Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Break - the adventure begins

Tomorrow is getaway day for us. We're taking our trailer on its maiden voyage to Kentucky and while I'm told there is wireless at the campground where we are going, I don't plan to be online much.

I do have one post scheduled to automatically post on Sunday. A little retrospective from my perspective about "What Went Wrong?" at the Flint Journal.

A woman I worked with at the FJ used to brag about Kentucky and how great it was, so we've decided to take in the sights in and around Berea, Lexington and Frankfort. If the stars line up right we might even make a short trip to Lou-ville to check out Churchill Downs.

So feel free to continue to post comments, but they may not appear as quickly as they usually do. The folks who need to know my cellphone number do and they know to call me if something serious comes up.

To inaugurate our new adventures I have launched a new blog -

That blog will be strictly a journal of our travels and you are welcome to stop by, peek over our shoulder and see what we are doing, or not. If you come there, don't complain about what I post, I won't care.

In my next writing career, I would love to do some kind of travel writing, but mostly I just like writing, There won't be newspaper news over at Grandma's Recess unless it relates to travel, but there could be a humorous anecdote or two.

This really marks the end of the beginning and the real start of my retirement. I started my first job at 11 years old babysitting and later did yard work for a church and a dress shop all through high school.

I've worked for 50 years and now plan to slow down a little and maybe smell the roses, or in the case of Kentucky, a little manure.

Editor quits, publisher retires at FJ

Some persistent rumors this week that were not solid enough to post earlier this week apparently have come true this morning with the resignation of the Journal's editor to "pursue other opportunities."

Speculation is that he was odd man out of the three-way management system between the Bay City Times, Saginaw News and Flint Journal. As the editor of the larger of the three he may not have wanted to answer to a boss from one of the other papers. That's my speculation.

Also there is news that the current publisher of the FJ is also retiring, leaving his son as his replacement. More Newhouse nepotism. And the same minute I posted this, here's the story on Mlive.

Add to post: Although our motto was always, "it can always get worse" with a change in leadership, at least as far as the newsroom goes, and the little I know about John Hiner, this could be an improvement for the folks working in the Journal newsroom. How this will all shake out in the day-to-day management is anyone's guess. Hiner at least seems open to listening to reporters and respecting their point of view.

Remember also there was a report which I released earlier about a $430,000 severance payment to a retiring publisher. This may be it.

My wife and I are leaving on vacation tomorrow, but I will post as new information becomes available if I have a good wireless signal.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Michael Moore on Rick Wagoner

Thanks to a FFE reader here's this from my old colleague, Joe S., from the Oakland Press. An interview with Michael Moore on the current GM mess.
Thanks to a frequent reader, I obtained an embed of a segment on Stephen Colbert that I missed. It's on the death of newspapers and if it wasn't so true, it would be funnier.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know a Lobby - Newspaper Lobby
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A tale of two severances

Off line a Booth employee gave me some startling comparisons of the severance pay situation with those leaving one or more of the Booth papers.

One writer with 21 years of service has ended up getting two weeks severance, while a 12-year part-time employee is walking away with 12 weeks of severance.

How does that happen?

Severance is based on your current work status. If you're currently full-time you'll get paid for however long you've held your current status.

That creates a situation where say a writer who was full-time for 15 years, but dropped to part-time status 3 years ago and is still part-time will get severance based on only 3 years service.

A person who worked at the paper for 15 years on a part-time basis (and trust me the part-timers work way more than the maximum 29-30 hours a week they get paid for) and was promoted to full-time a year ago will maybe get one or at the most two weeks severance based on only the one full-time year worked.

Once the Newhouse folks found a way around the lifetime job pledge it appears all bets were off and leaving a trail of folks wondering about the truck that ran over them.

In reality, employees were always on double secret probation and could be fired at any time, for any reason. When a great reporter angered the bosses at the Flint Journal a number of years ago he was fired for very dubious reasons.

When the employee sued them under a whistleblower law, did the Journal's attorney's argue the facts about the employee's dismissal.

No, they successfully battled the civil case based on the fact that Michigan is an at-will employee State and that they didn't have to show or prove any reason to fire the employee. In other words, the job pledge was always meaningless. This court case (and I was deposed as a witness for the employee) was a number of years ago before any of the current turmoil.

A warning: Today is April Fool's

Today is April 1, which is the traditional "celebration" of April Fool's Day.

Back in my Oakland Press days, I spent more than an hour trying to track down a rumor that Kirk Gibson, at the time a very popular Detroit Tiger, had been traded to another team.

A couple Detroit disc jockeys read the item as a "real" sports item on their April 1 show and sent hundreds of fans racing to their phones to confirm the rumor and many of them called the Oakland Press.

An editor told me to start working on the story for a new front page and even my pointing out the obvious date to him did not dissuade him from charging ahead a full speed to confirm the rumor.

I was part of the "team" because by some quirk of fate I had appeared on a morning radio show just a month before with Kirk Gibson's mom on a local radio show that originated from the Pike Street Restaurant, therefore I was deemed a "friend" of the Gibsons.

Finally, a sports writer got through to the Tigers, who adamantly and repeatedly denied the report and also pointed out the obvious date.

But because editors hate to be wrong, we continued ahead with a story about how the joke had spread so far and that story did appear that morning. Eventually, Gibson was traded to another team, but long after that April 1 day.

