Friday, May 30, 2008

Be nice to the troops

Today, I had a nice talk with a young soldier just back to Lapeer from boot camp and her initial training.

Part of the new Army requires new recruits to go home and serve a 30-day recruiting period before they move on to their first assignment.

She and three of her fellow soldiers were eating lunch (which I ended up buying for them) and were telling me of their experiences in boot camp and beyond.

While at their recruiting post at a nearby Walmart, the young woman, in her desert camo, said she was thanking people for their support as they walked in the store when a lady turned to her very snidely and told her "I don't support you or anything you are doing." She had a similar experience just a couple minutes later, leaving her and her Army friends a little demoralized. That's the kind of reaction I would expect (still not approve) in Berkeley, California, not "lovely Lapeer."

As a Vietnam veteran it hurts me when I hear crap like that. There's plenty of reason to be upset with the government and it's a free country so anyone can oppose the war, but when you see a soldier, please don't ever be disrespectful. Disagree if you will, but please don't be disagreeable to the troops.

If you are someone who would say such a nasty thing to someone who is sacrificing and serving, just be quiet, please.

If you get a chance to do something nice for someone in uniform, please do. After all, they're trying to do something for you.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rockin' Robyn departs Journal

OK, I teased this is a little last Thursday. My friend Robyn said adios to her Journal employment after being passed over for an editorship in the weekly newspaper division for no other reason than pure spite.

Let's back up a little and talk about Robyn's career with the Journal and some of the really great work she did both as a reporter, and yes, as an editor.

That's the really amazing part of this story, not only did Robyn have a great reporting resume, she had daily newspaper editing experience. But for the top management of the Journal none of that trumps the fact she wouldn't take a demanding assignment that would have stressed her family life.

Not that she hadn't already paid her dues in that regard. She already served her time on the police beat during a time of great antagonism by the City of Flint Fire Department with the Flint Journal.

I know, because I was also part of that era. Between the stupid demands of Journal management and the difficult daily confrontations with sources. it left me drained and burned out. By 2000, I was ready to leave that assignment behind myself. I took a new beat in 2000, one that lasted for nearly 8 years until my retirement last year.

But back to Robyn. As a police reporter, she was great. She knew her way around the beat and got stories no one else could get.

For a long period of time anyone covering the Flint beat had to contend with a fire chief, Theron Wiggins, who was very difficult to deal with. The City was severing ties with the Genesee County 911 system and was doing everything it could to hide some major deficiencies in the changeover.

Not to mention the chief's purchase of a luxury SUV for his personal use with money the City Council had allocated to buy TWO less well appointed vehicles for fire department and paramedic use.

Oh, and then there was than crazy episode where the Chief authorized the sale of a well worn paramedic vehicle, but had a newer, less worn vehicle delivered to the auction instead by accident. But, I digress.

Mostly when dealing with the fire chief you had to constantly answer his charges that everything was race related. Mix his racist charges with an editorial management that cowered from the mere mention of race, even when they were completely unjustified, and you had a recipe for the creation of major stomach ulcers.

So Robyn and I combined on a 911 story that took months to put together. Getting information, and Robyn was doing the heavy lifting on the story, was excruciatingly difficult. We were stonewalled all along the way. But through Freedom of Information Act requests, source work and ingenuity Robyn put the story together.

Although we had tried and tried to talk to the chief, he refused. Finally we told the city public relations person that we would have to go to press without any rebuttal or comment from the director of the 911 center, the fire chief.

Wiggins was literally forced by City Hall officials to meet with us. But in one of the strangest interviews of my career, Robyn and I showed up and found not just the fire chief and the public relations person waiting for us, but a crowded conference room with about eight people, all friends and supporters of the fire chief.

A few niceties and then we sat down for the interview, but not before the chief launched into a tirade about how this would never happen to a "white" chief and how unfair we had been, our corrupt agenda, blah, blah, blah. It went on for several minutes. At the end of the tirade, Robyn simply looked at the chief and said: "Will you answer our questions now?"

Well, not quite. First the chief asked Robyn if she "was Jewish?" I couldn't believe the question and said so, but eventually we got down to our questions, which were really never answered, but at least we could finally get the story in the paper.

Robyn and I won an AP and Michigan Press Association award for the series, but I don't think anyone in management ever realized how difficult it was to pull that one together.

When an opening for a Sunday editor (I have been advised since I posted this that the position was actually the night editor position) arrived, Robyn, who was a reporter, and another copy desk editor applied for the job. In a weak moment of competence, the Journal hired Robyn for the job and she excelled at the position. She was one of those rare editors who remembered what being a reporter was like and yet, understanding that she had to sometimes confront reporters about holes in their stories.

