As journalists from newsrooms across the country started working remotely because of the coronavirus, eventually, a question arose: Could newspapers just eliminate newsrooms and have everyone work from home?
One major newspaper chain is about to find out.
Seven news outlets in the McClatchy chain will work entirely by remote for the rest of the year. McClatchy is moving out of its newsrooms in Miami, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., Columbia (South Carolina) and in three California markets: Modesto, Merced and San Luis Obispo. The moves are expected by August.
The goal: to save costs and prioritize jobs over cubicles. That could be key for the 30-paper McClatchy chain, which is going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and is expected to be sold.
In a statement to Poynter, McClatchy said, “The pandemic has accelerated our organization’s need and ability to work remotely. This has led us to look at new ways to find cost savings, including the exit of real estate leases, which our Chapter 11 reorganization allows. We will exit leases in seven locations and focus our resources where it matters: on saving jobs and delivering on our mission of producing strong, independent local journalism for the communities that we serve.”
Disposing of big, iconic headquarter buildings has happened before, as we’ve seen with The Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. But this move means eliminating newsrooms altogether, at least for the time being. The goal, for now, is for the outlets to find new newsrooms next year. But those newsrooms could be much smaller if it becomes apparent that journalists can work from home and news outlets can continue to publish remotely.
An internal note to McClatchy employees said, “And when we do get back into an office, it will be different. When it is safe again to get back to working as a team in one physical space, we envision an office environment that is more up-to-date and flexible — where we can host visitors, gather and work together in a workspace that complements remote work.”
If the rest of the year goes well, will newspapers even need to find those new homes? And might other papers follow McClatchy’s lead?
In a note to readers, Aminda Marqués González — president, publisher and executive editor of the Miami Herald and the Nuevo Herald and regional director of McClatchy’s Florida news operations — said, “Since mid-March, most of us have been working from home. From pandemic to protests, we haven’t skipped a beat thanks to technology, communication tools that connect us instantaneously and the hard work of our dedicated staff.”
That’s very similar to what Charlotte Observer executive editor Sherry Chisenhall said about that paper moving out of its uptown offices.
“Since mid-March, our team has worked effectively from home while providing vital local news coverage in our community,” she wrote, “Our journalists have covered two ongoing major news stories, reporting on the pandemic and massive protests of racial inequity nearly around the clock, seven days a week.”
But, Chisenhall added, “The pandemic has deeply impacted our business, as it has many others. Revenue has fallen, and a timeline of recovery is uncertain. The move from uptown offices helps ensure that we can keep local journalists on the job, giving our community the daily reporting and accountability journalism you expect from us. Our commitment is as strong as ever to informing the community with essential journalism that helps us all take on the challenges ahead.”
It’s an experiment that news outlets across the country will be keeping a close eye on and it could change the business model of newspapers as we now know them.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.