Saturday, March 28, 2009

A good-bye from a Gannet television desk editor

I "borrowed" this off Gannetblog. It says so well what many of us have been saying.

Assignment desk editor Alan Henney of broadcasting division flagship WUSA-TV told colleagues in an e-mail on Wednesday that consultants and "out-of-touch corporate management have ruined the newscasts with repetitive Web clutter, endless sidebar packages, and their preoccupation with the Internet."

Then he hit the send key at 12:47 p.m. ET.

Here's what he wrote:

Subject: Goodbye from Alan

This message will come as a surprise. I worked on the assignment desk and I enjoyed the work I did with all of you. You are some great co-workers. But I am not receiving the support I feel is needed to continue to attempt a quality news product on the weekends.

After receiving my master’s from GWU, I spent my life pursuing a career in journalism. Paul Irvin brought me on as a paid tipster in March of 2000. Then Tony Castrilli offered me the part-time weekend desk position in 2005. In addition to weekends, for the past three years I volunteered to work unfilled weekday shifts and major holidays, often neglecting my ailing mother.

But I treasured every shift, and never once called out sick or missed a day of work.

As we discussed in ethics class yesterday, the top-down decision-making approach is a flawed model.

WUSA frequently lacks the discussion that is vital to the success of a vibrant news operation and falls into this model. Many of us are reluctant to say anything, and the suggestion box on the first floor is not enough.

The consultants and out-of-touch corporate management have ruined the newscasts with repetitive Web clutter, endless sidebar packages, and their preoccupation with the Internet. You won’t find a blog anywhere that will generate enough revenue to support a news operation of this size, there are simply too many.

We’ve heard regular speak of “Web Winners,” but what ever happened to the “News Winners?” A dying breed? IT IS TIME EVERYBODY WORK A DAY ON THE ASSIGNMENT DESK TO FIND OUT WHAT IT IS LIKE.

The next time you holler at one of my colleagues on the assignment desk, put yourself in their position. The WUSA assignment editors are conscientious, diehard news people who work extended shifts without union benefits, never had a meal buyout or OT, and hardly get a chance to eat lunch.

The assignment desk is the WUSA switchboard, the help desk for all of WUSA and the rest of humanity. The assignment desk does pretty much everything nobody else does. TOO MUCH.

How many of you call just to ask for another employee’s phone number you should have already gotten from Renee’s list? Please be thoughtful of assignment desk workers, and volunteer to work a shift to see what it is like.

We are doing less news gathering these days and more information posting. Somebody needs to be driving the news machine at all times, actively pursuing news leads.

We’ve lost our focus. Any corporation that allows employees to blog as an excuse for not reporting to work on time is not an organization with which I want to be associated. Effective immediately, I am placing myself on permanent furlough from the Gannett Corp.

I will be mailing back my card later today. I am frustrated, as many of you are. Please don’t let that discourage you from staying in touch. As I said, you have been great, and I’ll miss working with you.

Thanks for the great times.

My favorite part:

"As we discussed in ethics class yesterday, the top-down decision-making approach is a flawed model.

WUSA frequently lacks the discussion that is vital to the success of a vibrant news operation and falls into this model. Many of us are reluctant to say anything, and the suggestion box on the first floor is not enough.

The consultants and out-of-touch corporate management have ruined the newscasts with repetitive Web clutter, endless sidebar packages, and their preoccupation with the Internet. You won’t find a blog anywhere that will generate enough revenue to support a news operation of this size, there are simply too many."

Detroit News experiment ready to go

At least the News - Free Press model pretty much left the newsroom s of the newspapers intact, realizing that it was unwise to further erode the news product in the name of saving money.

Detroit News has its own story today.

Today's house cleaning movie: Huckleberry Finn

On the menu for today's House cleaning: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Mickey Rooney. After that, San Antonio with Errol Flynn.

The time should go very quickly.

A tale of two websites: State News defeats MLive

Up front I will admit my bias for The State News, the daily newspaper from Michigan State. I was editor there from 1978-79, but the student web coverage of the NCAA Tournament as compared to MLive speaks volumes about what is wrong with the MLive site.

