Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A short break from blogging

Unfortunately, my brother has not responded to treatments, dialysis or several antibiotics and the situation is not looking good.

So I am headed to California to visit him in the hospital. Your prayers have been appreciated and at this point we are looking and praying for a miracle.

See you next week.

A buyout second chance

Just arrived home from Buffalo and found a couple of messages informing me that there has been an extension of the buyout offers at the Flint Journal for an additional two weeks. I noticed that Jim Carty is reporting the same thing for Ann Arbor on his blog.

The profit and loss numbers are in and the news is horrid. So the company wants to give those who have decided to stay one last chance to take the buyouts. It may be more of a "we warned you" type situation than an actual need for more people to take the buyouts.

Lots of rumors swirling about the central copy desk situation with one rumor that the New York owners don't think it will work and at the same time think it saves too many copy desk jobs, up to 70.

So for those who were thinking of staying, the new offer simply gives them just that much more to think about.

According to those at the meetings, Publisher Dave Sharp did not paint a very pretty picture of the current bottom line of the chain.

I couldn't feel worse for my friends left behind and I really wish there was a silver lining for them.

A dream and an adventure lived in real time

Wow, again thanks to Jim Carty at Paper Tiger No More for pointing me (and everyone who reads his blog) to the adventures of another former Booth newspaper reporter who is living a dream while blogging about it.

Here's the link to his very first post back in April, but don't stop there he is a terrific writer who is on an adventure that I certainly wish I had done at his age.

http://nathanfenno.blogspot.com/2008/04/life-off-sidelines.html

Monday, December 29, 2008

Buffalo, the new windy city

Forget the "Queen City" moniker, Buffalo, NY, on Sunday should have replaced Chicago as the windy city. With temperatures soaring to 60 degrees on Saturday there was widespread flooding (OK, give Al Gore back his Oscar) and then on Sunday all heck broke loose with the wind.

Gusts up to 75 mph swept through here all day yesterday and seriously changed the outlook for the Buffalo Bills versus New England Patriots game. If you saw any of the highlights (we watched it live) you will notice that a field goal attempt from the 30-yard line was blown well wide right because of the wind.

But at least the Detroit Lions didn't screw up their appointment with history Sunday, finally ending the misery at 0-16 for the season.

We're driving home Tuesday and the weather forecast is for an uneventful weather day. Yeah!

Gannett blog added to links

As requested by a FFE reader I have installed a link to the Gannett blog at the right. If you are interested in the daily happenings at one of the nation's biggest newspaper chains that's the source.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Notes from "Inside Out"

A long time friend has posted an interesting set of items on her blog, "Inside Out," including a nice shout out to Free From Editors. Thanks MCW!

http://mcwflint.blogspot.com/2008/12/first-words-on-their-last-day-and-other.html

I'm adding a link to her blog on the link list to the right.

Another newspaper perspective

A good read I borrowed off a blog from a former FJ employee. In addition to the former editor's column there is a column written by a UNC journalism professor that is a pretty good read also.

http://www.metrosantacruz.com/metro-santa-cruz/12.03.08/cover-0849.html

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Prayers requested for my brother

My younger brother, my only brother, Mike (with me in 2007 photo at right), is in a California hospital in intensive care in critical condition.

He entered the hospital in critical condition a week ago, improved enough to be moved out of ICU a couple days ago, but has been transferred back in after a serious infection he has regressed.

We are praying that the doctors will find what is ailing my brother, a fellow Vietnam veteran who has suffered from ill health from nearly the time he left the service, and that he can be restored to full and complete health.

For now, he has asked that I not come out there as he doesn't want visitors, and his wife, Barbara, is taking good care of him.If you are a praying person, and we believe that prayer works, please put Michael on your list.

Thank you.

Booth spin is widespread, apparently

See these two columns from former Ann Arbor News folks now writing online:

From Jim Carty:

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/12/former-newsie-mary-morgan-what-news.html

From the online Ann Arbor Chronicle:

http://annarborchronicle.com/2008/12/26/column-what-the-ann-arbor-news-needs/

Make sure you read the comments, especially on the Ann Arbor Chronicle article.

Shame on a news organization that demands accountability and honesty from everyone else, to not model the behavior when the finger points at them.

A sad tale with a happy ending

My stepdaughter in Boston forwarded the following news article:

Detroit, MI (AP) - A seven-year-old boy was at the center of a Detroit courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him. The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the judge initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with child custody law and regulations requiring that family unity be maintained to the greatest degree possible.
The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and he adamantly refused to live with her. When the judge then suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy cried out that they also beat him.
After considering the remainder of the immediate family and learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, the judge took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him.
After two recesses to check legal references and confer with child welfare officials, the judge granted temporary custody to the Detroit Lions, whom the boy firmly believes is not capable of beating anyone.

Friday, December 26, 2008

With a week to go, the newsroom is halved again

Several editors, including the features editor who has already taken the buyout and left, will be leaving the Flint Journal, some at the end of April with the rest sticking around until August when the central copy desk puts Flint into the Grand Rapids mix.

A veteran features reporter is expected to leave by the end of April. She has done some of the best and most noticed work at the Journal as far as features. Two newsroom full-time reporters, including my desk mate for six years are also taking the buyout. One is leaving by the end of January, my desk mate's date is undetermined at this point.

Two copy desk folks are for sure leaving, including a young man (a former State News alum like me) who toyed with last year's buyout so he could go back to school then. Maybe he will continue those plans now. The other copy desk person I'm not as familiar with, but both have undetermined dates of departure.

It appears my favorite editor, the one who unquestionably has the best touch with reporters and knows how to actually edit a story to improve and better organize it, as well as the only one who has had the strength to stand up to the incompetents who run the place, is also apparently departing. Good for her, she never had a chance with the women haters who run the place. I understand she may be gone by April. Her loss will undoubtedly show up in the reduced editing quality of the newspaper.

The sports editor is also on his way out, he's new enough that I don't remember him. His date is, as yet, undetermined.

Three imaging folks with a long history with the Journal are also taking the buyout (read pushed out) at an undetermined date. The TV Guide paginator is leaving along with the entire advertising production staff.

A number of the departing reporters, imaging and pagination folks are African-Americans. At one time the Journal made a good and conscious effort to increase the representation of blacks in the newsroom to reflect the community of Flint. Looks like that effort is pretty much over now. Sad, very sad.

Two copy desk folks, including a former reporter and veteran Journal employee and a newer female desk employee are seeking a spot in Grand Rapids. Two sports copy desk folks are seeking similar spots in Grand Rapids.

The former photo editor, who was severely injured in a motorcycle accident months ago, looks to be reassigned to Saginaw or Bay City when he is able to return to work.

Safe and staying in Flint as reporters are five reporters with more than five (and in some cases much more time) years experience, while four reporters with less than five years news experience are also staying. That's a pretty thin number of reporters to, in the words of the current, but soon to be gone editor, "continue to do everything we've done before."

Two features columnists with wide name recognition were not offered buyouts so presumably they are safe as well.

The Metro editor and his faithful sidekick, a design editor, were not offered buyouts and for reasons known only to those in charge are going to continue on with their work that has brought the Journal to this point.

With the emphasis on Internet media, none of the current Internet team were offered buyouts and two full-time photographers were also left out of the buyout offer and are presumably safe in Flint. At least three longtime sports reporters are also safe as well as the editorial assistant.


There's a long list of those who have an uncertain future: The current business editor, a woman copy desk employee, two designers, both who were hired after the last round of buyouts. One left a job at the Oakland Press to take the job at the Journal last year. Talk about jumping from the fire into the frying pan.

At least one part-time features writer will leave at the end of the year, but there are a list of part-time copy desk, page designers and copy desk folks and regular and sports part-timers who have an uncertain future. Some of them have been long time part-time employees. Supposedly they will receive some type of severance, but nothing close to the buyout offers, I am told.

There are three employees who are on 10-hour a week contracts (former retirees) whose status is unknown, but likely safe because of the small amount of money they cost the company.

