirer's senior management has created an "organization team" with the following mission statement:

To develop a comprehensive list of recommendations to senior management on the future of staffing -- long-and short-term -- throughout the newsroom. We need to make the best use of our talented reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, news editors, copy editors, researchers and online staff to create a news report that is distinctive and relevant to a rapidly changing readership. Through the integration of certain departments we will try to find a way to improve the versatility and strength of the staff so we can produce a more compelling and visually engaging news report.

What is going to happen to the library?

"We will likely be reducing the staffing in the news research library. While our plans are not yet final, it looks likely that the staffing will consist of no more than two people, and that the job will consist mainly of archiving. Reporters, editors and photographers in both The Daily News and The Inquirer will be given extensive training in Lexis/Nexis, DocCenter and Internet research in general so that they will be able to handle their own routine searches. In this Internet age, every reporter should be able to quickly locate basic information. It is a necessary journalistic skill set in the 21st Century.

Separately, we will be augmenting our Computer Assisted Reporting staff to provide more reporting and more database research for our watchdog efforts and for bigger projects. These positions will require an ability to report independently, as well as to do sophisticated data analysis. Those postings have just gone up."

I send you this information, not because I hold hope that there is anything that can be done to prevent this "mistake" in Philadelphia. I send it because you all need to know about this situation.

Additionally we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.


Here are some additional questions (We KNOW what OUR answers are - but ARE THOSE ANSWERS the same as management's?) :

1) Has management gotten the wrong message (or no message) about the value of the news library?

2) Is basic information enough? or Are library researchers really necessary when everyone has GOOGLE?

3) Is it realistic that all reporters can do there own research? (Have we "trained" ourselves out of job?)

4) WHAT IF our news organizations don't desire "proper" information management and archiving?

5) What is the role of the library in the future news organization? If companies don't support ongoing training for newsroom staff, then how can librarians/news researchers fulfill their increased roles as "research and database coaches?"

6) Where is the leadership in news libraries? Library management skills are important, but how and when can we develop and demonstrate our leadership talent to those BEYOND the newsroom - those in charge of the bottom line? What more should we be doing?

I am not simply suggesting a back and forth discussion on the listserv.

I think it's time for all of us in the News Division to conduct some serious and major discussions ...at conference ... in writing (News Library News and more)... on the web ... in committees... AND - beyond discussion - consider WHAT actions can be taken that will make a difference.

* What is our worth to the news organization...and the bottom line?
* Are we an asset or a liability? How can we demonstrate our value?
* Have you served your boss today? And does he/she know it?

Obviously, there is much more to this topic than all these questions, but we need to get started and soon.

BTW, Barbara Semonche kindly points out some links that address some earlier examples of "vanishing" news libraries, most notably Nora Paul's and Kathy Hansen's "News Libraries in Crisis."


This is why I wrote my thesis on this topic in 2003 - what can news libraries do to stave off closure. Paul and Hansen's works were one of my main references.

My position was that information literacy could be the key. At the time, the library I worked in saw the news library closed and many of its responsibilities transferred to our library. The journalists were trained on Factiva, and that was that.

I no longer work in the news library sector, but I'm sad to see that some managers still assume one database is enough.

In corporations, the closing of the library is often the foretelling of the corporation itself failing. Let's hope that these news organization are not foretelling of their own deaths with this move.

i can't open this link "News Libraries in Crisis"
can u place it on your blog?

I can't, in good conscience, post the whole article. Please try the link again ... it's working, as of this time.