Saturday, April 5, 2008

Winging it in Buffalo

How about that? My in-laws' neighbor apparently has a strong enough wireless that it works across the driveway. Yippeee!

Great to see so many familiar faces at Paul J. and Ken P.'s retirement party Friday night.

There were so many lawyer and judges present for a minute I thought I was at a hearing for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. But good to see David Leyton on hand as well.

Unlike a previous Genesee County Prosecutor, Leyton understands the job the press has to do and is cooperative whether or not he is getting a hard ride, which at present he is, from the media.

Also great to see ABC-12's Angie Hendershott, formerly Sharamski (I have no idea how to properly spell it and I'm too lazy to check it right now. That's the magic of blogging I can come back and fix it tomorrow, Monday or next week. Joel Fieck (again I'll check the spelling later) was on hand, which is a testament to the great rapport Paul J. had with everyone around the courthouse.
Of all the missing shoes, Paul's may be the toughest to fill.

Leyton even told me he obtained a murder conviction Friday and no Journal reporter was present. I noticed that Bryn did pick up the conviction, but it is clear that will all the crush of duties falling on the surviving reporters there simply won't be the kind of court coverage the Journal has had in the past.

"I'm already missing you guys," Leyton told a bunch of us Friday night.

Now I'm getting requests. The first was for some State News stories.

As some of you know I cut my journalism baby teeth as a student reporter and later editor-in-chief of the State News, the daily student publication of Michigan State University back in the 1970s. I was editor from 1978-79.

But one of my first difficult assignments was trying to get a comment from then-President Clifton Wharton, who had just announced his resignation for a new job in the State University of New York.

Wharton hated The State News, hated it with a passion. But I was told to head to his office and stay until I got a comment. So for the next three days (about 9 hours per day) me with help from another reporter sat in his outer office and waited for him to come out for a comment. A comment that never came.

But he knew we were waiting, even if he refused to come out. It was an important lesson about perseverance and dedication.

Later I met a Mr. Ballard, who was the liaison between the University President and the Board of Trustees, who gave me a line I never forgot.

"Smith, if it weren't for the students and faculty, Michigan State would be a great place to work," he said.

I loved that quote and have altered it for use many times during my career.

In the coming days and weeks I'll post some stories about State News copy runs, cookie day, the annual MSU State News vs. U-M Daily football game during "Big Game" week and any other stories that come to mind.

Buffalo is beautiful this time of year.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A little break

The press of business and a short trip to Buffalo will cause a brief interuption in blogging. I may blog from Buffalo if I can pirate a wireless connection.
Until then, feel free to use the links, catch up on past posts or get out in the great outdoors and enjoy spring.
See ya' soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More adventures with Ed

All this Oakland Press reminiscing stirred up another long lost memory.

The date is lost to memory, but Ed Noble and I responded to a "suspicious" object found at Pontiac Central High School during a morning shift at the Oakland Press.

At the school we walked around the back (as I recall we beat the police as the OP was just two blocks away) and spotted what looked like a clock radio or other electronic device that likely had been dropped out of a window a couple stories up.

When police arrived, they moved us back about 50 yards and taped off the area.

That began about a four-hour vigil as the state police bomb squad was called from Lansing or some other far flung post.

Ed, using his telephoto lens, kept telling anyone who would listen (mostly me) that the object was nothing more than a broken clock radio. At one point he and I offered to walk up and pick up the object so we could go back to the office. (In those days, our editor was adamant that you never left a scene until the outcome was no longer in doubt).

So stay we did. When state police arrived, they stopped traffic on M-59 in front of the school, moved us back another 100 yards and began the process of identifying the "suspicious" item.

Now, we've missed lunch. A robot was deployed and actually began firing bullets or other projectiles at the object to see if it would explode. When it didn't (Ed and I had sore necks by now from shaking our heads in disbelief) two men in moon suits walked carefully up to the object and bent over it.

Suddenly one of them, at seemingly great risk to himself, reached down picked up the tangled electronic parts and gave the all clear signal.

At the press briefing shortly after we were told the item was a clock radio dropped from a classroom a couple stories above.

Ed and I have had a good laugh over that one for years.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

They're having fun in Chicago

I know it's April Fool's Day and I hate April Fools jokes, but this one was real. The Chicago Tribune, in a ruse that has drawn some minor ethical criticism, won a $1,000 prize from the Chicago Sun Times contest about the renaming of Wrigley Field.

The Sun Times was trying to do something to embarrass Tribune owner Sam Zell, but instead had the tables turned by a journalism intern.

The link below is to the Chicago Tribune website and the video that won the award. It probably was a little over the line, but it's funny nonetheless. Enjoy! And if you're really bored or sitting home spending your buyout play the "Name the Wrigley Field" game under the video.

Speaking of wage and hour issues

This was posted on

Another depressing newspaper analysis

Sorry to have to post this on April Fool's Day, but the New Yorker has chimed in on newspapers look below at the link.
Here's a sample from The New Yorker article:
"Most managers in the industry have reacted to the collapse of their business model with a spiral of budget cuts, bureau closings, buyouts, layoffs, and reductions in page size and column inches. Since 1990, a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared. The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.”
Give yourself some time, it's a longee.

Monday, March 31, 2008

An apology and a half has printed a doosie (or should it be doozie) of an error from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Many of the newspapers corrections published on that site go into extensive detail not on just the error, but how it was made and whether editors or bad information contributed to the error.