She did a great job as an editor. But she was also starting to raise a family and left us to do that important job.

Later, when the kids started school, she returned as a part-time reporter for our new weeklies. She picked up her aggressive reporting expertise right where she left off. Fast forward to last year when the Journal lopped off about 40 editorial employees in the buyout.

As a part-time employee, Robyn was not eligible for the buyout, but when so many people parachuted to safety, the top management desperately wanted her to come back to the daily newsroom and resume her work on the police and fire beat along with Bryn, another great beat reporter, who was also staying put.

While management probably didn't think anyone was paying attention, we saw Robyn brought upstairs for meetings with the top editors several times. Word was that she was told if she didn't take that job, she would never be considered for either of the two editorial positions available in the weeklies. Heck, I saw her in animated conversations with the top guy from my seat through his spacious windowed office.

But Robyn probably realized if she came upstairs she would become part of the great general assignment pool that has replaced the former beat system and that her life would no longer be her own. So she did the unthinkable. She told them "no."

Two good weekly editors took their wheelbarrow full of money and departed along with the rest of us.

Instead of hiring Robyn to fill one of them, the only truly logical and sensible choice, the bosses made good on their promise and hired two weekly lightweights from the outside, kissing off the daily experience that Robyn would have brought to the job. Not to mention her wonderful interpersonal skills.

Now, I've gotten word that at least one of the new weekly editors has expressed the opinion that she doesn't have to worry about "Journal style" because that's what copy editors are supposed to do. And the new editors' management style is more in line with the "beaten like rented mules" philosophy of the new Journal.

Apparently there was a dressing down of some of the weekly reporters recently because they were allegedly creating a "toxic" atmosphere. What that means is that they were likely questioning the stupid and wasteful new management demands or at least asking for pay for all the hours they worked.

The reporters were flatly told, if they didn't like what was happening, to leave. I guess Robyn gave them their answer.

Good for her. The richness of embarrassments continues at the Journal.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I know funny, and this is funny

Stole this off a blog I read. Don't know where it came from, but if someone knows, let me know and I'll give it proper attribution. In the meantime. Smile!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Credit where due

Don't know if the management at the Flint Journal is tuning in here, but at least they are beginning to correct and acknowledge the online errors.
Here is an example, the first that I have seen (maybe not the first overall) of an online error being corrected and why.

Here is the correction posted by Matt Bach today:
Posted by mattbach on 05/27/08 at 8:04AM
Thanks for your comments on this story. We did correct in this article Dena Altheide's title and we appreciate you pointing that out to us.
We left Carolyn's title as is, because her position is clerk of the court and not court administrator.
Thanks again for your comments and pointing this out.
To all, feel free to let us know how we're doing and informing us of any mistakes - from typos to possible errors of fact and I'll do my best to research and correct them.
Matt Bach
community conversation producer
The Flint Journal and

So credit, where credit is due.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More raccoon silliness and a newspaper scrooge

We just arrived home from Buffalo. Another successful trip and a good report on my wife's Dad who is recuperating nicely in a transition care place. The wheelchair ramp is now completed and ready for safer use.

Checking my mail, my friend and frequent visitor and commenter "fast eddie" sent along a picture of his friendly raccoon with an admonishment that raccoons are our friends and we should be kind to them and welcome them to our homes.

Fast Eddy snapped this picture of "Rocky" staring in his window. Rocky, Eddy advises, often brings his whole family to the Fast Eddy home for dinner.

OK, whatever grinds your pepper, eddy.
(Added a few minutes after the post was put online)
Fast Eddy, this from Reflections of a Newsosaur today on the pay of newspaper executives:
"The pay of Robert E. Jelenic, the former CEO of Journal Register Co. (JRC), soared 333.2% to $6.3 million despite a 75.9% plunge in his company’s shares.
Mr. Jelenic is a special case in that his pay envelope was fattened by the $4.9 million severance payment he received last fall when he exited the company he ran for two decades. Since then, JRC has been booted off the New York Stock Exchange and its shares, which traded as high as $18.39 in 2006, now are 24 cents apiece on the Pink Sheet (JRCO.PK).
The company also has warned that it may default this summer on the hefty debt it assumed on Mr. Jelenic’s watch.Mr. Jelenic’s severance payment from JRC, which happens to be equal to 52% of the company’s present $9.2 million market capitalization, was not counted in calculating the average pay of the publishing CEOs, because it inordinately skewed the results. (The full amount of the payment is presented in the graphics below.)"
Don't worry I'm sure in his own way Jelenic feels the pain of the employees he hurt.