Friday, March 13, 2009

An idea from inside Booth

A Booth employee wrote me off line expressing frustration with the tone and lack of response to the news of the pending plans for the newspaper.

The plea from the employee is that the time-honored secrecy and closely held management of the Booth chain might benefit at this crucial time from first, a little honesty, and second, and more importantly, a little more collaboration and idea sharing throughout the chain, from top to bottom.

"If people could simply get their egos out of the way and admit that perhaps someone lower on the ladder than them might have a better idea of how to save the newspapers, the online product and help us in the future, we might have a chance."

I'm only really familiar with the Flint Journal, but what the person said is true. I've written previously about the abrupt and arbitrary way that management moved around reporters and beats. You're probably tired (and I know they are) of me explaining how promotions are handed out without any competitive process or postings.

So it's not really in the DNA of Booth management to really reach out to its employees and say: "Here's the problem, here's the solution as we see it, but we are open to other ideas on how to move forward."

That would involved hundreds of minds, many of them new and young minds, with perhaps forward thinking ideas that staid old reporters (like me), editors and managers haven't yet considered.

I mean what would it hurt to open this process up to everyone? With the nuclear option on the table, as the reader said, put some high-priced egos aside and see what other ideas might be out there.

What have you got to lose that you don't already plan to lose?

Now, I'm going to the window of my in-laws Buffalo home and watch as the pigs fly by.


Anonymous said...

Jim, you just hit the nail on the head on why so many of us took one of the two rounds of buyouts at TFJ, or even left without any buyout.

The upper strata there does not listen. Will not listen. They are politically savvy, corporately savvy, but not technologically or technically savvy.

Many won't try new stuff, or only buy new stuff to show it off. They never really find new and different ways to use new stuff, or do things differently themselves.

They only want people below them to use new stuff, at their own expense, at lower wages, to do the same old stuff.

And if you argue, or debate, or criticize, you will never get to the upper strata.

It really boils down to this:

Do you hire and promote people as smart or smarter than you and get out of their way?

Or do you make sure you hire and promote people who share your skill sets and worldview and are obedient?

One way generally leads to a dynamic, flexible, successful business model.

The other way generally doesn't.

Anonymous said...


In Saginaw, His Nibs never trusted his employees.


From the metro desk on down, there were sign-out sheets, daily agendas, phone calls to make sure that the "slackers" on the metro desk didn't take off early on Friday (meaning before 6 p.m.).

These people weren't slackers -- they started their day at 5 or 6 am, put out Friday's paper and made sure all the metro stuff for Saturday was done before they left.

They were responsible adults.

Then the fiat was issued that all rural township agendas were newsworthy. All of them. No matter what the reporter on the beat thought. Ten years, 12 years, 20 years on the job, and no news judgment.

Hmmm. How does THAT work?

So all of this secrecy and contempt toward employees is heartbreaking, but, sadly, not out of character.

Anonymous said...

The managers at The Flint Journal will NEVER listen. One of the sales managers has never sold anything in their life but is always coming up with ideas for special sections, with the approval of the ad director, that the people on the selling end know will not work. When it is pointed out to management that the sections do not meet the clients needs, the sales people are told it is their job to sell whatever they are told to sell. The reason the paper is so small now is that we now don't have enough ads to support the printed news. It is not just because of the economy. Management has brought in new training material that stresses placing ads in sections that will get the most exposure for the client but they are not following their own advice. So the sales people are wasting time trying to sell ads to clients that the client also knows will not meet their needs and then management blames the salespeople for not bringing in the revenue.

Anonymous said...

You have to realize that Advance is not a corporation. It is a family business where individuals are responsible for different parts of the operation. The younger family members learn by doing things, important things, and they are allowed to make mistakes.
There is scarce input from outsiders.

Anonymous said...

I have been in contact with someone at the Journal and from what I have been told, the readership at the Journal is the highest for a daily newspaper in the country, circulation remains pretty high-- so the staff is flabbergasted that they would go to this 3 day option. When I told this person that surely the management would be replaced this person told me that that was extremely unlikely.

It seems that despite the obvious writing on the wall that the current management clearly have no clue how to handle things or how to increase sales, or will be likely able to handle the multitude of problems going to three days will entail, the management is likely to stay. I find this unbeliveable but this person seems pretty confident that management will remain and other staff will be perhaps cut.

