Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tribune Baltimore layoffs provide a clue to strategy

There is bad news from Baltimore that may have repercussions closer to home.

The Baltimore Sun, owned by Tribune, is laying off fully a third of its newsroom staff. Closer to home, Tribune owns the soon-to-be-combined Hartford Courant and Channel 61, as well as the New Haven Advocate. More about the connection later.

It's not the number of layoffs, although I have ex-colleagues who work there and am worried about them. It's the jobs that will be eliminated that concerns me about where they are going. 

For once, they're keeping the reporters. But they are laying off top editors, news photographers, columnists, sports reporters, copy editors, page designers and graphic artists. (The Sun's designers and artists once were at the top of their field. Other papers sent their designers to learn from them.)

The story says the newsroom was being restructured to fit in all media. It seems as if it is being structured to fit in all media except physical newspapers. 

Here's Len'sLens' instant analysis. Let's see how close I come.

Top editors: You want editors who don't have a strong connection to newsprint and you want to get rid of those who believe a good number of readers and the few advertisers who are left want something the reader can hold in his or her hand. 

News photographers: Who needs them? Just give your reporters cameras that can shoot still photos and videos. That's what Gannett is doing. Keep a couple of pros around just in case.

Columnists: Who needs them? Just let your reporters opine about their beats. Saves a lot of money. Who needs fair, impartial reportage? 

Sports reporters: Keep a few around to follow the major-league and really big college teams. For the rest, get the small-college and high school coaches and members of recreational teams to send in reports and statistics. Besides, most people get their sports from their BlackBerries anyway.

Page designers and graphic artists: Don't need them if there's no page to design and no graphics to create for a newspaper. The artists you want are video designers and Web designers, not people used to working with a physical, 21-inch-long page. See ya!

Copy editors: You'll notice this is out of sequence, keeping the best for last, as it were. It's because this one concerns me. I almost said puzzles me, but it would only puzzle me if I thought the folks running the Sun cared about content. 

Copy editors are the unsung heroes of newspapering. Yes, I was one at various times during my career, and still do some editing. That's called the disclaimer. 

Cutting out copy editors is like a hockey or soccer team taking away the goalie. The copy editor is the last barrier to libel court, to embarrassment, to, for example, the ever-growing numbers of dumb mistakes that require corrections in the New York Times. 

The copy editor should be able to think about the top story, to run it through in his or her head, and then say that this fight in Congress happened in 1858, not 1958.

No matter what format you are using -- paper page, Web page, video, Tweet, you need to have your facts straight. That's why I'm concerned about the copy editors. And the folks who are burning down the Sun should be, too, if they care at all about quality and the peace of mind of their remaining staff.

Believe me, you don't want to pick up a newsroom phone after your publication left out an ingredient in a recipe, or got an important fact wrong in some big shot's obit, or left the "s" out of Johns Hopkins. You get the idea. 

Look, I know that editors who used to handle three stories a night now handle 30. But if you are going to blow the whistle on the governor, you damn well had better have it bullet-proof right. That's when you get your best copy editor on the story and give that person all night to parse it. Can't do it if you laid off all or most of your copy editors.

So, what's all this got to do with us? Watch what's going on at the Courant and Channel 61. See if it follows the pattern. See if that piece of paper, even if it looks dumb with the name running down the side, still rules the roost in a year or so.

Or see if Hartford gets a publication that tries to be all things to all people, and ends up being not much to not many.

I hope I'm wrong. Believe me I hope I'm wrong.

Trading in misery

Did you know there was a secondary market in bankruptcy claims? 

A secondary market is like the secondary market in mortgages. You get a mortgage and the person who originated it sells it to somebody else. Here, you can sell your bankruptcy claims to someone else. Then they trade them, like pork bellies.

Talk about making money on somebody's else's misery. But then again, didn't thousands upon thousands of mortgage brokers make money on somebody's potential (or damn sure to be) misery? Enough said. Just remember, if you are tempted to make money that way, it really does come around to bite you. 