So for the second straight year, the Journal will reduce by about half its content producers. Presumably this is being done to help the bottom line. In the end it will simply accelerate the slide into oblivion for the newspaper, but it will save, for a year or two the comfy positions of a few at the top who should have been the first ones shown the door.

With the new year, I will reduce my blogging about Booth. I mean really, what more can be said. The lame management that has brought the company to the brink, remains. While there are many good folks remaining to produce the copy, there are not enough of them to really make a difference and it appears the die is cast.

So, as I learn of new things, I will post them, but maybe one of the new buyout recipients will continue the coverage through their sources on a more consistent basis. Free From Editors will continue on, but just won't be as focused on the Flint Journal and Booth.

Heading to sunny Buffalo, NY for the weekend

We're off on one of our monthly excursions to the Queen City, Buffalo, NY, to help the folks.

As always, if I can pirate a wireless signal, blogging will continue, but likely at a reduced rate.

So enjoy 'boxing day' as we will be passing through Canada during their big after Christmas holiday. Through the magic of the blogpost time machine there will be some posts that I have already completed that will show up over the weekend.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Remember the reason for the season. "Unto us a child is born....."

From my family to yours, God Bless you and have a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Booth News on Friday

Finally have a nearly complete list of those at the Flint Journal who are leaving, those who are staying and a number still on the fence. It will take me a little time to put it together in a form where (1), names are not used, and (2), a form that will make sense and will give an accurate count of how many are leaving, how many are vying for positions at Grand Rapids and those who are kind of left out in the cold. Right now I have a pile of packages to wrap.

I understand that the editor has been having a second round of meetings with certain people giving them that added little push to take the buy out.

What I have learned is that the paper's two lead columnists were not offered buyouts as well as a couple other key folks. That is a major change from last year's offer. But take Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off and come back Friday for the news.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In limbo on Booth news

Still waiting for some final numbers on who stayed and who left at the Journal. I understand there is a great deal of consternation among copy editors who must make the difficult choice of taking the buyout or hoping for a chance at a smaller pool of jobs in Grand Rapids.

There is also word that the annual profit and subscription numbers are even worse than anticipated which does not bode well for the future.

No word yet either on how many part-timers will be invited to stay or shown the door.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This former publisher asked and answered the question I have been asking for the past 8 years, both in and out of the newspaper business.

"How can the newspaper charge one group of subscribers a fee and yet, give the same information away on the Internet for free? The answer was always: "We have to have a presence there." Well, yes, but don't you need to charge for it?," I would ask.

Well here's a column that sums up how I felt and still feel about that issue.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-giago/the-slow-death-of-america_b_152591.html

A singing Christmas Card for you




Sung by The Drifters. Cartoon by Joshua Held.
Featuring Bill Pinkney on lead bass and Clyde McPhatter on tenor.
An animated Christmas Card, and a homage to a great song, a great band, and a great Holiday.

South Dakota checks in


OK, with the visit from someone from South Dakota there are only two states left who haven't visited Free From Editors. Wyoming and North Dakota where are you?
I hope the blue flag below Old Glory is actually the real South Dakota flag.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flint Journal, Saginaw News duped by woman

For veteran reporters, people with a sob story so sad it seems perfect should always ask a few more questions before they publish. Most recent case in point:

http://www.mlive.com/flintjournal/index.ssf/2008/12/flint_womans_tale_of_woe_falls.html#2225496

What could you do when you were 7?

At 7, I think the most creative thing I did was make a cabin out of Lincoln Logs. This kid is amazing and he is only 7 years old. There's plenty more of this wonderful child, Ethan Bortnick, on You Tube.

We're dreaming of a green Christmas!

Well, so much for a green Christmas. On Friday we got dumped on. Somewhere between 8-10 inches of snow is piled up in our yard. It took my more than two hours to clear my driveway and the one belonging to the lady who lives across the street.
What is worse is that we live on the main drag for the Road Commission and the snow plows pass by here every ten minutes scraping more and more snow into my driveway entrance.
This morning (and early) afternoon I spent a couple more hours using my roof rake to pull tons of snow off the roof of our house. For readers in warmer climes, there is a condition called snow dams that cause roof damage if snow melts and then freezes and backs up under the roof shingles.
So anytime we get more than 4-inches of snow I pull as much snow off the roof as possible to avoid the problem.
Anyway, I'd love for Al Gore to come here right now and explain global warming to me once again. This winter looks to be worse than last and that was a record one.
I could have a little more Booth news on Monday, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go figure, statistics on a cold day and a Merry Christmas

Just wanted to stop for a minute to acknowledge a tremendous increase in traffic on Free From Editors since late October. My Google analytics program shows that more than 2,000 new folks have found their way here since Halloween.

A slow day on the site is now 400 hits, compared to 80-90 back in March and I have regular readers from 205 Michigan cities. Understandably most of the traffic comes from Booth cities like Saginaw, Bay City, Flint, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids and the suburbs surrounding those cities. For example, Flint area readers frequently check in from Grand Blanc and Burton.

But I also receive a fair share of visits from Waterford, Lansing and even regular visits from someone in Marquette. As I said previously, I have had visits from every state in the country except Wyoming and the two Dakotas. Not sure any of those states knows what a computer is anyway.

Since starting this project more than a year ago, I've learned how to embed videos, upload photos, link to other blogs, set posts for later publication and other computer skills I would never imagine I could learn. Hey, maybe, Newhouse would hire me to work with their new Special Projects guy. I know at least as much as he does about working online.

All that to say that I appreciate all of the folks who stop in here and comment (positively or negatively) and your patience with my occasional lapses in judgment.

To be honest there isn't much left to say about the current state of Booth/Newhouse. They seem to be on a trek to slowly bleed to death with no real leadership in sight. But as new things come up, and certainly they will, I will post them.

For example, I'm compiling a list of former colleagues who are now either set on taking the buyout, those on the fence, those being pushed and those who are safe for the next round. As soon as I have a clearer picture (one very good copy editor just signed her papers for the buyout on Monday - a huge loss for the Journal) I will post them.

Blogging may slow a little over the Christmas holiday as we, like all of you no doubt, are very busy with family, church, activities, travel and the other range of things people do during the holidays. Tonight my wife and I and members of my church are hosting a discussion of Rick Warren's "Purpose of Christmas" and a party following for a group of senior citizens in a Davison senior living complex.

As always, if I see something interesting (newspaper related, or not) I will post it.

From me to you: Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Towels, and how to throw them in

For the past several hours I've been digesting the news about the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News decision to limit daily newspaper delivery and move to an online delivery program.

While I understand the desperation and the gloom of the impending journalistic train wreck, it just seems that almost universally the brains who run newspaper organizations are, well, without brains.

From what I understand, even in today's plunging market, the only part of any newspaper's operation that is making real money is the print side. Oh sure, managers brag about the number of hits and page views, but what they don't mention is how that relates to incoming revenue.

So on the one hand, the Free Press and Detroit News have it right, the product is news and to the extent you can save your news gathering organization you can still market that side of it. But going to mostly online begs the question of how that will make more money.

I see where the online edition will cost $12 a month and will come to readers in a printable format. So now, we're giving people the newspaper, but making them print it at home. Sounds a little like going to Burger King where they will supply the meat patty, but you have to bring the bun and condiments and still pay the same price for the burger.

It may not take long for some sharp blogger to figure out how to take the online version and then distribute to an e-mail list of their own for free or a much cheaper price. Articles will be ripped off, copied and distributed as they are now.

People are too used to getting their online news for free and I don't see a lot of people willing to pony up the new online subscription rate. But again, at least the Freep and Detroit News are trying to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Besides when I go out to breakfast, I don't want to take my laptop with me to try and run through computer pages while I eat.

Then you have the Booth model. The one that says, people don't care what's in the paper or who gets the news so you eviscerate the news gathering staff and lean on the same poor, incompetent leadership that brought you to this point. This is the model I really don't understand.

Imagine an airline that had one airline cockpit crew that every time they were assigned a flight it crash landed and everyone but the crew was lost. At some point you would think that the CEOs of that airline would say, I think the flight crew may be the problem and not the passengers.

