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...

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