Rant of the day

The word "after." It's used wrong in news reports all the time, and in television talking heads' advice on how to prevent the spread of the swine flu. 

"He was injured after his car hit a tree." What happened: Did he come through the accident OK, but then get beaten up by witnesses? No. He was injured when his car hit a tree.

The latest: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue after you cough and sneeze. So, you sneeze out into the open air, get your snot all over everyone, then cover your mouth and nose. Yes, most people know what they mean, but they need to get it right. They need (drumroll) a good copy editor.

Until next time...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A little niceness to end the week

Living in New Haven is nothing if not surprising.

Certainly, New Haven is gritty. It's a city with crushing poverty and the threat of crime hangs over certain places. 

But it is also a shining place. I just finished going through Charlie Monagan's Connecticut Magazine and its 50 places to eat before you die. Of course, eating kosher, you have a sum total of one -- Claire's Corner Copia's Lithuanian coffee cake. 

But for those who don't have that restriction, New Haven offers much more than its share of wonderful gastronomical treats from haute cuisine at the Union League Cafe to the famous pizza on Wooster Street to the burgers at Louis Lunch. 

There are world-class museums, great theater experiences. Yes, it's hard to navigate the streets without running into a beggar, but unfortunately, that experience is pandemic, even in smaller or richer towns. There are homeless in Greenwich. Deal with it.

The people also are shiny. 

An experience: Westville Village is a triangle about three blocks to a side from the confluence of Whalley Avenue and Fountain Street to Harrison Street near the western end of New Haven. It has more than its share of traffic lights and traffic tends to get sluggish. 

Driving west one day last week, I witnessed a rear-end fender-bender. An older econobox rear-ended an SUV. The driver of the SUV motioned for the two to drive to the curb, out of the flow of traffic, to sort things out. 

It turns out that the driver of the econobox probably shouldn't have been driving it because instead of pulling over, he took a quick left into the triangle-shaped parking lot at the confluence of the two streets. It has a food shop there now but it used to be a lot of things, most recently a Dunkin' Donuts. 

In any case, the driver was looking to escape. I pulled into the parking lot after him, wrote down the license plate, and watched him take a dangerous left through traffic and speed off toward downtown New Haven. I also noticed the hood of the car had been damaged, presumably in this crash.

I then left the parking lot the way I'd entered, pulled to the curb where the SUV driver who'd been rear-ended still was talking to a witness. As I was talking to him, giving him the plate number of the car that hit him, two other cars pulled up, one with a couple and another with a family. They also had pursued the econobox until they got the plate number. 

The SUV driver said his car apparently suffered no damage, but he was glad to have the other guy's plate number, just in case.

I drove home buoyed by the knowledge that my neighbors were these kind of people. I'm sure this incident was repeated a million times a year in communities all over the country. I'm just glad it happened in mine.

Page 2

If this is Friday, then there must be another example of the newspaper business down by the bow and sinking fast. This one is from Tribune Co.

That privately held newspaper giant, bought about a year ago by real estate magnate Sam Zell, who now seems to realize that buying a newspaper, something about which he knows nothing, was a mistake

Now, his lawyers have gone into court to ask that the corporation can pay bonuses to his executives and severance pay to the ever-growing list of laid-off workers. In this area, Tribune owns the soon-to-be-merged Hartford Courant and Channel 61, as well as the New Haven Advocate. 

At least, it isn't paying bonuses to executives contingent on the number of people they fire, as the Journal-Register Co. is trying to to. 

I hear the next session for JRC in bankruptcy court is May 6. If there is anything of local interest, especially with Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal's objection to the bonus-for-layoff scheme, watch for it in the New Haven Independent. 

Page 3

For those in the New Haven Jewish community, there are a couple of events coming up in the next few days. On Saturday, April 25, a kiddish will be given at Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim to mark the first anniversary of  Jerry Gross' death. 

Jerry's kiddish will be sponsored by his wife, Ruth, and his children Jason and Daniel Gross. 

