Saturday, May 23, 2009

Philadelphia a town rapidly heading toward the newspaper abyss

Fading to Black has an interesting read about the dire situation for print newspapers in Philadelphia.

In it there is a success story about a group of downsized staffers at a newspaper in Liberal, Kansas who after being shown the door, opened their own and installed a printing press and are making money again with good news stories.

But my favorite paragraphs were right at the end, describing the consequences of eventually losing the large majority of professional journalists with a recounting of this episode from the 2008 elections:

"You can already see some of the risks of a country reliant on the Internet without the traditional checks and balances provided by the professional standards of established journalism. During last year's US election, several stories whirled through the media sourced to one political pundit, Martin Eisenstadt. You may even have heard of some of them: a casino planned for Iraq's Green Zone; the shock of Paris Hilton's family at being used in a John McCain TV ad; the failure of Sarah Palin to understand Africa was a continent, not a country. But Eisenstadt was a fraud, created by an Israeli prankster, Eitan Gorlin, via a fake think-tank website. Yet his tales had a life of their own, permeating the net, eventually appearing on television and in magazines, creating reaction until they became part of the debate.

When the truth came out, Gorlin said something that revealed much about the perils of a media world dominated by the Internet - anyone can believe anything they want to, simply because they read it online. "We're real because we have 50,000 Google searches," said Gorlin. "What could be more real than that?"

Newspaper cancels subscriber's paper

On Thursday, I happened to run into a lady who was a pretty faithful reader of my column and Lapeer stories during my Flint Journal career. She asked me what was going on at the Journal (obviously not a reader of the blog, but she's 78 and not a computer user).

Kind of filled her in on what I knew. Then she told me that the Journal had basically cancelled her subscription. A subscription that she had carried for about 50 years. She 'loved' her Journal.

What happened, she told me, is that her Journal carrier, faced with the three-day-a-week scheduled and apparently a contract she didn't like, up and quit ahead of the June 1 changeover.

When she called to complain she had not gotten her paper, she was told of her carrier's departure. What happend next really upset her. Instead of offering her a new carrier, they simply told her they were refunding her unused subscription and that she would no longer receive her paper.

During the years I covered Lapeer I had many, many stories of people who wanted the paper, but were told it could not be delivered to their home. In a business sense I understand that some routes are not economical and the Journal did try several times to make advertising inroads to Lapeer without much success, but it is hard to explain to people who want the product that they can't get it. Especially in an area where the paper offered news coverage.

A plea for information on freelancers

In the past two days I have received a plea (actually two pleas) for information on freelancers.

The truth is, I have no information on what freelancers make at the Flint Journal or elsewhere for that matter. I have never freelanced, unless you call what I do now freelancing. Don't know about the lancing, but it certainly is free.

Late add here's a chance to 'pay' for an internship. (From Fading to Black blog).

From what I know about the Flint Journal in recent years, is that the rate is likely to vary from freelancer to freelancer. The new business model is to pay as little as the market will bear and some folks come cheaper than others.

I would be surprised if freelance work paid more than $50 to $100 an assignment, with the $100 probably being overly optimistic. As far as having any "negotiation room" I hate to sound cruel, but that's one of the funnier things ever posted here. From what I see over the past 18 months is that there isn't much negotiating going on. It's pretty much a one way conversation.

If you are assigned a story and complete it I assume you would get paid. If you are a freelancer, in the true sense of the word, you can submit work, but if they don't use it, you probably get bupkis.

Someone told me (and this is total rumor) that some folks were being offered $35 to cover township meetings and writing a story. That's an absurd amount, if true, and unless you are truly desperate for work no one should accept such an insult for payment.

So instead of running on with speculation and rumor I'll leave this thread open for some inside information on what freelancers are being offered and paid.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blackstone's: A great new restaurant in downtown Flint

With my career at the Flint Journal over I haven't been downtown much in the last 18 months. We have a geezer lunch every couple of weeks, but I haven't been down near the Mott Building for some time.

Tonight, with my wife out of town, some friends invited me to go to the new Blackstone's Pub & Grill next to the Mott Foundation Building.

For more than a decade the abandoned building where the new Blackstone's is had a fake name on the front, a decoy designed to fool no one that the building was empty.

