Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to kill a newspaper

This is a really good article on the rise and fall of the Oakland Press. It will confirm a lot of the things I have written here previously and in hindsight was proven correct. I take no great satisfaction in that, because I love newspapers.

I know I haven't been here in a long time, but there just isn't much about newspapers that are worth writing about anymore. I may start writing more on other subjects here soon.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Some sad news from my former employer

Sadly, the hits keep coming. I agree with the writer that this could not come at a worst time for journalism. As for Ann Arbor, as I wrote when they folded the Ann Arbor News tent, it was doomed from the start. But I do wish my friends and colleagues the best. They are doing the best with very little.

An amazing piece of criminal journalism

I found this article disturbing in the extreme about the level of trickery pulled by a publisher. I applaud the reporter who resigned over this affair.

I know I have not been good about publishing on this blog. There are a number of personal reasons for that, but I'll try to be better in the future.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

And while we are on the subject of Pulitzers

This story on a small newspaper winning a local news reporting Pulitzer opens a window on why the business is in such bad shape. Good reporters are forced to leave because the folks in charge believe that good journalists will work for fast food wages.

You can't blame people for wanting a living wage for doing professional work.

Why I detest journalism prizes

I know I haven't been here for awhile as all is quiet on the newspaper front. But I came across this interesting article from Politico.com about the ego-centered journalism awards, specifically the Pulitzer Prize.

Every year we would be egged on to submit articles for one or a dozen journalism prizes and I did my best to never submit any. Editors submitted some on my behalf and despite my disdain for journalism awards I ended up collecting a few brass plaques for my work. All of them are either used for holding hot plates or are packed away in a cardboard box in my attic to be tossed out when my children sort through my belongings when my eventual demise comes.

One of my favorite lines in this article, because it is so true, is:

"Earlier this month, Roy J. Harris, a friend of the prizes, wrote about how to predict this year’s winners. Study “what earlier competitions have singled out, and then [adjust] for certain quirks in the Pulitzer process,” he wrote. That’s exactly what editors do at the beginning of the year when blueprinting what they hope will be prize-winners. Journalists should be writing for readers, not contest judges. 

And that was my real complaint. Our great Sunday story meetings were all designed around first, filling a gaping hole in the newsprint, but many were designed for submission for some future contest. The interest of readers was far down the list of priorities.

It's like being named "Newspaper of the Year."  First there are several categories based on whether you are a weekly or daily and also your circulation. So there are always plenty of "Newspapers of the Year." In Michigan, the award is rotated among newspapers so that it is nearly impossible to be named "Newspaper of the Year" in consecutive years. Kind of like being elected to a job at the American Legion. You start at the bottom of the rung and each year you move up until you are ultimately "voted" Commander.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best corrections of 2014. For your Christmas reading pleasure

Just something fun to read. Some of them are the result of incredibly bad reporting.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A not too encouraging view of newspapers in the digital age

Not much has been happening on the newspaper front, but this article was a pretty good read on some of the tried and failed newspaper efforts in the recent past.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Copy editors will love this

Sorry for the infrequent posts, but things are quiet on the newspaper front, but my copy editor friends (assuming I have a couple) will really appreciate an article about a major spelling error from a newspaper group that has laid off many copy editors.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Police reporting 101: Yeah, he captured it

I enjoyed reading this story in the Chicago Tribune. I know that it will hit home with some of the former police reporters and photographers who are readers of this blog.  I saw the entire story on Facebook, but you may have to be a subscriber to read online at the Trib. I'll see if I can find another version that you can read without registering.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

E&P: Newspapers need to blow up the model and start over

Not enamored with the lede on this story, but when the writer eventually gets to his point it's worth pondering.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The news gets worser and worser for newspapers

And the buried lead in this story is that digital - the Holy Grail - of current media is not growing and is not sustaining the newspaper business.

Frankly, the old guard is incapable and not equipped to be guiding the previous model of newspapers into what is next to come.

But in the end, there will be an end. Sad.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wow, how low can Advance go?

This CJR story is truly an example of how little the Advance folks get about what real journalism is about. Truly sad. I'll have more to say about this later.

Thanks to a loyal reader for forwarding the link.

One student's print journalism "dream" turns to dust

A Michigan Radio reporter writes about the future of print journalism. Anyone going into the profession now is dooming themselves to a life to low pay and bad benefits.