But Booth is taking off on a new flight, but again with the same flight crew that brought down the plane the last time. Someone smarter than I said you can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results.

Then you have the Journal Register Co. model that plans to replace much of the reporting staff with hobby journalists working for free. Sort of like a car repair garage turning over its business to a bunch of weekend car warriors.

Everyone thinks they can do another person's job better than they can (just ask any football or baseball coach) but despite what people think, doing a reporter or editor's job is not as easy as it looks and requires a certain skill set. So turning over the steering wheel of a newspaper to an unlicensed, underage driver is really insane.

But all this flailing around is a product of having incompetent people at the top who are more concerned about keeping their jobs than improving the product. With the obvious impact their incompetence is having on many decent young people with careers on the line, I frankly don't know how they sleep at night.

The one thing all three models have in common is they are blowing a big kiss-off to the biggest group of their loyal readers, the ones who have bought and purchased their dead tree product for years. They are consciously writing off a large, profitable segment of their readership without a clue as to how to attract the young readers they desire and need.

Who knew that the eventually newspaper model would be for the newspaper to be the one to cancel the subscriptions of loyal readers. All of this looks like a strange way to throw in the towel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Alice in Journalismland time

It's really getting stupid out in journalism land. Jim Carty on his blog referenced the Free Press and Detroit News situation, but added some additional information about my former employer, The Oakland Press.

While the Free Press looks like it is launching the Hail Mary and putting all its eggs in the online basket, at least they realize that "content producers" should be retained. Whether this works or not remains to be seen, but at least they realize what their product really is.

Not so for the Journal-Register Co., the new and highly unprofitable owner of the Oakland Press and a number of other newspapers who in exchange for real journalism is now offering short courses in journalism - taught by Press editors (at least a couple who know what they are doing) - for some of its readers. The rewards for that, well, read it in editor Glenn Gilbert's own words:

"For those who complete the instruction, we offer the opportunity to get your work published online or in the print edition. This experience would be especially helpful for high school and college students viewing careers in the communications field. In addition, others can work toward becoming members of our freelance stable of journalists."

Great experience and clips for more non-existent journalism jobs, who does this clown think he's kidding? Emphasize the "free" in freelance. You can read the whole tripe filled column here:

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2008/12/13/opinion/doc4944876017642127238243.txt

The next link is a little old, but has some very prophetic information in it from August:

http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=9594

And if you want to read what Jim Carty had to say about all this, go here:

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/12/you-work-for-me-you-work-for-free-what.html

Flint Mayor Donald J. Williamson

What follows is the obviously edited highlights from Flint Mayor Don Williamson's deposition involving his demanding the arrest of a Flint Journal carrier for peddling newspapers at City Hall.
I'm posting this because several of the out-of-state freefromeditors readers have asked me off line about Flint's colorful mayor. This just about says it all. If you want more go to Youtube.com and search for Mayor Donald J. Williamson. All of the depostiions are there.

Ever heard of a webinar, cyber conference?

The editor of the Flint Journal and soon-to-be one of the head gurus of Newhouse's Advance Internet team has been busy traveling to New York via carbon wasting air transportation recently. Reportedly at least three times.

So the guy who leans on "guys wearing their hats on backwards" to lead the way into the new Internet world, apparently is unable to figure out how to use the Internet to save a few bucks for the company by meeting online.

Having the editor stand up in front of a bunch of employees crowing about his exciting, new Internet job while they struggle with major life decisions on whether to take this buyout or cast their lots with the possible remaining jobs in a downsized Booth is more than some of them can take.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Funny




Admit it, it's funny.

"We're not the best team in the NFL"

"We know we're not the best team in the NFL."

That was the line Detroit Lions Quarterback Dan Orlovsky said to a group of reporters after the team's latest loss bringing them to 0-14 on the season.

I may stop laughing by tomorrow. But don't count on it.

Just a little "I told you so"

A couple months ago, I wrote the following:

http://freefromeditors.blogspot.com/2008/09/my-two-cents-about-700-billion.html

Didn't seem to work, did it?

A library of Booth downsizing spin

So far, I can find four columns by Booth editors about the looming cuts (only three weeks for folks to make up their minds whether they are staying or taking the buyouts).

There seems to be a consistent theme (Booth talking points) in all the columns. "We're getting smaller, but more local so stick with us, readers."

Here are the columns (and please do read the reader comments where applicable).

Muskegon:

http://www.mlive.com/chronicle/opinion/index.ssf/2008/11/were_looking_for_ways_to_make.html#more
Kalamazoo:

http://www.mlive.com/kzgazette/opinion/index.ssf/2008/12/how_hundreds_of_newspapers_bec.html
Jackson:

http://www.mlive.com/citpat/news/index.ssf/2008/11/economy_costs_forcing_paper_to.html
Ann Arbor:

http://www.mlive.com/annarbornews/news/index.ssf/2008/12/editors_column_the_ann_arbor_n.html

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More on Booth from the Ann Arbor perspective

Jim Carty has some reflections on a column by the Ann Arbor editor in this morning's paper reference the continuing Booth downsizing.

You can read it all here and follow the links to more:

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/12/ed-speaks.html

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Free journalism is not journalism

In recent days I've heard a number of people say that journalism will survive even if newspapers don't. Journalists who used to work for newspapers will simply switch to online venues and provide the same news coverage, these people say.

They are wrong, at least for the foreseeable future.

You see, while many of us love the practice of journalism we, like everyone else, have a need to be paid for our labor. Even in the current newspaper model, college educated "journalists" can count on barely above minimum wage salaries for a good part of the start of their careers.

Only a very talented few can survive on money they make as freelancers so what will be left are hobby journalists, or bloggers, in other words.

This blog is a good example. First, it is not journalism. It's basically a long column filled with my opinions, observations that are hopefully based on facts as I receive them. So far you can count on the fingers of no hands how much money I have made at this.

Probably Drudge makes a decent living, so does Huffington, but remember they exist largely by ripping off the work of other journalists and reporters of other publications and blogs.

So no, journalism, without a strong base of financial support like that that was once supported by newspapers is not likely to survive in a responsible form.

Sure there will be places to turn for opinions, even news, but without the money to pay competent journalists to collect the stories it will be neither balanced or reliable. A lack of competent copy editors to read, review and correct mistakes will further degrade the quality of online journalism. Heck, my mistakes are proof of that (the name of my blog notwithstanding).

Professors who teach journalism should level with their students that the immediate future for making a living at journalism is pretty dim. Some might even consider steering them into professions where they can actually pay rent and feed a family.

When I'm asked about careers in journalism this is my advice:

"If you are good at science and math, go into medicine. If not think about a career in a service industry or business (not even that looks too good right now). But the return on the investment of a journalism career today is pathetic. A military career provides a better and more secure living than journalism.

For those bent on pursuing a journalism education I simply wish them well and tell them they better be the one who invents a new form of online newspaper so good that people will actually pay for it.

I welcome your take on the future of journalism.

The bear checks in, finally


Someone from Russian checked into Free From Editors yesterday, the first visitor from that country.

That brings to 44 the number of separate countries that have visited here in just the past nine months. I have also had visitors from every state, except three, including North and South Dakota which really don't count as states anyway. Oh, all but three unless you use President-elect Barack Obama's map with 57 states (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpGH02DtIws), in that event I'm missing ten states, but I just don't know which ones they are.

I spent a year in North Dakota one day. Why is there even a North Dakota? North Dakota is Indiana without the charm, the businesses and people.

In just the past month, owing in great part to the new buyout news at Booth, we have added 1,766 new free from editors readers.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A blood runs hot, or maybe cold story

If you don't want to get really, really mad this weekend. Don't follow this link I found on Reflections of a Newsosaur.


http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2008/12/questions-about-decherds-140-raise.html#comments

I've been writing this week about the arrogance this week of media bosses and this is simply a reinforcement of what I've been trying to get across.

