Saturday, March 14, 2009

Links to posts on pending Booth actions

Some folks told me they are having trouble finding links or articles on the current topic of interest.

Here is Crain's article.

Here is the ABC-TV, Channel 12 story.

Editor and Publisher is here.

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.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Off to Buffalo

Buffalo, NY beckons, but blogging should continue if the usually reliable wireless signal penetrates the in-laws walls again.

I am still in contact with folks in and around the Journal and if anything new develops, I'll let you know.

On Wednesday, I received a call from a Channel 12 reporter who just asked me to confirm that the blog was mine, which I did. Someone called me and said the station did a short news bit on the blog information.

The response from the three papers was predictably vague, but far from a denial, I'm told.

Feel free to post what you hear anonymously on the original post or here. Have the best weekend you can.

Fight for the thing!

Last night I went back and read the various business documents from Booth that were shared with me about the impending plan to scale back operations at least at the Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News.

For my own peace of mind, I also shared them with a couple of trusted friends, former employees, for their assessment of what the internal documents said. All agreed that my interpretation of them was accurate, if not unnecessarily muted.

So here we are two days later and the only response from the newspapers so far publicly (and internally, I am told) is that "everything is on the table." No denials, no repudiation of what has been written here and, by the way, no request for a retraction or correction.

I'm told the editor told his staff yesterday morning that "my office is open, but my mouth is closed." Any good reporter knows that when someone ducks a "yes or no" question with a vague answer, they are usually confirming the information they won't comment on.

I've read the passionate comments from readers and employees alike. I hope management is reading along as well. But maybe they can't.

A person who works at the Journal, not in the editorial department, told me that this site is electronically blocked at the paper. If true, that's a terrible example from a so-called defender of the First Amendment.

The other night as I contemplated posting the original information my wife was surprised when my voice broke as I read her from the document. She wondered why. "This is like a death," I told her. A death of something very near and dear to me. And, of course, near and dear to people I care about very much.

But what really troubles me is that this so-called business plan to save the papers, is nothing more than a several page death wish. This isn't saving the papers, it is ritual suicide. It is what Japanese admirals did when their plans failed in World War II.

Not to get too dramatic, but this plan, the very one they are considering right now, and that I published here on Tuesday, is France in World War II. It's the Iraqi Army in Desert Storm. It quite simply is surrender. And I think they know it.

Carve the paper back to three days a week and the readers and advertisers will flee in greater numbers than they already have. I'm a simple-minded retired reporter and if I can see it, why can't some expensive suit see this as well.

Dismember more of the creative and hardworking folks that produce, sell and deliver the papers and your future is gone. Forever.

Dr. Kevorkian (and remember I knew Dr. Kevorkian well) could not have designed a better suicide machine than the one being proposed for the newspapers here.

This is a child about to put a fork in a light socket, "don't do it."

Dismantle your daily operation and you will do Humpty Dumpty and it will be impossible to put back together again.

Do you need more metaphors?

Not that the company will ever listen to me, but they should listen to the voices of the people who want the papers to survive and step back from the brink. When you are faced with a danger you have two choices, "flight or fight."

Choose to go down fighting. It's worth it for the paper, it's important to the community and you could make some history. Turn loose those reporters and advertising sales people to do what they were trained and are passionate to do without the current lame management that is holding them back.

Look more toward the front page, than the bottom line. You're a newspaper stupid, your survival is tied to the product more than ever. Gutting it only leaves you less to sell.

If you can't do that, try and sell the paper to someone who will. Although that will be nearly impossible in the current market, it will be impossible once the human infrastructure is gone. It's not too late to turn back from the brink.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

After a fall, how to pick back up

Reflections of a Newsosaur had some thoughts for survivors of the Seattle newspaper collapse.

For some reason you have to scroll up from the comments to read the article. But it's there. Follow the links with the story about how to make people pay for your online content.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Flint Journal to cut publication days, staff, benefits

Of all the journalism related posts I have put up, this is the one I least wanted to do. But the information is solid and it doesn't seem right to have the information and not pass it along to the folks most impacted by it.

Reportedly, some time next week, publishers at the Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News are expected to call together their staffs to announce the following:

1.) The three papers will reduce publication to three days a week: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The date of the change I don't know. (No one mentioned my terrible verb tense, I've fixed it today)

2.) The reduction in publication days will void the long held "lifetime" employment pledge of Newhouse and Booth.

3.) An unspecified number of employees will be laid off and will receive some type of severance, which they must "voluntarily" accept. The company will recommend the State give the severed employees unemployment compensation.

4.) Those employees who stay will face reduced pay and benefits, which will be adjusted to conform to the pay and benefits currently paid at weekly newspapers.

5.) The printing of the Flint Journal will cease at the Flint PDC and will be transferred to the printing plant that is currently printing the Bay City Times and the Saginaw News.

6.) There will be a central copy desk for the three newspapers, but newspapers will retain separate newsrooms.

7.) Some sections of the three-times a week paper will be identical among the three papers.

All this is a result of the continuing economic collapse of Michigan and Flint, Bay City and Saginaw specifically. Ad revenues and newspaper losses have not been covered by the already draconian cuts suffered by the papers.

It will be interesting to see if the salaries of the editors and upper management will also be cut to match those of folks in similar positions at weekly newspapers. I heard at least one publisher may get a $430,000 severance.

No one will be happier than I if this information turns out to be some kind of plant in an effort to trip me up. But my reading of the information that I have shows otherwise. I held off nearly 24 hours to give the company a chance to announce these things before I did. Hopefully, because I'm posting this for a 1 p.m. release, maybe they have already released this information.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What big city papers will fail or go digital next?

Found this article on a Facebook friend's posting:

What papers will fail go digital?

More ideas on how to save newspapers

Another frequent FFE reader sent along this item from the New York Times.

Big changes coming to Flint, Bay City and Saginaw papers

Some information has come to me that indicates that as early as next week, huge changes will be announced at the Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News. Not sure if similar announcements are planned at other Booth properties.

Before I publish the information that has come to me, I want to double check a couple things because the changes are significant enough that a number of very good people will be affected.

Maybe the management, realizing that I have the information now, will do the right thing and make the announcements sooner, rather than later. But stay tuned as I will likely put up some information as early as tomorrow.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

NHL Hockey is today's vacuuming and dusting distraction

We had to postpone cleaning day until today, so instead of a movie I watched the NHL Game of the Week, Boston Bruins versus New York Rangers.

Sean Avery is back. Yuck!

Stuck in my head: A mutated "Billy Bass"

There is a new commercial that features a singing fish. The annoying jingle has been stuck in my head for several hours and in addition to promising never to visit the fast food restaurant that sponsored the ad it brought to mind another annoying "fish."

A few years ago, the Big Mouth Billy Bass fad swept through the country and many people I know, smart people by the way, bought them and actually hung them on the walls of their homes and cabins.

By now I'm sure they are all gone, but to where. Apparently e-bay, because they have 26 of them for sale right now. And in case you have forgotten them, here is a short sample of one version (there were several).

Shalom aleichem!

Someone from Israel stopped by, the first visitor to Free From Editors from that country.

Mazal tov!

We also pray for peace for your country and region.