When you hear about the massive downsizing of newsrooms across the country, usually the discussion focuses on the loss of institutional knowledge, or how readers are being asked to pay more for less, or how lay offs are a shortsighted way for newspapers to stay profitable.
All that is true. But the chaotic climate at newspapers is leading to another shoot-yourself-in-the-foot consequence: When newspapers shed staff and create uncertainty in newsrooms, they wind up creating new competitors who happen to be the very journalists they used to employ.
That’s what’s happening with a new online start up in San Antonio, Plaza de Armas. It was founded by Greg Jefferson, a former political writer for the San Antonio Express-News, and Elaine Wolff, the former editor of the San Antonio Current, the city’s alternative weekly.
The website’s official launch was today. It’s the first local news site in San Antonio that will try to stay profitable through an online subscription model. Subscribers will pay $5.99 a month or $60 a year for exclusive content.
Elaine and Greg weren’t laid off by their employers like so many of our colleagues. But the survivors of today’s newsrooms must ask themselves some tough questions: Do we have a future at our publication? Is this still a place where we can do good work? Is it time to move on?
We all come up with our own answers, and Greg and Elaine reached the conclusion it was time to strike out on their own. They might be successful. Or they might fail. But they decided to take a chance, and now the Current and the Express-News are going to have to scramble to catch up with any scoops published by the well-wired news veterans at Plaza de Armas.
Plaza de Armas is an alternative voice that, overall, is good for readers. But it’s also an offspring of the turmoil at the Current and the Express-News. Now both newspapers have one more competitor to deal with.