All this is a warning to you today to be wary of strange tales and requests. But in case you are a fan of April Fool's pranks here's a little story on some great ones. Feel free to add your own.

Dad chimes in with economic plan

My Dad, the one who scans massage parlor ads in the Washington Post, said he believes we could substantially improve our federal budget by simply continuing to nominate people for cabinet posts.

With each successive appointment we seem to collect more and more back taxes from people who really should have known better.

So my father's solution is to simply nominate many more weathly power brokers to office and make them pay up their back taxes.

His prediction of an economic turnaround based on finding an increasing number of massage parlor ads in the Washington Post was dashed on Monday when he could only find two such ads.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New York Times: Trouble of its own

Here's an interesting read on the New York Times.

One Life to Live, a funny oil change interlude

It was time for an oil change for the truck today, so I stopped at the Al Serra dealership in Grand Blanc on my way home from the doctor (I've got some crud that's going around).

With no place to go and an hour or so wait, I headed to the nice waiting lounge. The popcorn machine was popping out some new corn, but I'm not allowed to drink caffeinated coffee or sugar sweetened drinks so I had to pass on the lemonade, fruit punch and coffee that was offered.

Even though I have been out of the reporting business for 15 months, I still make a quick mental note about my surroundings whenever I come into a room. Old habits die hard. What I noticed were five men sitting well-spaced apart in the room.

Each of us picked up something to read, but in the background and showing on a big flat screened television was the ABC afternoon soap opera called "One Life to Live."

Every so often I would glance up from the magazine I was reading and catch one or two other men watching the soap. As soon as they realized one or more of us were also watching them watch, they would return to their reading materials.

As I recall my brief glimpses of the show there was some kind of wedding going on, possibly in a hospital room or it could have been tea party in a mansion, I really wasn't paying that close attention.

What I do know is none of us was really watching the show, but for some reason too nervous or polite to see if we could change the channel to something, say where there is a countdown for the top ten sports plays of the day.

The episode reminded me of my police days when I worked the night shift. I often spent part of my afternoon watching "All My Children." Actually, I got hooked on it.

There was a character (Susan Lucci, still on the show, I believe) called Erica Cain who was dating a doctor - Jeff somebody - but the relationship ended, as all soap opera relationships do in heartbreak and dissolution. I remember that Erica's mother was very nice, but Erica was, well, not nice at all.

Each day when I would get to the police station to begin my shift, there were my fellow officers, a bunch of macho cops, swapping stories about that day's episode of "All My Children." It sometimes left the day shift captain shaking his head when he would hear a shift full of police employees talking about how Erica had messed over Jeff, or how we suspected that so-and-so was having an affair that was going to interfere with another relationship on the show.

We always had this idea that if anyone outside the police department had any thought that we were all obsessed with an afternoon soap, they would have a lot less fear of us.

All this came up because of my stupid oil change this afternoon.

GM now in the hands of Uncle Sam

Most of you who visit here frequently know that I have little confidence in the two major political parties. Frankly, to me it's tweedle-dee, tweedle dum, with the emphasis on dum.

On the way home from the Red Wings game last night we heard that the President of the United States "asked" GM head Rick Waggoner to step down. That would mean that now the government is in charge of most large banks, insurance companies and now the nation's largest automaker.

The only thing spookier than the current auto company leadership is the thought that the next leadership of the company would be the federal government. But that's where we are.

My biggest question is why the government hands over hundreds of billions and potentially trillions of dollars to the financial sector without a whisper of a plan or controls and yet when GM needs a "loan" to get them over a difficult time they are required to jump through months of hoops and still aren't there.

I'm not one to throw around the "socialist" label too freely, but as we head to a situation where banks, insurance companies, some of our largest manufacturing companies and potentially medical coverage are under government control, you'll have to tell me what that is called, if not socialist.

Since September when President Bush started this mess I have been on record as totally opposing these continued "bail-outs" and I think the results, so far, have proven me right. The money has disappeared down a very large rat hole and no recovery is yet in sight.

At least they should apply the same standards to GM as they did to AIG, which is basically, none.

I more suspect that the current grab for control of GM may be a larger attempt to force the car company to build cars that look like shoe boxes, top out at a speed of 45 mph and run on grass clippings and landfill waste, In other words, cars no one wants or will buy.

Ford is probably thanking its lucky stars that it never started down the federal gift plan.

Even though I didn't vote for Obama (remember I 'wasted' my vote on Nader) I had high hopes. Those hopes have gotten much lower.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A too true cartoon

A Facebook friend noted the above. Click on the cartoon to see the whole panel.

The little people score again with better ideas

There are very clever and creative people working in newsrooms. Plenty who understand the Internet universe far better than their much higher paid bosses and managers.

Here's a great example over at Gannett.

It's ideas like these, that if applied in the newspaper online sites would draw more readers and advertisers, but alas, the conversations about how to save the papers are only occurring behind closed doors in corporate high offices.

Free and reduced classifieds at Syracuse paper

The publisher at the Syracuse paper has chimed in today with his paper's actions.

A copy editor must not have noticed (wink, wink) that the lead was slightly buried (about 10-inches down) when the publisher announced 10-day furloughs and an end to the company sponsored retirement system for all the employees.

It never ceases to amaze me that the same news standards that would apply to any other news story (bad or big news up front) is missing from the bad news stories about the newspapers themselves.

The secrecy surrounding newspaper news does not set a good example for the public and private organizations that the newspaper covers.