That was the collective reaction in the newsroom here at SF Weekly when we heard that David Weir, one of the deans of Bay Area journalism, had been laid off from the Web site Predictify. Weir's news-business credentials are sterling: His past gigs include investigative reporter at Rolling Stone, Editor in Chief at 7x7 magazine, managing editor for Salon.com, executive vice president at KQED, and managing editor of Mother Jones. He was also executive director and co-founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).
Most recently, Weir (pictured with former student Michelle Won) was working at Predictify, a quirky site that invites readers to predict trends in current events. On Thursday he was laid off, according to a somber set of entries on his personal blog. Weir says he loved the job and wishes the company well, with or without him.
It's no secret that print news is in dire straits. The stock price of the New York Times Co., owner of the world's most estimable daily newspaper, fell by 50 percent in 2008. But Weir's predicament brings the doom and gloom down to a personal, and more poignant, scale. If a guy like this can't keep his job in the media landscape of 2009, then who, exactly, does the evolving news business have room for? And what kind of stories will they produce?
We got in touch with Weir to ask for his thoughts. His response, via e-mail:
"It breaks my heart to think that younger journalists might be discouraged by my layoff from a small start-up company in Silicon Valley. Why? Because I am not feeling discouraged myself.
Throughout my long career, I've purposely sought out entrepreneurial opportunities, of which Predictify is simply the latest.
When I accepted the offer to work with this firm, last May, I knew it was a high-risk proposition. In fact, throughout the eight months I spent at the firm, we made tremendous strides, attracting hundreds of thousands of new users to our site and our broadly distributed widgets all over the web...
So what was our problem? As we all know, starting last September, the U.S. economy (as well as the global economy) began to tank. It became very difficult for the kind of small, entrepreneurial ventures that I favor to squeeze new income out of a contracting advertising and business market.
While I cannot comment specifically on Predictify's financial status or prospects, suffice it to say that I understood why I had to be let go. Tough times require tough decisions. The companies that will survive will be the ones that make them before the situation becomes dire.
I remain a huge supporter of Predictify as well as many other content companies that are trying to invent a new business model that might help save our profession of journalism, which is essential to democracy. In fact, I just entered three new questions on the site last night, and I'll continue to do so when I am able.
I also, today, did something I've never before done since my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I applied for a job with the Obama administration.
To all young journalists trying to cope with these troubling times I say: Keep on reporting, reporting, reporting, writing, writing, writing, and editing, editing, editing. Start a blog, send me a link, and I'll try to promote your work. Build your personal brand.
We are the eyes and ears of our society. No matter how difficult times may get, we will be essential, unless, of course, Americans decide it is better to be blind and deaf than informed. I fervently hope that that day never arrives. If it does, there is always the option to move to a remote island in the South Pacific."
Photo by Jeffrey Lau