Friday, January 3, 2014

More "job pledge" news from CJR

A lengthy article on the lawsuits filed by former New Orleans employees.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A newspaper Christmas story

My "old" journalism friends will appreciate this story about a time when editors were, well, editors. May you all get your "peaches" this year. Merry Christmas from Free From Editors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Job pledge" suit filed by former Times-Picayune staffers

Most of us lived by the pledge, but in reality, knew that it probably wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, but apparently several former Times-Picayune staffers are suing to see if it was worth something.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What happened to AnnArbor.com (Lost in my Spam filter)

Lost in my spam filter was this link to an insightful report by Mark Maynard about the shutting down of AnnArbor.com last September. Putting it up here now just to let folks know I wasn't ignoring my job.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Al MacLeese: A throwback to the way newspapers used to be. Buy this book!

My 30-year journalism career spanned 1977-2007, it was a transitional time filled with great joy, excitement and frustration. It was also the time that saw the end of newspaper characters like Al MacLeese, who became strangers in a strange land as newspapers went from being tough, hard scrabble denizens of characters to polite, orderly and antiseptic warehouses of young, healthy news gatherers.
During my time I had the great fortune to meet a few of the old school folks like MacLeese. I actually did meet MacLeese a couple times, but I didn’t know him like Roger Van Noord and others at the Journal, and frankly dozens of newspapers knew him over his long and turbulent career.

Using years of MacLeese’s own recollections, through e-mails – during the times he could afford Internet access – or through snail mail Roger Van Noord has used his own great story telling skills to weave a biography into a pseudo autobiography about  a man who truly represents what was great and bad about journalism in the old days.
Unlike Ed Snowden, the American who took all our nasty secrets to Russia without permission, Roger had MacLeese’s consent for his e-mail and data collection. None of MacLeese’s secrets will endanger our national security or result in the death of any spies.

MacLeese didn't worry about 401ks or savings accounts and it later showed in his life, but you get the feeling that MacLeese worried more about living than dying so he worried about the important things, where to get his next drink or blunt. I'm a Christian so he would not have cared much for me, but through his writings he did as much to help people as many Christians will ever do.

“Unleashed” is a glimpse into the “good old days” of journalism, not that all will see it that way. You can find it on Amazon and for me it was a quick read. Roger can turn a phrase with the best of them, including MacLeese.  If you remember the good old days, buy the book. If you are young and missed the good old days, buy the book. It’s cheap enough even for the wages they pay today's news gatherers or "content professionals" or whatever they call what it today.
You can read it while you head to Yoga class or while you watch the kids at soccer practice, both of which were unheard of activities for reporters in MacLeese’s days.

Unfortunately for my own good health, I started thinking about the book at 4 a.m. this morning when my aging prostate forced me up early to the bathroom and then my brain kicked in and thoughts turned to Roger’s book and all the characters I had met over the years. Finally a two-hour mental tour of my own newsrooms  kept awake until I was forced to abandon wife and bed to write this review/reflection for my blog.
Journalism, or to be more precise and accurate, newspaper work has always attracted engaged Type A personalities. It used to attract talented folks, many who came with baggage like alcoholism and gasp, cigarette smoke. It still attracts talent folks, but with pre-employment drug tests they have to travel with lighter personal luggage today.

During my insomnia this morning I was thinking of the late, great reporter I worked with at the Oakland Press – Jean Saile. I loved her, she, like MacLeese, was right out of “Front Page.” Jean could be affectionately and not politically correctly referred to as a “newspaper broad.”
I used to watch Jean type a story on the old Atex system, a cigarette, with a curved long ash, hanging dangerously over her keyboard as she pecked away at her story. She was probably in her late 60s or 70s when the Press banned newsroom smoking in the early 1980s. On the day the ban went into effect, she quit the newspaper forever. We thought she was joking when she told us she would quit if she couldn’t smoke in the newsroom. She proved us wrong. Some people thought she smelled of smoke, I always thought she smelled of news.

She had a screechy voice, not unlike Edith Bunker (for you younger folks simply Google "All In the Family" and watch a few You Tube clips). The voice would escalate and get louder as the story got more important and closer to deadline. I miss that voice. To me it was the song of the newsroom.

When my good friend and editor, Larry Laurain died of cancer in 1985, Jean bought me a new bottle of Jack Daniels (I was still drinking in those days) so I could continue to spike my morning rewrite coffee with a little inspiration each day. Eventually, and not too long after, I had to take the 12 steps to rid myself of  the demon rum.  I'm clean and sober now, but probably not as much fun.
We had a female food editor who was another character at the Press. She had the nasty habit of printing recipes in the Sunday features section that sometimes did not include all the ingredients. That meant for me, the hapless Sunday reporter, that I had to track her down on a Sunday afternoon so I could find out just how much Pineapple you were supposed to add to the “Pineapple Upside Down” cake recipe she had published that morning for some woman in Orchard Park. Little things, but Sybil was a character. You would not find her in a newsroom today. Maybe some folks are happy about that, but I’m not.

