Thursday, July 9, 2009

Woe and more woe for print journalists

"You certainly picked the right time to get out of the newspaper business," a friend said to me last night.

He's right, in a way. I am out of the newspaper business, but not out of the news business. I took a buyout from Gannett a few years ago. But I write and occasionally edit for the New Haven Independent, consult for newspapers and do this blog, which is more commentary, but commentary on the news.

But he's right as far as the newspaper business is concerned. In many ways, we are our own worst enemies.

A few examples. Hearst, which now owns four newspapers in Connecticut (Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, the Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time and Danbury News-Times), announced that it is laying off 11 newsroom employees around Albany, N.Y., including the reader advocate. That's never a good sign. OK, that paper is located in Colonie, for geographic sticklers like the Rev, but who outside New York's Capital Region knows where that is.

The Journal-Register Co., which this week got permission to emerge from bankruptcy protection, got into trouble by, among other things, buying up newspapers willy-nilly, then having to close them because they could not pay the debt-service tab for having bought them.

I hope Hearst isn't repeating the pattern. I have some friends and acquaintances in some of those papers, and I am hoping they won't lose their jobs. Many have been working, as most journalists do these days, long hours for relatively little pay.

I heard from Tony Doris, a former New Haven Register-Journal-Courier reporter who is grinding it out at the Palm Beach Post in Florida as city hall reporter. He read my story about the Journal-News bankruptcy and wrote to bemoan what's going on in the newspaper business.

In Hartford, the folks at the Hartford Courant-Channel 61 amalgam ended up with egg on their faces over a sex and age discrimination lawsuit filed by veteran Channel 61 political reporter Shelly Sindland. In a story by Connecticut News Junkie editor Christine Stuart, the dirty laundry is hung out. Romenesko comments on the story to say, parenthetically on July 8, that it looks as if the Courant pulled the story.

On July 9, however, there's a complete story by Courant reporter Matthew Kauffman airing the dirty laundry, with comments from Courant execs that the other stories didn't have.

Better late than never. I'm glad that the Courant still has a sense of shame. And good for you, Christine Stuart, for getting this out there so the Courant needed to respond. On the other hand, kudos to the Courant for putting the masthead back on top where it belongs.

But I will be watching to see if the shirts get tighter. That's one of Sindland's complaints, that Channel 61's bosses wanted a younger and more sexy look on camera.

At places such as E News Now, bust lines are falling. I'm not complaining, mind you. You expect that at fluff sites where the "reporters" trumpet their inside sources among the celebrities.

But there is no room for that in the news business. Give me news judgment and institutional memory over exposed mammaries any time.

Things have certainly changed from the time that Channel 61 went on the air, trumpeting its anchor team of Pat Sheehan and Susan Christensen because they said they were better than the competition because of their experience and knowledge of the state and the region.

Page 2

In California, where nothing that goes on should surprise anyone, officials in Los Angeles are turning over rocks, trying to fix blame for the millions it cost taxpayers for Michael Jackson's memorial.

So, if I read the New York Times story correctly, the teary-eyed mourners, many of whom make more money in a day than the average Los Angeles taxpayer earns in a year, won't pony up for the security to keep them far away from their fans.

That's a shame. Not surprising, but a shame. The Jacksons, to whom the city was more than kind, don't feel they need to help pay for this. Somebody did pony up for the Staples Center, where the event took place.

But the charge for the police, the other security providers and the rest, should not be borne by the city taxpayers. We're not talking about a poor family trying to collect enough to ship a loved one back home to be buried. We're talking about a couple of dozen of these pampered ones sticking their hands into their pockets and coming up with what amounts to walking-around money for them.

If that doesn't happen, then the city should make sure the next such event is prepaid.

Page 3

I guess you don't have to be bright to be able to swing a tennis racket.

Ask Anna Kournikova. Enough said.

Until next time...

Monday, July 6, 2009

More of the same old story

Happy Monday. I hope you all had a good Fourth. Couldn't go out to fireworks Saturday night because the Jewish Sabbath ended about 9:30, a half hour after New Haven's fireworks party started. Ah, well. Next year, it's on a Sunday, so we can have the same fun.

Well, well. About 20 minutes after I posted my blog entry saying Al Franken should be confirmed as the senator-elect from Minnesota, Norm Coleman, the one-term sitting senator who had been appealing the vote count, finally packed it in and conceded.

I didn't realize he read the Lens. (Just kidding...unlike some, I not that conceited.)

More of the same...

My former employer, the Gannett Corp. has announced 1,400 more layoffs from its approximately 42,000 international staff members. Most of the layoffs will come this week, the company has said. Many experts say Gannett will have to file for bankruptcy protection in 2011 because it will not be able to meet its obligations to bondholders,

All the layoffs will come from its Community Newspaper Division, which means that USA Today staffers won't be affected. I guess it helps to be in the same complex as the executives.

The folks at the Journal-News in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties of New York will have to wait until August to find out how many of them won't be working there when the buzzards leave Hinckley, Ohio, for the winter.

I've been through this layoff business a few times. It's a horrible time for the employees and their families who get the boot, but also is horrible for those who "survive." It's counterproductive for the company as well, since much of the workers' time is spent either polishing resumes, worrying or talking among themselves about the upcoming event.

It doesn't stop there. After the chosen ones have left, the "survivors" face a period of mourning and know the work is not diminished by the fact that fewer people are left to do it. The bosses' expectations are not lessened--if anything, they are heightened. So people who now are looking over their shoulders and are depressed by those empty desks now have to face larger workloads and more ridiculous demands.

It would be good to pin the need for layoffs on the bubble-headed bosses. After all, they created the situation in which the company finds itself. But you can't blame them for the economy's tanking and advertising, especially classified advertising, heading to the Internet.

They haven't found an answer to Craigslist taking so much of the classified ads, which were the backbone of local advertising revenue, but neither has anyone else.

I don't think I would recognize the place if I went back to Westchester. Much of the advertising design is being done in India. Personnel issues are done somewhere else. There is a television studio in the middle of the newsroom where Web casts are produced most days. I hear that isn't working out that well either, but that's hearsay.

The copy desk, which had designed and edited only news pages, now has to design and edit most of the newspaper's sections, plus weekly magazine-type publications, with fewer people than a couple of years ago when they only had news to worry about.

The top executives are still there in the newsroom. There's still an executive editor and managing editor and executive news editor. Same number of chiefs, just fewer worker-bees.

A few words

I suppose I should say a few words about Michael Jackson. Strange, talented, sick, driven, consumed. That's a few words.

Sarah Palin is another story. She could have had a big influence on the way this nation is run. She also is another one with many issues. Thank heaven the election came out the way it did. Could you imagine: the vice president rushing into John McCain's office, screaming that she is quitting because the press and those pesky Democrats were picking on her.

She didn't have much to say and spent a lot of time saying it. She didn't have any original ideas and spent a lot of time hawking old, in many cases bad, ideas. Her family is a near-perfect personification of dysfunctional. She is anything by a role model.

She's gone from the national stage, or soon will be. I hope the Republican National Committee realizes the bullet they dodged and allow her to sink into the tundra. Alaska is better off without her, as are the rest of us.

Until next time...