For more on this subject:

http://ahbelo.com/about/decherdmt.x2

What decent reporter wouldn't want to know what the various executives and top editors in their company makes?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rumors swirling about Detroit dailies

Everyone heard the news today about the rumored downsizing and potential end to home delivery for one, or both, of the Detroit dailies. A faithful Free From Editors reader dug up the attached link from Editor and Publisher:

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003921897

Here's another take:

http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2008/12/motown-madness-home-delivery-cut.html#comments

Sounds like a pretty bad Christmas for the Detroit newspapers.

Nothing I can add to this

Jim Carty over at Paper Tiger No More offers this today.

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/12/they-havent-plundered-their-properties.html

Nuff' said except "ditto" for the FJ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some editing errors are worse, much worse, than others

Regret the error posted this very funny correction:

http://www.regrettheerror.com/newspapers/a-wet-error-riddled-ride

So right now there are at least three or four Free From Editors readers who are screaming, that sounds very much like the story of “Mrs. Bandit.”

Ah yes, Mrs. Bandit, a prime example of copy editing gone beserk.

Some years ago, I think this even pre-dates my arrival at the Flint Journal in 1989, but the story is legend. Well, it was legend until everyone who knew the story was swept out the door in the Great Buyout of 2007.

So here’s my chance to coattail onto the “bedwetter” story.

A fine reporter did a story on a motorcycle gang. One thing a street reporter learns very quickly is that motorcycle gang members guard their identity. After all, they have many natural enemies, many of whom wear badges and others who have marriage licenses with their names on it.

So the reporter identifies the gang member as “Bandit” his nickname. A woman with him was identified only vaguely, which was probably the way “Bandit” wanted it.

When the story was turned in for editing a persnickety editor decided that while “Bandit” was borderline acceptable for a news story, she couldn’t abide with the identification of Bandit’s female counterpart so she changed it to: “Mrs. Bandit” and sent it through for publication.

That brought an angry call from two people, “Bandit” who wanted to wrap a motorcycle handlebar around the reporter’s neck because he was not married to the woman, and the real “Mrs. Bandit” was not happy that another woman was married to her gang member.

So “Mrs. Bandit” has always been one of the benchmarks by which egregious editing errors are measured.

During my career I probably visited a half dozen motorcycle gang clubs following up on stories. As far as motorcycle gang members are concerned, reporters are just slightly higher on the “hate” list than police officers and bounty hunters.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the reporter that got the call about calling a motorcycle rider a “bedwetter.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

That's illegal?

Who knew there was corruption in Illinois politics?

Of course I'm referring to the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich this morning on the allegation that he was trying to "sell" President-elect Barack Obama's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

All over Chicago politicians were asking themselves: "That's illegal?"

Can you imagine Blagojevich's sales pitch?

"Pssst, let me tell you what happened to the last guy that had this Senate seat." That should drive the price up.

Apparently the good governor also tried to leverage his hatred for certain Chicago Tribune editorial writers into a deal where the State would help with remodeling Wrigley Field (owned by the Tribune Co.) in exchange for a quick exit of the editorial writers Blagojevich hated.

Another one bites the dust.

These guys are so good and funny too!

A new Vegas ad


A loyal Free From Editors reader sent along this photo.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I borrowed this from a blog, who borrowed the rewritten Holiday classic from an anonymous blogger:

To the tune : "Winter Wonderland" The reference to Craig and Dubow is to Gannett Corporation Chairman Craig A. Dubow.

Here's what I took from the blog:

“Death knells ring, are you listenin'?
Those let go, are a' bristlin'.
A horrible sight, cuts left and right, wallowing in Dubow's Wasteland.

Gone away, are some good birds, Here to stay, corporate's real turds;
As Craig rolls along, doing us wrong, wallowing in Dubow's Wasteland.

In the tower they will build a snow job, telling us that things will turn around.
We'll be back, they say, and we'll say, 'No, man!'
You've run a once-great firm into the ground.

Then next year, they'll conspire, to see whom else they can fire.
More phones will ring, and the reaper will bring, walking papers in Dubow's Wasteland.”


Any relation to other newspaper groups is strictly coincidental and unintended.

Giants in the news business in big, big trouble

News moves fast anymore. Here's a story on Monday about the pending bankruptcy filing of Sam Zell and his Tribune Co. empire:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122868944355686385.html

Then just hours later this from the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/08/chicago-tribune-files-for_n_149328.html

It's a shame for all the employees involved.

Thanks to a frequent FFE reader for the above.

Someone take Al Gore's Oscar away!

Where the heck is all this global warming? I'm thinking there's a new ice age moving in with the snow and cold that has descended on us here.

So far this year we have had 15-inches of snow, compared to 5-inches last year at this time and the low temperatures for Wednesday are predicted in the 5 to 7 degree range.

FJ posts its own story on changes

The Flint Journal posted its own story on the changes at the top a couple hours after I did.

The person I incorrectly identified as the managing editor is listed as the Local News Editor. All these years and I thought he was a managing editor. He certainly tries to act like one. But now he will be THE editor.

Following this paragraph I will post a link. Make sure you check out the comments, all complimentary so far. And who can argue with a poster named Rivethead.

I would take issue with the contention that the new interim editor has strong community ties to Flint. Since coming back to the Journal a dozen or more years ago he has commuted home to Lansing every day. Unlike many of us who were told when we were hired it was important that we live in the subscription area, the Local News Editor (I'm trying to get that straight now) has never moved closer to the area.

He eats nearly every lunch at his desk and I'm not sure he could find many of our local cities on a map. So his ties to the Flint community, in my humble opinion, are very weak.

Here's the link:

http://www.mlive.com/flintjournal/index.ssf/2008/12/flint_journal_editor_tony_dear.html

Editor out and up as of January 1

As I hinted earlier, there was an announcement this morning that Tony Dearing, the editor of the Flint Journal, will be moving on to a new assignment as of January 1.

Also, as I predicted, he will land on his feet in the Advance Internet (read MLive - the lamest newspaper website you can find) staff.

Supposedly he will be in charge of all online content. If this weren't so pathetic, it would actually be funny. This is the guy who once said that we might have to look for people "who wear their baseball caps on backwards" as examples for the direction we should take.

Maybe Booth thinks that the editor can do for MLive what he has done for the Flint Journal. Oh wait, that didn't go so good, did it?

In his place, to prove that the Peter Principle (edited from my earlier spelling) and the Brown Nose Principle (also edited from my earlier spelling - see I do need an editor once in awhile) are alive and well at Booth, will be the current managing editor. That will mean at least one or more of the managing editor's favorites will also survive. Word is they may even bring back an editor from another Booth publication down the road. All while they slash and burn the staff that actually produces the newspaper.

Whether the managing editor keeps the post permanently, or not, remains to be seen. I guess they say they are looking "outside" for a new editor. Yeah, there's an idea, hire another management person in a room already top heavy with them.

In the words of one of my friends: "Always remember the Flint Journal maxim - It can always get worse."

I have never felt worse for my friends left behind than I do at this minute.

I ask again: Is anyone in top management at Booth or Newhouse minding the store?

Stay tuned

Word is some big news will be coming out of the Flint Journal today. Could be, as a recent poster said, that the "Peter Principle" will be alive and well in the Booth and Newhouse chain.

I'll let you know.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Best hockey game of the year

It was a tough drive down to the Joe (Joe Louis Arena) last night for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks hockey game, but boy, was it worth it.

My friend Greg and I purchased a series of nine tickets (Gordie Howe series - jersey number 9, get it?), and this was one of the games on our series.

It took about 20 minutes longer than usual to get there from home, but still arrived with a half hour to game time.

Detroit started out quickly scoring two quick goals within the first few minutes and it looked like it was going to be a rout.

But then Chicago caught fire and in one of the best defensive performances this year against the Wings eventually made the score 4-2. Greg and I had seen 3 straight wins, but this looked to be a loss until the Wings found the mark with two goals to tie it with ten minutes to go.

Then there was a five-minute overtime that resulted in no goals and then a shoot-out.