If you want to join the congregation for services, that starts at 9 at the synagogue, 112 Marvel Road at West Elm in New Haven's Westville neighborhood. The kiddish, a post-services get together with good food, usually starts at about 11:30. 

For those who read that there would be a kiddish for Sidney Krauser, the longtime shamos of Bikur Cholim, there has been a change of plans. A memorial is being planned for the end of the 30-day period of mourning. Plans will be posted on the synagogue's Web site:

Sorry for any confusion. 

Page 4

Here it is Friday again. The weekend looks gorgeous, a great time to get outside. It's almost time to dig the garden, but this is April and it could still be wet. Yesterday, weatherman Geoff Fox was yammering about frost. I don't know what he was on about...I just checked the 10-day forecast there wasn't a low forecast below 46 degrees. 

In any case, have a great weekend and, for those in the Tribe, a great Shabbos.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Two men die; had little, but much, in common

This week brought bad news on two fronts to our family, synagogue and that tiny fraternity of print newspaper editors.

On Wednesday, Bill Cotter died after a series of illnesses.  He died too young at 62. 

Today, April 19, 2009, , word came that the Rev. Sidney Krauser had left the Earth after suffering a series of setbacks. He was in his 90s. 

It would be easy to say the two men had never met. After all, Cotter was an Irish Catholic whose roots were in the Lower Naugatuck Valley and  Krauser was an observant Jew, an immigrant from Russia who survived the Holocaust. But in fact, they had quite a bit in common. And their gregarious natures made it possible their lives met, if for a brief time.

Cotter was known as Big C, just C,  at the old Journal Courier of New Haven. The "big" had to do with his physical size, but also his abilities.. For a while, Big C was majordomo at the J-C, making a lot of things work. He held his boss' hands and worked behind the scenes to help them succeed. He was always a crackerjack editor and mentor. Sometimes it got him in the middle of a family issue.

For example, it fell to Big C to help his boss, Editor Don Sharpe, lose weight. Sharpe's wife, Jane, made C go along with Sharpe on his daily weight-loss walk along the entire Sargent Drive. C didn't tell Jane directly that the highlight of the walk was the stop at a restaurant for an ice cream sundae. But Jane found out and Sharpe did indeed lose weight.

I met C when he was a part-time copy editor. He worked a few days a week, after putting in a long day working for a coffee publication in New York, riding the train both ways. His family needed the income and C came through. 

When my family moved to New Haven from East Haddam, C was there, hauling heavy appliances off trucks and up and down stairs. It cost me a couple of beers.

For a while, C drove an Opel reverse convertible -- reverse because can car had a top but the floor was a hint and a hope. 

I'll never forget the night we got pulled over in West Haven. We were both pretty well oiled and C was driving me back to the paper. A cop pulled us over. We were both counting change for the one phone call we would be granted after our inevitable arrest. 

The cop came back, handed Cotter back his license and registration, and stammered, "I'm sorry, Mr. Cotter. I didn't know it was you, Mr. Cotter." and drove away. We both looked at each other with disbelief and burst out laughing.

The only thing we could think of is that either the cop or his supervisors thought the guy driving the piece of junk Opel was another William Cotter, this one a longtime congressman from the Hartford area.  

Cotter knew everybody. He was one of those guys who couldn't walk down the street a block without being greeted five times. That was in New Haven...I can imagine what it was like in his native Valley. He even ran businessman Joel Schiavone's campaign to be state treasurer.

We hadn't been super close, but Bill always had a kind word, a smile. He was good at his craft and good at life. 

So was Sidney Krauser.  We called him Mr. Krauser. There are no reverends in Judaism, but 
he was called the Rev. Krauser as a mark of respect and reverence by Jews and others in all walks of life. 

My wife and I met Mr. Krauser at the end of his more than 60-year career at Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim, where he was shamos, a kind of majordomo. He helped guide the merger nearly 60 years ao of two dissimilar congregations, one mainstream Orthodox, one Lubavitch Hasidic

He also helped guide the synagogue from a large congregation in a palatial building at Winthrop and Derby avenues in Edgewood to a smaller one on Marvel Road in Westville. He ran the cemeteries, led services many times during the week, helped with High Holiday and other holiday services and basically ran the day to day activities of the synagogue.