There were many more characters that I came across, I remember a Detroit TV anchor – Bill Bonds – who was a hard drinking a-hole who once called me a “turkey” on the air for a column I wrote about him that was none too flattering. We exchanged unpleasantries on the phone, but later he offered me his left over French fries at the Detroit Press Club. I just looked at him quizzingly when he handed me his plate. For the record, I didn't eat the fries, although I was tempted.
The newsrooms I lived in had tension, arguments, heck sometimes editors and reporters would nearly come to blows, but it was because we had passion about what we were doing.

I can only imagine if a reporter threatened to rearrange an editor’s face in today’s world, they would likely be sent to some “anger management” clinic for an extended stay to heal them from the problem. In MacLeese’s days editors and reporters “made up” by going to a nearby gin mill and soaking their disagreements in gin, vodka, bourbon, but hardly ever scotch.
Now before you think I’m advocating a return to those boozy, fun-filled days of the past, I’m not. They had their place, but they were very destructive to the people involved. Roger’s book will give you all the evidence you need of that as it relates to just one man.

Al alienated friends and family alike with his self-centered and destructive behavior. But he was a genius at a typewriter/keyboard and he did what we were told to do in that day, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Hopefully, today’s “new” journalists will work to continue the tradition of affliction, even if they’ll have to find a way to do it at clean and orderly desks that don’t include a bottle of Jack Daniels in the drawer.

For those who knew the “old” newspaper office, it was harder and harder to live in the “new” newspaper office. Probably because it felt more like an “office” than a news room.
As I recall more stories and personalities from the old days, I’ll start posting them here, probably for no other reason that I need my sleep and I don’t want to think about these folks at 4 a.m.

Next up, ” election nights when they were really election nights.”

(Eds note: I have no idea why the font size shrunk, I'm calling together a meeting of the computer squirrels I work with to see if I can fix this, until then I'm sorry)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lessenberry: Editor's column "Journalistic understatement of the century"

In his own bare fisted style, Jack Lessenberry, political analyst for Michigan Radio, checks in about the "the election coverage."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Flint Journal editor responds to the missed election coverage

The Flint Journal editor stepped up and took the blame for the lack of competent election coverage. It was the right thing to do, but the comments are pretty brutal nonetheless.

Update: Poynter has an article about this as well.

Update: Jim Romenesko has chimed in as well.

Media drops the ball on Flint City Council race

Let's expand a little on the previous post that talks about a convicted murderer getting elected to City Council in Flint. I went back to see what kind of coverage the Flint Journal did on the run up to the election on the candidates. A name search of Wantwaz Davis, the convicted murderer who was elected shows several previous stories. Here was a story on his second place finish in the primary, which includes no mention of his criminal background.

Here's the story done in the run up to the election that appears to be a Q & A that was likely filled out by the candidate and submitted. In the past a reporter would have been at least required to do a background check of the Journal files and perhaps a Nexus check of a person just to see if there was something to flag in their background. It also appears there was little or no editing of the comments provided by the candidates. Flint is in lower case and the sentences are not well crafted. So either they were cut and paste from what the candidate submitted or the editing is worse than I thought at the new MLive.com.

By the way, the story is headlined "Everything you need to know about the Fifth Ward City Council Race."  It appears that everything didn't include the fact that one of the candidates was a convicted murderer. As a voter, I might like to know that. Maybe not, but I think that's key information.

Then the first story after the election (Wouldn't a headline "Flint elects convicted murderer" been a juicy headline) buried in this story is an brief accounting of the Flint Council race.

And there is just so much irony in this  MLive video of Wantwaz Davis talking about people with felony convictions not being able to get jobs. Wouldn't it have been fun to hear the reporter behind the camera ask him about his own felony conviction in this video staged in front of a crime scene?

Certainly you can blame voters, but most voters still count on the media - print and broadcast - to provide them the basic information they need about elections. The failure of media, both locally and nationally is epic, and part of the blame goes directly to the downsizing and "youth movement" in the media. Too few reporters and excessive demands coupled with fast food pay is not a recipe for journalistic success.

It wouldn't have been hard to find out either. A simple Google name search turned up a legal settlement for prisoner Wantwaz Davis from his time in prison.

It's just a matter of hours or days that this will be a national story and a national embarrassment for the local media

When the media allows the people they cover to basically determine what you write about them, this is what you get.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Election coverage ain't what it used to be

Despite glowing reports on how coverage of news has gotten better even with all the cuts somehow the recent election coverage somehow missed that a convicted murderer was running for office. And, he got elected!

A bit of a black eye for the election reporting team I would say.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The New Media - See No, Speak No, Hear No Evil

This article from Jim Romenesko highlights a lot that is wrong with the emerging new media.