Pavel Datsyuk (see photo above) put in the first shoot-out goal and that was all that was needed to win. Ty Conklin looked shaky in the first two periods, but then looked really sharp the rest of the way, including stopping three shoot-out shots.

Our section (218) was rowdy and included a number of Chicago Blackhawk fans and a bus load of Canadian junior hockey players who were more interested in drinking beer and yelling at passing women than rooting for either team on the ice.

Eventually they drew enough attention that security arrived and discovered they were drinking underage and that slowed things for the rest of the evening.

While we were in the arena, the snow stopped and the drive home was a little slower due to icy roads, but nonetheless wonderful considering the great game we just saw. When the radio announcer on the post-game show called it the "best game of the year," we had to agree.

Go Wings!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What I don't understand about the newspaper biz

In the recent meltdown of the newspaper business I have been struggling to understand the thinking of those at the top. You know, the boys who run the shops, set the tone, steer the ship, pick your favorite analogy.

Recently, reporters and editors (and ad folks) have been learning whether or not management anticipates a place for them in the new Booth system.

From the reviews I have received there are two separate - and wildly different messages - being delivered.

For employees that the company would like to hang onto, the message is "we want you to stay and as soon as we clean out some of the deadwood I think we're going to do just fine."

For a second set of employees, those the company wants to depart, a curious other message is delivered: "You know, things look very bad, we may already be dead and not know it, there is just no place for you here, yada, yada, yada."

So either we're going to be fine or we're dead reporters walking. Depends on how much you are favored or not.

But to get back to what I don't understand about the news biz of today.

In my more cooperative moments in my final years I once sat down in a quiet office (an office for a time known as "the cone of silence" - a Get Smart reference for those over 50) with the managing editor at the Flint Journal and offered my frustrations and ideas. The biggest idea I tried to get across to him is the idea that it never works to pound a square peg into a round hole. (I even used that cliche).

When you are the boss or editor, and admittedly I only have a couple years of my 30-year career where that was true, the most important thing you can do is to know the talents and limitations of your staff.

Once you know where an individual is strong, the position in which they thrive, the best thing any good manager can do is to turn them loose and leave them alone.

When I was editor of The State News, I once hired a reporter who frequently referred to editors as "goat brained." And because I was the editor that approved his hiring, I was the biggest "goat brain" of them all at that time.

Later when he and I were reporters at the Flint Journal he would often refer to his editors as "goat brained" and I would just smile. Not because I was offended by what he had once called me, but by the realization that he was one of the best reporters and writers I had ever known.

Unfortunately, some of his bosses couldn't get past the idea that the reporter thought they were "goat brains." When I was an editor I couldn't care less what a reporter thought of me or editors in general, all I was interested in was good, clean copy on a story that would knock the socks off my readers.

Good reporters are full of ego, they are aggressive, they are cynical (in a good way) and they have little tolerance for following blind authority or being cowered by it. Many are eccentrics who keep strange hours and have strange habits. That's all a part of what makes them good reporters.

Heck, I once faced off in a newsroom in an angry and public confrontation with the current managing editor. It had to do with a violent disagreement over a story I had written about the in-school slaying of a first-grade girl student by a first-grade male student in 2000. It was a story I had been working on for three weeks and a story that had drawn international attention.

A lot of us were working our butts off keeping ahead of the story as it unfolded and nerves were frayed and tempers were short and frankly the editor just lit my fuse.

I still don't remember what I said to the editor, but one of my friends said I threatened to "kick his..." well you know.

We didn't speak for nearly two years, although I did apologize to him for, well, you know, the "kick your...." remark.

For my money any newsroom that doesn't have a reporter versus editor explosion at least once every two weeks is not worth working in. But as corporate journalism has moved into the room, less of that is tolerated. Too bad too, because it was that kind of passion that made newspapers good and fun to read.

Now we have plastic editors who talk about "writing with authority," and think that passes for inspired leadership. Well, not so much in my opinion. I had a couple of great editors with whom I frequently clashed, but it was never personal and they helped me to be a better writer and reporter and they never took what I said or did personally. Nor did I hold a grudge that they asked me to "get lost for awhile" or other not so endearing comments. It was all part of a creative process.

Realizing that there was little tolerance for head to head battles, in my last years I played a kind of journalistic "rope-a-dope" where I just played the Paul Newman character in "Cool Hand Luke" where I settled into a cooperative and docile position and just did what I was told all the time (well most of the time), waiting, like Luke did in the Newman movie, for my moment to escape.

It didn't result in better journalism, but it did lower my blood pressure a lot.

The point is that some writers love and are good at breaking news, while others prefer the dogged work of investigating a story over a long period of time, and yet others like to dig into a good feature and put together prose that sings. Making a thoroughbred racehorse pull a plow, or a plow horse run a horse race makes no sense, and neither does constantly playing to a person's weakness or making a feature writer cover breaking news.

Unfortunately, the new management style is to force everyone into a newsroom jobs bank where everyone does everything, talents and strengths be darned. It's like a word assembly line and while that works in manufacturing areas, in the field of writing and creating, not as well. Many folks have learned to adapt, but I know that many great investigative stories will not be done because of it.

When the newspaper tires went flat and the first buyout was offered several years ago, a number of talented folks left. But the same leaders who guided the paper to its sorry condition stayed put.

Then last year, another round of buyouts sheared off a larger number of veteran reporters and editors. But yet, the management remained, untouched and firmly in place.

Again this year, another round of buyouts is proposed to further cut those who produce copy and ads for the paper, while seemingly leaving intact much of the upper level management that exists.

Is anyone at Newhouse awake? Or are they simply protecting their "phony-baloney" jobs (a Blazing Saddles reference for those over 45). What is this plan? To limp along for another year or two until more of the top management can retire. Cutting the meat of a business while leaving the skeleton makes no sense, at least not to me.

And if changes in those areas finally come (and I understand that some big management changes may be coming) mark my words, there will be no forced exit for those folks. New places, good places, will be found for them whether they are competent to fill them, or not, and so those who are responsible for some of the current woes will somehow come out on top.

Somewhere, sometime those who have been at the helm should also face the same fate as those they have so poorly led.

But don't count on it.

Managing Editor chimes in on charity story

The Journal's managing editor has weighed in on the controversial charity story about a 29-year-old woman with ten children (http://freefromeditors.blogspot.com/2008/12/this-story-got-comment-or-113.html) and the nearly 200 comments (95 percent negative) about the subject of the story.

In his skinback, the editor seems to acknowledge that the readers deserved more information on the subject of the story which might have curbed some of the angry reader reaction. He also alludes to the fact that readers, not the paper, dug up the information that should have been included in the original story. He doesn't mention the woman's My Space page, which also outraged readers. (She has a My Space page with a picture of one of her children with the name "baddest b....." next to it. Also, as I suspected, this was not a story initiated by the woman subject of the story.

As always, the paper wants to put a "face" on every story. The reporter searched out someone to tell a charity's story and this was the sad result. It would be forgivable if it didn't happen almost every year. This desire to put a "face" on every story needs a management team that isn't tone deaf to the community it covers or who can't see the obvious questions that will arise before a story is published.

I didn't want comments on the woman herself, and am thankful that I didn't get any, but here is the editor's follow-up to a story that generated so many negative comments that comments to the story were eventually closed. (For the record, I actually agree with the editor that giving is a leap of faith and people in need should not be judged on the lives they have led up to that point. People who need help, need it and we are free to give, or not give, but we are not free to judge.)

http://www.mlive.com/flintjournal/voices/index.ssf/2008/12/leap_of_faith_essential_to_hel.html#more

Friday, December 5, 2008

Car voucher idea, no conflict of interest there

On the Flint Journal's website is a story about Flint's Mayor Don Williamson sending an aid to Washington, D.C. to convince Congress to send a $5,000 car voucher to every taxpaying household in the country.

Before I get too far along with this, for my many new readers outside of Michigan, you have to understand that Mayor Don Williamson is a very, very interesting character. A long time ago he was convicted of a felony, later made a fortune building car parts and dumping manure on picket lines during strikes at his Owosso company, but somehow later convinced a majority of Flint residents, many of them union workers, that he was the answer to pull Flint out of the doldrums.

