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:

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."

And this:

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:

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.

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.

A Free Press columnist weighs in on auto bailout

I liked this column from a former colleague, Sue Tompor.

More news on Jim Carty's blog

If you are interested in Booth news, Jim Carty at the Paper Tiger No More link to the right has some new and interesting items there.

I would make that a daily read for the foreseeable future.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What is the future for mid-Michigan post GM?

OK, that may be a little overly dramatic, but isn't that what is on the minds of everyone in our area?

I'm hopeful that the Flint Journal is working on a project that would really look in depth at what the bankruptcy, or God forbid, the complete collapse of General Motors would look like for our area.

About now, I'm sure the paper is missing the departure of its entire GM business team last year during the buyouts, but the reporters remaining behind are certainly capable of digging in to what the future for our area is with a crippled or missing corporate giant.

So far, nearly all the coverage of the Big Three bailout crisis has come from wire service sources, such as the Washington Post, NY Times, Associated Press and others. On Sunday, I just assumed there would be a big local story on the looming impact of such a major change.

I would be wrong.

A local Home Depot Sunday was nearly deserted. Dealerships, especially the large ones with huge overhead, must be scrambling to keep the lights on. Restaurants, stores, schools, local governments, service businesses like barber shops and nail salons, etc. have to be nervous waiting for the other shoe to drop.

If newspapers are to survive, and I'm eternally optimistic that there is a formula (online and dead tree) that will work, but not if top management misses the chance to jump on a huge story like this one with both feet.

For goodness sakes, we had daily front page local stories on an American Idol candidate with a past link to the city. Is the crisis facing one of the areas primary employer less important?

In my crude understanding of the new media, wouldn't it make sense to reach out online and look for sources who are watching and waiting on GM's future? Business owners, readers and everyone could provide some needed perspective to this story with the paper acting as both a conduit and a voice for them.

This could be a great test for an interactive media, where reporters and sources meet online and them produce breaking news and analytic content for both the online version and the one that is printed each day.

Isn't this a story made for such a combination of resources?

In my humble opinion, the way to save the "newspaper" business is to make it relevant again, to make it a must read again and once you do that, move the subscription base from the printed version to the online version.

Would people pay $1 a week for access to news they have to have online and can only get in one place? I would and I believe others would. Plus you might sign up folks from around the country who are interested in your area and are willing to pay a little to stay up to date.

Then when you have signed up 100,000 (or more) online readers, maybe, just maybe some local and national advertisers might find it worthwhile to spend some money online. I know it sounds simplistic, but what is needed now is ideas (other than slash and burn) on how to reach and attract readers, not how to shrink them to a manageable base.

That's my idea, what's yours?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just how bad is it in the newspaper business

In reading the online version of the Flint Journal and the article it wrote about its own buyouts there was a link to its own information site.

On that site the Journal posed its daily circulation and daily readership numbers (daily circ: 83,813 and daily readership: 174,620). Sunday circulation was posted at 101,590 with a readership of 227,679. These numbers are quoted as from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (December 2004; and Scarborough Research 2005)

The 2008 numbers, available at the website for ABC are much lower. The daily readership numbers as of September 2008 stood at 73,018, more than 10,000 down from just three years ago. The Sunday circulation numbers for 2008 are even worse. Sunday is now 88,897, or down more than 12,000.

Current readership is harder to quantify, but if you are into numbers and comparative numbers for dead tree and online readership go to the Scarborough Research site or specifically the following pages on the Scarborough site:

Before you scroll down to the Saginaw/Bay City/Flint pages (28, btw), make sure you read and understand the methodology used for the various numbers which is given near the front of the pdf you will be reading. For all the Booth employees in the other cities there are comparable graphs in the report. I'm going to put those together for a later post.

It is clear that MLive is not providing the online numbers of many other markets (shock!) and the newspaper's general readership is below many large newspaper markets, both online and dead tree.

The numbers are interesting to those of us who would like to see newspapers survive. A corporate strategy that promises to shrink readership and reduce quality and quantity seems like the old medical strategy of bleeding a sick person to get them well.

For the few posters angry with me for writing this stuff, please remember the old newspaper adage: "Don't kill the messenger."

To save, or not to save GM, Ford and Chrysler

I will admit, probably because I'm a fish living in the GM aquarium, that I am conflicted about the bailout talks involving the Big Three.

David Brooks offers this perspective in the New York Times. My conflicting continues.

Aside: Because I read the NY Times will I be able to run for Vice-President?