This morning I woke up not knowing whether my beloved Spartans won their game last night. A guy has to get his beauty sleep you know and the Red Wings lost so I didn't think I could bear another disappointment.

First I went to MLive, the Flint Journal edition. I found the score in a box score after I scrolled down the home page. I couldn't find a game story, so I took a chance and clicked on the Michigan State link in the box score. What did I get, an Associated Press account of the game. Not even a Booth reporter's account. No video, no audio, just the hidden story.

After searching the MLive site again, I found a small blurb from a Booth writer tucked into the sports news roll. By clicking on that I got the Booth writer's version. Why one link takes you to an AP story and the other to the Booth writer is anyone's guess.

So I took a chance and went to The State News site. What a difference. I got a locally produced story, a photo album, a video of post game comments of a player and two audio files from the winning and losing coach.

You might argue that sure, The State News, would have a bigger presence at the NCAA finals and that would be true. But it is M (for Michigan) Live after all. The results of that game (or for the Maize and Blue) you would think would be a major news point for MLive.

I'm sure game video is protected under some licensing agreement, but I'll turn on Sportscenter and see what I can see there.

The student journalists at Michigan State got it right. MLive, well, lame.

And in case I hadn't already said it: GO STATE!

Here's the video from the State News site:

What are your ideas?

An anonymous poster left this:

I would like to hear other peoples suggestions on how they could actually improve or at least sell more papers.I just don't believe enough is being done to improve the product to compete.These papers have always been penny wise and dollar foolish. It takes money to make money: they are taking money to make money."

Before Booth announced its recent slashes I suggested to them (and I also said I would see pigs fly first) that they seek the ideas of ALL their employees before making such draconian cuts. Well, they didn't do that, but we can still offer the ideas that we would have made to help the paper.

So, I'm offering this space for serious reflections on what could be done to save newspapers. Many of you have offered bits and pieces in previous comments. We all know the management is lacking, but let's go a little deeper. The comment refers specifically to content and let's assume the poster means all content, online and dead tree.

"If I was publisher I would...."

Have at it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dad has some good news

My father, a frequent reader of this blog and a lifelong lover and consumer of newspapers and magazines, has been following the sad events of the past week with interest.

If Washington, D.C. is the country's stomach, my father lives in the upper colon in the suburb of Herndon, Virginia and is a daily reader of the Washington Post. A former advertising executive he follows and knows trends better than anyone I have ever met in my life. He also believes that to get a real flavor of how stupid Washington works (or doesn't) he thinks it should be a requirement for every American to live in an around Washington for at least two years. (He equally despises Republicans and Democrats - like father, like son).

So he sent along this opinion after reading today's sports section. Finally some good news about the economy.


"I have a sure fire accurate gauge to measure the country's economic situation, well it's as accurate as any of the other systems; the Washington Post sports section today featured eight small massage parlor ads, up from four last week. A solid indication of an upswing in the economy!"

Now why my 80-plus year old father is looking at massage parlor ads, you can guess. No, actually my father reads every ad (with a very critical eye) and newspaper articles with the same detailed copy editor's view.

My father's name was once used as the cardholder's name on a national "Bankamericard" ad (remember the little cartoon orchestra conductor back in the 1960s).

He is typical of so many of the "Greatest Generation," he does not like reading his news online. My blog is the only one he reads and that is probably out of some family obligation, so he will likely not make the transition with newspapers into cyberspace.

But at least he sees a silver lining for the economy.

p.s. If you are ever in the Washington, D.C. area and want the best tour you can receive at the Dulles branch of the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, just ask for "Lee" the docent before you head there and you won't be disappointed. A former general aviation pilot and member of the Army Air Corps in World War II his head is crammed full of facts and information about airplanes and flight. It's a free tour, by the way.

Jim Carty's reflections on

After a three-part interview with the new "content super czar" of the new Jim Carty is online today with his own reflections about the future of the Newhouse "inspired" and Newhouse led new venture.

You already know mine.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The election of 1864

One way to get out of a blue funk, at least for me, is to go to a great lecture on the Civil War.