The doldrums remain, but Don, in an effort to frighten off a coming recall election, seems to be doing what he does best, buy votes. And as you can see by the picture is planning a run for governor of Michigan. Just when you didn't things could get worse here.

My only beef is that the online story makes not one mention that Don Williamson and his wife own a large GM dealership and would directly benefit from such a voucher program. Shouldn't there have been some mention or disclaimer in a story about that?

I'm not necessarily blaming the reporter because this had to go through an editor or two, but that is a hole in the story big enough to drive a big GM truck through.

Some of the comments in the story refer to those holes. You can read them all here:

Ad artists learn the jobs are scarce at FJ

Artists on the staff of the Flint Journal were hopeful that information from the publisher that "a few" artists would be needed for some minor publications of the paper and advertiser jobs were discouraged to learn last night in a meeting with the art director that the "few" survivors are probably not them.

Many of them now realize it's buyout or nothing. For the two artists hired in the past 3 to 6 months there is just nothing.

Employees with less than five years do not get the buyout if they don't get picked up in the Grand Rapids sweep or if an open position is not found at the Flint Journal.

My question would be why would you hire artists when it's clear that you are going to down size them in just a matter of months.

As someone said in a comment recently, the wonderful Newhouse organization that we all knew and loved has disappeared.

I'm digesting some other information received on the individual meetings that reporters and editors have had with the boss and will post that over the weekend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do you know the way to Grand Rapids?

That's a question that many Booth copy editors will be asking themselves soon enough.

In a meeting with copy editors the Flint Journal management today laid out the scenario by which some copy editors will survive (if they are willing to commute or move to Grand Rapids, that is).

Currently there are more than 100 copy editors Booth-wide. I've heard estimates as high as 120 copy editors. The idea is to shrink it to about half of that number all working out of one location - Grand Rapids. One of the shifts being offered to the transplant copy editors is the 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift. Imagine that shift with a two-hour plus commute from Flint.

Weekend shifts will be more like 4 p.m. to midnight. There is some work being done on seeing if a four-day work week could help those with the long commute. Like a Wednesday to Saturday or a Friday to Monday schedule.

As one who has worked most of his life at nights, it is not a healthy lifestyle. Just ask any of my three wives. My third wife insisted I move to days before we tied the knot. Maybe that's why that one is lasting.

Local editors will become writers again - well in the sense they will be required to write lengthy memos each day (working later shifts) to tell the Grand Rapids copy desk how they want the pages delivered even though they will NOT get to see them on deadline before they are printed.

Apparently the Booth system wide software is not compatible at each paper so, at least Flint, is out of luck at getting to have any deadline input on how its pages will look before they are printed.

Can you say ludicrous? If this is the great Booth plan to right the ship and if I were giving advice to my shipmates left behind, I would say head to the lifeboats.

A broken business model

Here's a little business problem to figure out:

Your business is failing faster than a first term freshmen, you're pushing many of your most talented employees out the door, your customer base is sliding faster than White Castle hamburger, your product is smaller and provides less content than before and so what is one of the ways you crawl out of the hole?

You raise your home delivered rates for the second time in less than a year.

I'm not kidding, the Flint Journal has told its route drivers that starting early next year (a month away) the home motor delivered rate of $13.49 a month for seven day a week delivery will climb to $14.99 a month.

So is a buck and half the tipping point? Don't know, but it certainly can't help. They must be betting that the number of subscribers who keep the paper will balance out the numbers who will finally say, "enough," and cancel.

So if you are a current motor route subscriber, better to renew for a year now and save $18 bucks. It's not like this area's residents already are crimped on disposable income.

The problem is that ads were once the bread and butter of the news business with circulation just enough to cover the delivery and printing costs. Now, the model is broken and people are being asked to cover more of the direct costs of producing the paper at a time when much of what they are paying for is offered for free online.

Haven't heard if the non-motor rates are also going up, but as soon as I know, you will.

Master Singers do the vehicle code

OK, now I have found my newest, favorite group. The chanted weather forecast (below) was good, but the Master Singers have really scored with this rendition of the vehicle code.

"You're fired," by phone

Paper Tiger No More blogger Jim Carty has posted the following link on his fine blog about the impersonal lay off notices at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

A total of 27 staffers were called...well, read it for yourself and don't believe for a minute this was done for the "privacy" of the employees.

http://realneo.us/content/goldbergs-message-pd-staff

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A weather report as a religious experience

Now here's a weather forecast that will leave you feeling very mellow. This is pretty funny, especially if you stay with it to the end.


Gannett blog has more bad newspaper news

This is another great newspaper blog to check out. Lots of news here:

http://gannettblog.blogspot.com/

More from the Citizen Patriot

The Paper Tiger No More blog author has his take on the weekend notice by the Jackson Citizen-Patriot editor.

Read it here:

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/12/war-is-peace-and-buyoutstransfers-equal.html

An idea for the 'new' journalism

Here's a website with a unique idea to do investigative reporting and make money. The idea of citizen journalism intrigues me, especially what the model will be to make money at it.

Well, here's one idea:

http://spot.us/

Not sure if I think it will work on a large scale, but at least it's a new idea.

Could a mainstream newspaper offer a subscription service where residents could pledge a certain amount to investigate a story or feature? Heck, newspapers are already charging for obituaries, birth, wedding anniversary and engagement announcements. So why not provide a similar model as the one above with daily news reporting? That really involves your readers in a very personal way.

Monday, December 1, 2008

This story got a comment or 113

Wow, the Journal ran a story about a woman who is 29 with 10 children who needs a car. I'm not going to pile on any more than the many commenters did, but there were a number of obvious questions left unanswered in the original story that prompted the nasty reaction of many readers.

This woman and her family clearly need help, but a news story should answer the questions that are so blatantly obvious and which were either not asked or not published in this case.

Here's the link:

http://www.mlive.com/flintjournal/index.ssf/2008/11/flint_mother_latrica_ryan_of_1.html#comments

(Note: I don't want to turn this into another thread on this woman and her dilemma, so I won't put up comments on her situation. But if someone wants to comment on the obvious holes in the story or the nature and tone of the comments, feel free. I find it interesting that readers raised the obvious questions that were left out of the original story. This note was added December 2)

One paper explains the cuts to its readers

The Jackson Citizen-Patriot editor went a little further than the legally sanitized notice published earlier last month.

Make sure you read all the comments (some of them are stupid, but some are insightful).

You can read the editor's comments here:

http://www.mlive.com/citpat/news/index.ssf/2008/11/economy_costs_forcing_paper_to.html

Lessons from an early retirement

Today marks a full one year since I walked out the Flint Journal door for the last time. At the time of the buyout announcements last year I made it clear to the editor I was ready to leave, and to leave soon.

Much of that eagerness had to do with my frustration at the lack of clear leadership in the newsroom. The editor, despite his public pronoucements to the contrary, kept his circle of influence and advice very small. He listened to only one or two male editors and the rest of us got a pat on the head for our suggested changes.

That's OK, it's his paper. But he was wrong and the product has paid the price. Too bad his bosses don't see it. And again, just so there is no misunderstanding, this is not about them being bad people, just being bad editors and managers.

I'd had my fill of his incompetence and lackluster leadership and was ready to go. So I was among the first in the newsroom (I think one copy editor left ahead of me by a couple weeks) and among the first ten to leave in the paper.

It's been an interesting year one in which I have learned some valuable lessons.

1.) The good friends I had at the paper have remained good friends in retirement.

2.) There are many more interesting things to do than I could have imagined.

3.) My wife is really my best friend.

4.) I sleep better.

5.) I worry less.

6.) I eat more (that's a bad thing).

7.) It costs less to be retired than to work full-time.

8.) I still love to write and report. The work was never the issue, I always loved what I got to do.

9.) It is true what they say: I don't know how I had time to work with all the things I have to do while I'm retired.

10.) There is life (and a good one) after newspaper work.