This person told me that the sales management in particular, would much rather see the salespeople fill out some sort of computer program that lists their daily activities each and every day instead of making good use of their sales time by doing what they should be doing, and that is selling!

Apparently, they get in trouble if they do not do this mundane activity every day even if they are busy on sales calls, that is no excuse and they must do it. They are also required to input their own orders into the computer system, even though there are sales assistants that can and are able to do this activity. So, apparently, while salespeople should be out making sales calls and visiting customers they are told to stay in at their computers and list these various things into the system.

Now, I do not know their business too well, as I am a manager at another media company, but this seems really strange that you would not want as a manager, your sales people selling at all times. I would find, if I had to, college interns to do this other stuff for them-- and get my sales staff selling all day long!!!
That is why i am amazed that the current management would stay on, but maybe the higher ups do not know this kind of stuff is happening! I think the staff feels they can't tell anyone either-- I was told there is no one to go to to explain how mismanaged the place is.

Too bad these blog comments can not be sent to the Flint journal management and the parent company.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure FJ management is aware of the comments. This blog is pretty popular among us Boothies. And I agree mgt. will stay put for now, but probably not for long. At least I would hope not, given there won't be enough employees to manage.

And you're dead on about the sales teams. It's not just at the FJ. And I know when one rep asked about servicing customers, he was told to just "sell and move on." So, sell, move on. Or move on back to the office for justification of your existence by spending half your day on a computer or in training to use said computers and programs.
I'm not in sales, by the way. But I see enough of this to know.

Anonymous said...

"Too bad these blog comments can not be sent to the Flint journal management and the parent company."

I'd bet that everyone that is involved with the Flint Journal management has read everything posted at this blog a few times over. Are the "Newhouse" kids reading this stuff? Do they care either way?

The Flint Journal could also get their carriers more involved with selling subscriptions but they need to change a few things in the way they deal with the carriers on other things to do this.

A few years back Dave Sharp called his motor route carriers something like the front line of sales and customer service but has done nothing to try and get them more involved since.

There is a story on Crains's Detroit Business site that mentions Jim Smith and this blog but when you go to the link for it they want you to actually pay for the content!

Anonymous said...

It's sad that the same managers who ran the Bay City Times, Saginaw News and Flint Journal into the ground are the one's charged with saving them.

In ANY other industry (except the Big Three), the David Sharps and Paul Chaffees would have been fired years ago and replaced with managers with new ideas.

But not in Booth. The job-for-life entitlement is what will ultimately kill this once storied and profitable company.

Anonymous said...

I am a former employee of the FJ and was on the sales team. I had a manager with less experience than myself who wanted us to sell features that we knew as advertising consultants that they would never benefit our customers. Of course, we were told that we have to sell it anyway. Then was questioned why it didn't generate revenue. We were also required to fill out a report of what we did everyday and was told it was a job requirement, no matter how busy we were. Out of a sales staff of around 30 people on avg. only 3-4 per month would hit goal. I was told that FJ didn't want their sales people to hit goal because they would have to pay them more $. Something sound wrong here? When you try to talk to the ad director about your ideas or problems her eyes literally glaze over while she's looking for ways to overcome your objections. A good ad director should listen to their sales staff after all aren't they the ones out in front of clients every single day?

Anonymous said...

It is true that the sales people are required by management to waste a lot of valuable time. The ad director at The Flint Journal talks about good time management and then insists that all the sales reps list their activities in a computer program every day. At the end of the day the sales reps are required to go back into the system and and justify their day. It takes a lot less time to scribble who you need to call or see in a planner than to open up a very slow computer program two or three times a day. You are required to list every company that you called and/or visited, the person you spoke with, what you discussed and what the outcome was. The object of course is really an electronic babysitter. What happened to common sense? If a person is not going to do their job, what makes management think they will be honest listing their activities in a computer program. There are also so many mandatory meetings that waste a huge amount of time. A memo could be emailed that contains the same information that an hour long meeting takes. The reps are so micro-managed that it has a big impact on revenue. Let the reps do what they were hired to do... which is sell!