Here's the link:

Lamont Cranston chimes in....

(Note: A loyal reader and sometime commenter sent me the following via E-mail. I think it is worthy of posting as its own item. The words are not mine, but I give it a big "ditto." The writer is posting under the name Lamont Cranston. If you are under 50, you'll need to look it up. If you're over 50 and are scratching your heads: "The Shadow Knows." Or maybe the writer is referring to a great Blues band.)

Jim -- Longtime opinion page editor Mike Riha will certainly be missed at the Flint Journal; at least the editor had the decency to acknowledge his long service to the paper.

While Mike's retirement will be obvious to anyone reading the editorial page in the weeks and months ahead, readers paying attention to the news columns will likely notice the disappearance of the bylines of veteran reporters Ken Palmer and Paul Janczewski.

These of course are two more of the senior reporters who follow the long trail of veteran writers and editors taking buyouts offered by Journal management, leaving large holes in the paper's coverage of Flint news.

Ken has routinely covered big stories of all sorts and filled in wherever the ever-shrinking news department needed him -- on police beat, in the suburbs, at Flint schools and practically everywhere else. Paul, also the co-author of a bestselling true crime book, has been a top-notch courts reporter for years. Both were respected and trusted by people throughout Genesee County. Good luck, you guys.

Like so much about the newspaper these days, you can take it to the bank that the paper's coverage of the courts will be a shadow of what it was. This is nothing short of amazing since the paper's management knows that readers like and pay attention to news about court cases. But the brain trust that runs the Journal's newsroom doesn't care about the courts, so you can pretty much say goodbye to thorough coverage of the most important cases.

The staffers that remain at the Journal know well that the loss of these two longtime, hard-working reporters means even more work and longer hours for them. Don't worry, kids, the Journal editors are putting up a fun bulletin board for you to put pictures up of your spouses and children! Wow, that should really make the Journal newsroom a fun place to work.

Of course, the Journal editors are telling this ever-smaller and less experienced news staff that they are doing a great job at covering all the stories, filling in the gaps and doing everything that the veteran reporters of days gone by used to do, but that's patently false and the reporters know it.

The losses at the Journal this week go beyond Mike and Ken and Paul; though the public doesn't see their names, Jennifer, a veteran copy editor and Michael, top-notch graphics design editor, also left. So if you wonder why you're seeing pages that look like crap, layout-wise, and you notice even more mistakes in print, well, this is why.

A handful of new people have been hired to replace the many experienced vets that are leaving, but true to Flint Journal form, the bosses have managed to hire a couple of real doozies who are already establishing themselves as true pygmies in the talent-and-ability department. Way to go, Journal bosses!

Even longtime readers of the Journal are noticing and complaining about what's happened to the newspaper, but the editor continues to fail to tell the readers what's really going on. Stay tuned in to Jim's blog, it's the only way your going to know.

Lamont Cranston

(Thanks Lamont, I couldn't have said it better.)

Good summary from

Here's a link to the latest summary from one of my favorite daily blogs,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Guess I told him...

I love it when a reporter from New York comes to town and disses both Detroit and Flint as being dangerous. Rich, eh?
So I posted a comment on his blog at his New York newspaper.
Here's the link:

A master of spin

Give the editor of the Flint Journal credit, he knows how to spin. No straight talk express for him. (I'll post a link to the column as soon as they put it on the website.)

In Sunday's editorial page, the editor says adios to longtime employee and editorial page editor Mike Riha (a great guy, by the way).

The farewell to Mike column included the editor's new initiative to bring the paper closer to its readers by turning over more of the editorial page to contributors. So now the paper won't write editorials daily (Sunday-Friday) as it has but will let its readers fill in on some days.

This, according to the editor, is to bring the newspaper closer to its readers.

Better wear your boots when you read this stuff or you'll be up to your knees in what the cows left behind.

Here's the no-spin translation: "We are running out of people to write, I don't want to write everyday because I'm busy overseeing our correction policy and so we're going to fill the editorial page with your free stuff."

The truth is that readers and contributors don't ask for an hourly wage or benefits.

Here's how I would have written it:

"Folks, the squeeze is on. My owners have eviscerated my newsroom. I've already kissed off most of the coverage of Lapeer and Shiawassee counties and my business desk is gone except for one reporter. My features desk is a fond memory.

Areas that used to be covered by five reporters are now assigned to one. Some of them are new and need to get up to speed and learn the ropes. I can only flog them so much.

So here's the deal, I have no one left to write editorials and you people keep calling me telling me how you can do my job better. Here's your chance, I'm turning over large portions of the editorial pages to you several days a week.

But unlike the people who used to work there, you can't ask for pay or benefits. Deal? Deal.

By the way, sorry about that hefty per newspaper issue price increase late last year and for charging you to put milestone pictures and articles in the paper that we used to do free. Just be glad we don't bill you for putting your name in the paper when you are arrested. Thanks for reading."
This all fits with the new newsroom attempts to raise morale among the surviving employees. Recently the management told reporters they were looking for ways to make working at the paper more fun.

One actual suggestion: A bulletin board where pictures of family members of staffers could be posted to help improve morale.

Here's my suggestion: Pay people what they are worth and for ALL the hours they work. Overtime is nice too. Do that, morale will really soar.