11.) I miss many of the people that I covered on my beat. I was never tired of the people I dealt with outside the newspaper office.

12.) My father-in-law was 100 percent correct when he said, "as soon as you can retire, retire."

Now as I approach my 61st year I look forward to the rest of my retirement. My wish is for those facing a break from newspapaer that they will discover the wonderful world of life beyond news reporting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A lean Thanksgiving FJ, and news of ad sales plummeting

My Thursday Flint Journal arrived with three sections, two were extremely thin. Many of the stories in the front section appeared "borrowed" from the weekly papers (although they were good stories).

The Friday paper arrived and was pretty full of inserts (many advertising 4 a.m. Friday events that were long over by the time I got my paper) but again light on space. It appears the weekend reporters have been swamped with fatal accidents and other breaking news.

Ron Fonger did a good story on the local effects of the GM down turn earlier this week and since I complained about a lack of such coverage, just wanted to acknowledge that it had finally happened. But the business section is still largely wire and borrowed Booth features as I believe there is only one reporter assigned to business news now at the Journal (down from 4 and 5 in former years).

There has been other news on the newspaper front and I have teased with the story's lead and linked to the story here:

"Newspaper advertising sales dived by a record 18.1% in the third quarter in a historic, across-the-board rout paced by a nearly 31% plunge in classified revenues."

http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2008/11/news-sales-fell-almost-2b-in-one.html#comments

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have family from out of town arriving this morning. My sister and brother-in-law from Chicago and my father and stepmother from Virginia.

We will be busy eating, laughing and watching football so I won't be here blogging and my hope and prayer is that you won't be here either. This is a time for family and thanksgiving, not for the surface frustrations of life.

Followers of Jesus know the words of the Bible: "In everything give thanks." It's a concept that is difficult for everyone, believers and non-believers, because everything includes those things that are not so nice.

Doors open, doors close, but behind each new door is a great adventure. Enjoy the holiday, I'll check in once in a while to see what has been left, but there will be no new posts from now until Saturday, at the earliest.

I give thanks for you, my friends. And if you can help someone, by all means, do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Attrition is not just buyouts anymore

Word out of the Flint Journal is a veteran advertising representative was fired and not offered a buyout or severance in the past week.

The employee, who was encouraged NOT to take last year's buyout and stay, has reportedly a better sales record than those who were spared. The employee was transferred out of the display advertising section and moved into the classified arena, which is not particularly lucrative at this time in newspaper history.

There is also word of a similar firing out of Saginaw. So it appears the attrition needed by the company will not all come with a parting buyout or severance check.

The source who provided this information said it may be the company is seeking any excuse to lighten its load without paying the price. That's two Flint Journal employees fired in a month, which is almost unheard of in its history.

As I receive more information on this and other employment actions, I'll post it.

Another interesting read on advertising trends

A loyal FFE reader has sent along another interesting read about high end advertisers and their cutbacks.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/24/business/media/24luxury.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&em

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buffalo being Buffalo

As I've mentioned before (endlessly) I love Buffalo, NY. But there is nothing like Buffalo, NY on a Bills Sunday.

Yesterday, to give my mother-in-law a little break from caring for my father-in-law I took her to a local gin mill to play a little Quik Pick (a NY lottery game not unlike Keno).

We both forgot the Bills were playing the early game and the bar was packed. The Bills were scoring like every 30 seconds so the bar was very loud and riotous. But the loyalty these fans have to their football team is infectious and you can't help but root for them.

Someone at the bar made a snide comment about the Lions, but then I make snide comments about the Lions all the time and no one at the bar knew I was from Michigan, so there was no offense intended.

But the happiness the fans felt, just for three hours was kind of cool to watch. Buffalo, which is pretty much like Flint planted next to Niagara Falls, needs a break from its woes and the Bills certainly provide that. Of course Flint and Michigan needs a break from its woes and we're stuck with the Lions.

No one could believe it when we packed up mid way into the third quarter to leave the bar (they couldn't believe it earlier when I ordered a non-alcoholic drink either), but my wife had been back at the house preparing a full course Thanksgiving Dinner and who wants to miss that. Besides when we arrived home a few minutes later, my wife and her Dad, who has plenty of woes of his own, were happily enjoying the Bills rout over Kansas City on two televisions, one in the living room and one in the kitchen.

Dinner was a little late, thanks to the Bills, but no one cared.

We'll be home later today and I'll be back to serious blogging on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Can you help?

An MSU journalism professor is seeking information from the various Booth papers on what the individual and overall losses will be from this wave of buyouts.



David Poulson has given me two addresses to reach him:



poulsondavid@gmail.com or poulson@msu.edu



He also has a great deal of info over at:

http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23booth

So Blue! MSU and U-M fall and fall badly

Not a good day yesterday for either of the home teams. But MSU still had a good season, 9-3, and will be going to a decent bowl game so we still have that to look forward to.

Still in Buffalo doing chores, but will return to the financial ruin that is Michigan tomorrow and will catch up on all things Booth and report back on Tuesday. As I blogged previously, at least our gas prices are better than most anywhere else.

Big story here in Buffalo is why the gas here remains in the $2.45 a gallon range. Something about only one pipeline, yada, yada, yada.

Hope everyone has had a peaceful weekend.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Newspaper news for the weekend

In case you are in the mood for some reflective reading on the current state of newspaper and journalism, here are a couple interesting items forwarded to me by a loyal Free From Editors reader:


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/18/business/media/18voice.html?_r=1&em



http://www.slate.com/id/2204372/

Friday, November 21, 2008

Aaarg! I've pirated a wireless signal

In Lapeer I bought gas for $1.63 a gallon! Arrived in New York and it's $2.49. Someone is getting ripped off. Gas and sales taxes are higher in New York, but not that much.

It is nice to fill up for $20 though. I'll be stopping by during the weekend to post comments.

Go MSU! Go Blue!

Back to Buffalo

Another quick weekend trip to Buffalo, NY to help the folks. Blogging may be sporadic, or even missing over the weekend. It all depends if I can pirate a signal from my in-laws neighbor. (He doesn't mind).

Looks like the weather, which can be iffy, will be good for the trip over and back.

One good thing, I filled up my truck and car for $1.66 a gallon today. My friends in California, who read this blog daily will faint when they realize how much less we pay for gas here.

So the trip to Buffalo will cost about a third in gas what it did the last time we went. On the other side, I can't bear to even look at my 401k, which I believe has now shrunk to a 301k.

I'll check in when I can, have a great weekend.

The answer is......

OK, should you land a big time job in corporate communications in the office of the chairman of the Big Three here's a few suggestions in advising them on how to answer questions when they appear before Congress.

Senator: "Sir, would you be willing to take a $1 salary to obtain this federal help?"

Big Three boss: "Yes, I will do anything it takes to save my company."

Senator: "Did you fly here on a corporate jet to ask for taxpayer's money?"

Big Three boss: "Yes, I did, but in retrospect it would have been a better message for me to fly here on a commercial flight."

Senator: "Would you be willing to park that jet, sell it and fly home on a commercial flight."

Big Three boss: "Yes, I will do anything it takes to save my company."

Senator: "If part of the deal for getting this bailout would you be willing to step down?"

Big Three boss: "Yes, I will do anything it takes to save my company."

Get it now.

A picture of my police family

About 36 years ago I joined the Atherton Police Department. I was with them for about five years until I resigned to pursue my journalism education.

But I've stayed in touch with some of the officers over the years and I appreciate that the new chief of police (front and center) Glenn Nielsen keeps me in the loop even though the loop extends about 2,500 miles for me.

Here's the latest "family" photo from the department, which patrols the wealthy subdivision sandwiched between Menlo Park and Redwood City. If you're looking on a map go to Redwood City look immediately to the south. Or if you know where Stanford University is, find it and go about five or six miles north. Two of the officers a retired sergeant, Steve Schneider, who still works as a reserve (back row, far right) and a current supervisor (second from left) were explorers when I worked on the department.

Hate to mention this because it really makes me feel old, but the chief was an explorer scout at the police post when I worked there. I'm not familiar with the home used as a back drop, but it is certainly typical of the multi-million dollar mansions in the village.