As a member of the James Turrill Civil War Roundtable in Lapeer I always look forward to our monthly programs. Tonight was a really good one.

Bob, a history teacher in Flint, gave a fascinating talk about the politics leading up to the 1864 re-election of Abraham Lincoln. I wish I had the memory to recreate the entire talk, but for those of us who are history buffs, the intricate details of the political machinations were very interesting.

One fact I do remember is that Lincoln, by consensus one of, if not the, greatest President in our country's history only won re-election, during an unpopular war, by a relatively narrow 2.2 million to 1.8 million vote.

So that means that in his time, Lincoln was pretty much opposed by half the people he represented. History has been good to him, even if fate wasn't.

Although he was often viewed in his day as a country bumpkin, he had a shrewd political mind and navigated the political waters with great skill. Attempts to get him to declare an armistice in the months leading up to the election failed.

Bob wondered aloud that if an armistice was declared so a peace could be negotiated leading up to the election whether the Civil War could ever have actually been won by the north. Would anyone in the north be willing to start up the war again after it had stopped for awhile? Would Lincoln have been re-elected, or would Gen. George McClellan, a peace candidate, beaten Lincoln?

Of course, the questions are completely unanswerable, but still fun to discuss.

So as you can see, I'm pretty much a history nerd. Everything was going pretty well until after the end of the lecture and then everyone at the lecture turned to me and wanted to know what I thought of the events at the Flint Journal this week.

I told them I pretty much felt like General Lee must have felt after Gettysburg. They could relate to that.

On life after journalism

A faithful reader, RZ, sent this along and it's a pretty good read.

On backward hat wearing and fool's gold

Jim Carty has posted Part III of his interview with the "content director" or "chief content director" whatever his goofy title is at the new

Some of the "characters" from my Journal era will appreciate the humor of the following excerpt:

"We'll turn a lot over to them, and just let them go after that audience and make it their own. A lot of that is just going to be what they do. They live there, and I can't do that, and I won't try to. My job is more immediate and a little more traditional - to get that existing audience that we've got to start with and bring them with us to a new company that has to succeed. But there will be a lot of kids wearing baseball caps backwards and tennis shoes, to reach an audience that I am not tuned into or capable of reaching."

Sounds like what they are inventing is Drudge with a YouTube addition. Done and done.

I still contend if you were going to roll out a "new and exciting product, one like nothing anyone has ever seen before" you wouldn't have done the roll out with a podcast so boring and predictable that it could be used in place of Ambien for sleep inducement. You have to wonder if anyone at Newhouse has even seen this video?

Carty does a good job of confronting him about the folly of three (four if you count the "man behind the curtain" revealed in the story) Advance/Booth retreads leading this "new" venture.

What he doesn't explain (and frankly what Advance and Booth have never explained or found an answer to) is "how is this going to make money?"

Carty is certainly ruining any pretense at my blogging sabbatical. What they should do to make this thing work is simply hire Carty and Mary Morgan, a former Ann Arbor News writer who now produces the online newspaper, AnnArborChronicle and let them run the thing.

The bottom line is that this is still about the upper management at Booth protecting their own "phony, baloney" jobs. (Just couldn't resist another "Blazing Saddles" reference).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crain's: More on the cuts at Booth

Here's some information on the Booth cuts as reported by Bill Shea in Crains. It appears that the pay cuts are all over the place. Some were cut 10-15 percent, others 25 percent and a few unlucky souls were hacked by 50 percent. Wonder how that's going over in Booth newsrooms?

Also it's being reported that 85 layoffs from the FJ alone were reported to the State.

Just a short break from the blogging sabbatical. A train wreck in the making

OK, I couldn't stay away from the newspaper news that long. Jim Carty has put up Part II of the "content director" of's interview.

Except for the obviously biased headline, I'm going to withhold any comment and just let you read it for yourself here.

You should put Paper Tiger No More and Inside Out on your favorites list if you are hungry for Booth news. For example here's a good analysis on Inside Out.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks. (Or sooner, if something important pops up.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gone fishin'

Unless something else major comes up, I'm taking a short sabbatical from newspaper blogging. I am working on one large think piece about "What went wrong?" but it will be a couple weeks before that's done.