He reached into the secular world to secure funding for the synagogue and to hire tradesmen for the many repairs that an older building needs. He never deviated from strict observance of his faith, no matter how difficult. If he couldn't walk to synagogue, he stayed in the building or secured a bed nearby.

He took my wife and I under his wing. I was the "grayser Levi," the "big Levite" and it fell to me almost every week to raise the Torah scroll after it was read. When I became president of the synagogue, I thought my job would be to sign checks and leave everything else to Mr. Krauser. It didn't work out that way. He had a stroke and required brain surgery from which he never fully recovered.

He moved a couple of years ago to the Washington, D.C., area to be near his daughter. He will be buried there, probably because he wanted it to be easy for his wife and children to visit his grave.

Two brave, good men who  lived in their own worlds but traveled in many others.

Bon voyage to both. Bill, I hope the road to heaven rises up to meet you. Mr. Krauser, may you find a seat near the Heavenly Throne. You deserve it.

Until next time...

Friday, April 17, 2009

It just keeps getting better for Connecticut readers

There are few enough places where Connecticut citizens can get real news about their state government, and now there is one less.

The New York Times this week said it is killing two weekly sections to save money. One is the Escapes section, which is no great loss.

The other is the Connecticut section, which is.

In truth, there hasn't been a Connecticut section for quite some time. The Times combined the metropolitan areas into one section -- Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut, then zoned it. That means that there are local pages that change for each locality.

I can live without the restaurant reviews and features, the ads for overpriced houses and even the lonely hearts ads. 

But one thing I don't want to live without is the political coverage, especially in this vitally important year when there are election for the state and national legislatures next year and local elections this year. 

With local papers as weak as they are, one counts on the perspectives of the two guys that the financially weak local papers laid off: Mark Paziokas, formerly of the Hartford Courant, and Gregory Hladky, formerly of the New Haven Register. 

Last week's Connecticut section had both these guys on one page, and that's the kind of coverage we need. It's not that the reporters left at the local papers are lousy -- many of them are good. It's that there are so few of them that they don't have time to do an adequate job of covering the state scene.

So, with the Connecticut section going away, and the announcement that freelancers, like Hladky and Paziokas, are being cut back, it does not auger well for the coverage of the state political and legislative scene.

Page 2

Speaking of bankruptcy, it seems the New Haven Register's parent company's bankruptcy case has been put off yet again, this time until next month. The hearing of state Attorney General Dick Blumenthal's objection to the Journal-Register Co.'s plan to pay bonuses to some executives if they lay off enough people, has been put off indefinitely. 

The AG's office says that's not unusual. 

What that does mean is that the workers at the Register and other JRC papers will hang twisting in the wind a little longer. 

Speaking of bankruptcies, even shopping malls are feeling it. The GGP, General Growth Properties, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Along with dozens of others in the nation, GGP owns two huge malls in Connecticut, the Mall at Buckland Hills in Manchester, and the Brass City mall in Waterbury. Small world time: Judge Allan L. Gropper of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan is handling both cases. Just a little trivia.

Page 3

Well, Passover is over. The holiday was wonderful for our family. My wife and I got to spend a couple of days with all the kids and all the grandkids at my daughter's New York apartment. It was wonderful, tiring, uplifting, challenging and all in all, great. And, by the way, it reaffirms why young people have kids, or should. No way we could do this full-time. 

By the way, I haven't written recently, like in the past couple of weeks, because between Passover preparations and work at the New Haven Independent, time has flown. I'll say it again: Since I retired, I've never been so busy.

Page 4

This is supposed to be a glorious weather weekend, at least for Saturday. So get out and enjoy. For our friends in Christianity's Orthodox Rite, have a wonderful Easter. And for those in the Tribe, have a bagel and a wonderful Shabbos.

Until next time...