Be safe guys!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday to Free From Editors!



Almost missed the one-year anniversary of my blog. In case you missed it, and the more than 5,000 individual readers who have stopped by probably have, here is the very first post:






Thanks to all of you who stop by, especially those who offer a differing point of view. As you can probably tell, my hunger to write and report hasn't slackened since I left the news business.

Somebody doesn't get it

How painful was it watching the heads of the Big Three respond to questions in a way that guaranteed that no help would be coming from the federal government.

"Would you take a $1 salary to get the buyout?," a Senator asked.

"I'm good where I'm at," was the arrogant answer.

And the private jets, oh the jets. All I can say is hopefully there are a few open public relations jobs at the Big Three for some departing newspaper reporters because whoever was in charge of the public relations for this episode, should be fired. Today.

Sheeeesh. How dumb are these guys? And no wonder the car companies are in the shape they are in.

Somebody gets it

A good read. Here's a sample and then the link to the whole article:

"In the digital age, we’re told, the critical difference between success and failure is human capital — those heartbeats and fast hands that can make a good business great. So are newspapers reacting to their downturn as Circuit City did?

Every day, Romenesko, a journalism blog at the Poynter Institute, is rife with news of layoffs at newspapers, most of the time featuring some important, trusted names. It is not the young fresh faces that are getting whacked — they come cheap — but the most experienced, proven people in the room, the equivalent of the sales clerk who could walk you through a thicket of widescreen television choices to the one that actually works for you."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/17/business/media/17carr.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

And this:

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003891430

And there's plenty more depressing news at Newspaper Deathwatch. Link to the right.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rev. Dr. Roy I. Greer, R.I.P.

Another wonderful person in my life passed away this week.

The Rev. Dr. Roy I. Greer, pastor of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, died at home Monday.

Pastor Greer was 73 and had been pastor of the church for nearly three dozen years and was beloved by the members of the large church, his family and friends.

I have been attending a Bible study on Tuesday nights at the church since 1996 and have enjoyed my discussions with Rev. Greer and also enjoyed some of his wonderful homilies at the several worship services I have attended.

A pillar of the Flint religious community, Rev. Greer will be sorely missed. Visitation is at the church, 424 Kennelworth, is Friday from 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Funeral services will be Saturday at noon.

More on the buyouts

In case it hasn't been pointed out before, and I think the medical coverage was a little vague in one of my past posts, the buyout deal at the Flint Journal (and presumably elsewhere in the Booth chain) is two weeks pay for every year worked, with a minimum of six months pay.

As to medical coverage it is the same, two weeks pay for every year worked with a minimum of six months coverage.

There is word that some of the employees considering the buyout are troubled by the short medical coverage length. (In the last buyout for employees over 50 the medical coverage continued to age 65 and two years for those under 50).

Some employees are trying to negotiate a longer medical coverage term, but the going has been rough on those negotiations so far.

There may be maximums on both buyout pay and medical coverage, but I'm still waiting on that information.

As to the severance package for part-timers. No news from this end, at least not yet.

Ann Arbor's version of Free From Editors has an interesting article about what happens if you don't take the buyout (when they want you to) and what your next assignment might be. I won't spoil the surprise. Here's the link:

http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/11/yep-they-really-will-send-you-to-mail.html

Decision time at the Flint Journal

Back on September 10, this year, I blogged about the editor's admission to the staff that more buyouts were on the way and that many folks would be encouraged to leave or face transfers to jobs outside the newsroom or even to other Booth properties.

A short time later, the publisher met with the staff and told them no such decisions had been made and basically to kind of ignore what the editor had told them.

Then early this month the very thing the editor told the staff two months earlier came true. So first, as I did then, I want to give props to the editor for telling the staff what he knew even though it didn't fall in line with the Booth timeline.

While I disagree with the editor on many things, this was a good moment for him.

Why the publisher would come tell the staff to disregard or at least temporarily ignore what the editor told them seems a little ridiculous in light of the buyouts just offered.

Anyway, the round of discussions going on in newspapers across Michigan actually first occurred in Flint in September after the editor's admission in a staff meeting. So round two of the meetings is ongoing and pretty much the news remains the same.

Many employees are weighing their options, others are being pushed to take the buyouts and others have gotten the safe sign from the umpire.

Jim Carty has blogged at Piper Tiger No More (link to the right and at the end of this post) about the discussions in Ann Arbor.


http://papertigernomore.blogspot.com/2008/11/hard-day-in-ann-arbor.html

More to come.

Write again prof!

I received an e-mail message from an MSU professor asking for info. I have tried to write you at the e-mail you provided but it keeps coming back. Please send me a good e-mail address and I'll be happy to respond.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If it bleeds, it leads

It may just be timing, but in recent weeks there seems to be a greater emphasis and response (reporters and photographers) to breaking police and fire events in the Flint Journal.

This is a good thing.

The articles are posted quickly on the paper's web page, often with photos, it's a step in the right direction. Actually, it's a step back to what we always were.

Get a reporter back into the courtroom for some dramatic courtroom coverage and that would be even better.

Buyout blues

Listening to analysts talk about the various federal buyouts my head starts to spin.

I heard the Mayor of Lansing, Michigan talking on Channel 2 news tonight and he pointed out that the car companies were "ONLY asking for $25 billion."

Well, that's certainly less than the $125-150 billion gift that was given to AIG, but should the word ONLY ever be used when we're talking billions of dollars.

In a discussion with a friend who is very much for the auto bailout he pointed out that when the country was reeling from the after effects of the 9/11 attacks it was the car companies who stepped up, offered huge incentives to get the country going again.

Admittedly, I had forgotten that and certainly that's more than AIG ever did for anybody.

What would you tell her?

Not too long ago a couple, friends of mine, asked me to talk to their daughter who is currently attending college and wants to be a newspaper reporter.

At first I said it probably would not be good for me to talk to her because I was at the wrong end of the spectrum. But they persisted and I talked to her, mostly by e-mail.

There's a part of me that believes there will be a place for reporters, just not in the form that I am familiar with. But this young woman, like I was at her age, is excited about the pursuit of a story, the feeling when it all comes together and then that exhilaration when it finally shows up in print, maybe even on the front page.

Older reporters know that the importance of a byline fades when you realize that no one beyond your mother, close friends and an occasional enemy even pay attention to it. Heck, I wrote a column for ten years with my picture on it and when people asked and found out I was a reporter they couldn't remember one story (other than the column) that I had written. When I would name various stories I had written, they would remember, but they paid no attention to who wrote it. No big deal.

But writing and reporting was always my work passion, I really loved everyday that I worked and it ended all too soon. Even before I was a reporter, I always wrote. When I worked for two police departments in California I produced a monthly department newsletter (underground) that made fun of our work and sometimes poked fun at those in charge. (See some things never change).

Last year when I met with some of my retired cop buddies, many of them still had copies of those newsletters. Go figure.

So what do I tell a young woman who wants to go work for a newspaper. My instincts told me to tell her to run. Are you good at math? Go work for NASA. Are you good with your hands? Be a carpenter or plumber.

Honestly, I punted. I told her I couldn't imagine what my work life would have been like had I not found my way to newspapers and covering news. I told her the future for print journalism looked bleak and the prospects for meaningful, financially rewarding employment looked very doubtful.

But in the end I told her she had to figure out what she was willing to put up with or risk. Life is all about risk. I left a steady police job with benefits in 1977 to pursue a career I knew I would like better. It was a sacrifice not just for me, but for my wife at the time and our two young sons.

My first few newspaper jobs paid less than I made when I left police work and frankly, had I stayed at the police job and retired, financially I would have been better off. But it would have been miserable, because I didn't enjoy the work.

Maybe my friend's daughter will find a way to make money writing. Right now, I doubt it. The business is eager for a young inventor to reinvent it, the current bosses are stuck in the old model even though they pretend to part of the new wave. Heck, they have jobs to protect too, you know.

Besides running in the other direction, what would you tell my friends' daughter.