Too many hurting friends, too many stupid management decisions and too many restless nights. I noticed this morning that Jim Carty has the first of three parts of an interview with the former editor of the Flint Journal and the new "content director" of

Those who remember our former editor will be stunned by some of his comments about what he encouraged and wanted in Flint. But it's a good job by Jim Carty to at least try and flesh out what this new product is trying to be.

You can read the first installment here. But you'll have to go back and find the rest for yourself, I'm not sure I can stand anymore.

I'll still be writing here (it's hard for me not to write and the wonderful writers I have worked with will certainly understand) but it will not be about newspapers for awhile, except for the "What Went Wrong?" piece that I'll post in a couple of weeks. Hint: December 2000.

Feel free to continue to post on the stories already here, but unless you want to read about what movie I'm watching or an occasional anti-Republican or anti-Democrat rant you can spend your time somewhere else more productively for at least a couple weeks.

Some of you are upset with me, and I apologize for any unintended offense. Many people have encouraged and thanked me, and for that you're welcome. I have always believed that information is power, that's why I got into the news business to begin with.

But the reality is what it is and Booth has lost its ears. There's simply no point, at least right now, in further outlining the corporate deafness.

For those of you on my wife's employment search list, she is still actively looking for related jobs and I'll be in touch with you off line.

Best of luck to everyone. If you need to get a hold of me, my e-mail address is in my profile. But, as always, don't do it from work.

Booth news from Crain's Business Detroit

Crain's has a story on the changes here.

And they had an interview with Steve Newhouse as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Circulation and distribution likely hardest hit

A couple folks have called and written to tell me that the mood is grim at the PDC where the drivers and others have learned they will be making much less, very soon.

All the drivers will be laid off and then could be hired back on new contracts with much less lucrative terms. The union drivers are apparently history.

More as it comes in.

More Booth news from Inside Out

The Inside Out blog has done a good job of pulling together all of today's offerings from the Booth chain of newspapers. She has a lot of information on pay cuts, benefit cuts, etc. that I haven't had time to pull together.

The benefit and pay cuts are Booth wide. Although I don't know if the managers and editors are sharing in the pain. Maybe someone has information on that.

Here's the exciting new editor

If you want the first impression of the new, go there and listen to the boring speech and delivery of the Flint Journal's former editor and the new "content director" of the new website.

Good gosh, the guy is introducing this exciting new venture with the most boring, self-absorbed, smirking introduction that anyone could produce. You'd have to work at making something this bad.

Couldn't they find a videographer to take some videos or other views of Ann Arbor to fill this two minute video?

If this is the best they could do for the all-important launch, heaven help what comes next.

Next time hire an actor who isn't as boring as watching a tree grow.

From Channel 5

Local coverage of the Booth actions.

Story on Channel 12 at noon

Here's the local television coverage.

Editor and Publisher on Booth changes

From Editor and Publisher today.

A bigger round-up

Jim Carty has a lot over on his blog about Ann Arbor, but Grand Rapids has put up the following information about chain wide changes.

Flint Journal scoops its workers with Mlive announcement

Here's the scoop from Mlive on the Flint Journal.

I'll have more later.

Here's more info and a letter from the publisher.

Sometimes it sucks being right.

I'm as mad, frustrated, sad and indignant as I have ever been so I will resist striking out and saying what I really feel right now.

Ann Arbor News gets the bad news

Don't know yet what this means for Flint, Bay City and Saginaw but here's the news as MLive has it this morning:

Ann Arbor News to close in July.

More from Jim Carty

It was great to have Elin home for the weekend. It's been unusually quiet on the Booth front on this end, but Jim Carty has some thoughts this morning.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A couple more industry posts that are worth reading

From Washington State.

And from Tennessee.

Thanks to the anonymous reader who supplied the links.

Some job help and advice

A former colleague of mine has her own blog Inside Out and she has been very faithful about posting job tips and ideas for folks in the journalism business.

Here's her latest with plenty of back links to her previous posts.