It's nice to see good things happening downtown (although the Rowe Building is still not done across the street from the new restaurant).
Food was good too. I had the New York strip (rare) with really good mashed potatoes and salad. Corn bread and french bread (could have been Italian I can never tell) came with the meal. My companions seemed to enjoy their food too.

At the restaurant I saw attorney Mike Manley, simply one of the best defense attorneys I ever watched at trial. Not only that, but Mike is just a very nice guy. He and I spent many hours together in courtroom hallways discussing cases, other attorneys, legal strategy and just shooting the bull during court recesses and jury deliberations.

I've told my wife that should I ever find myself in serious legal trouble, I want her to hock everything and hire Mike Manley.

One example: Several years ago, Mike was hired to defend a man who shot an unarmed man, through a locked door on the defendant's porch. Now there was a little more to it than that - a history of trouble between the two neighbors - but I don't think anyone gave Mike much of a chance of getting this guy off.

Consider that the man had loaded guns stashed by two doors, waiting for the neighbor to come.

Mike skillfully turned the case into a trial about a demented neighbor who was terrifying another and before you could say "Not Guilty" the jury said it.

When he walked into court he was always prepared, always polite and had a presence that resonated with judges, juries and even prosecutors. Plus he was good with a quote and always returned phone calls.

Anyway, good to see Mike. He asked about the blog and I gave him the address for the blog and hopefully he will stop by. There's a guy who could write a book.

Not long after that, Joel Feick, a Channel 12 reporter and anchor who I have known for many years also came into the restaurant and we talked for a few minutes.

All that to say, that Blackstone's looks like it's going to be a happening place. Check out the link above to see the menu. posts video of recent forum

Up over at is the new content leader's comments about comments. Again, I am surprised at the lack of visual quality of the video and sound for a site that promises so much technical expertise and innovation.

I would point out that effective "aggressive" moderation requires 24-hour coverage, unless you put every comment into moderation (as I do here). It will be interesting to see if they are willing to make that kind of financial commitment.

Found on Facebook: Journalism yesterday and today

Who knew this attitude would eventually take over newspapers?

Thanks to a friend on Facebook for finding this gem.

Inside Out has your back on the news about news today

Not much time for posting this morning, but Inside Out has a couple interesting posts over there this morning.

Lots of good links in this story in particular.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Togz4Dogz: A post journalism career for a good friend

Rosemary, a good friend and a longtime news competitor and sometime freelance/part-time colleague at the Flint Journal has turned in her computer mouse at a local weekly here in Lapeer and is going to put more time into her Togz4Dogz business in North Branch.

Rosemary has covered many of the same stories that I did while my beat was in Lapeer and I guess the best praise I can give her is that there were many times I compared her writing to mine and wish I had written what she had.

Not one to pull punches, Rosemary would call you on something bad and praise you on something good and for that I will also be appreciative.

But now, she is going to put more time into a really cool business she has been working at for some time and I told her I would give her a shameless plug here. She has designed specialty coats for police dogs (complete with patches) and some frilly numbers for poodles and everything in between. She also plans to spend a lot more time with her grandchildren and no longer miss opportunities to see them when the kids' activities conflict with an assignment.

If you have a four-legged friend at home that barks, then you should check out her website (link above) and see if there isn't something you and your pooch can't live without.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No free papers for newsroom employees

Found this item over on Gannett blog about a paper in Monroe that reportedly (I say that because it was a leak from an anonymous poster) does not allow newspaper employees to leave the building with a free newspaper.

Like the Flint Journal, employees can subscribe for half price and the manager reminded his employees that there was no such thing as a free paper.

It did remind me of the Oakland Press newsroom (which, like the Journal, let us take as many free papers as we needed) back in the 1980s. As a convenience to reporters and to keep the newsroom a little neater, the first run papers were dropped off in a newspaper box that had been rigged to stay open.

It looked like a regular street sale box, but all you had to do was pull on the door and it would open.

A new business reporter was hired in 1985 and in the middle morning, after deadline, the newsroom could be a pretty quiet place. Many of us were rapidly reading the pages of the first edition trying to catch any glaring errors that could be fixed on the fly for the later editions.

Others had escaped to begin working on stories for the next day, or perhaps just gone to pick up their dry cleaning or do their shopping, could have been just about anything that cleared out a newsroom.

So I was sitting at my desk, which was only a short distance from the paper box, when I was startled to hear two coins (I think the paper was 35 cents at the time, could have been 50 cents, I just don't remember) drop into the empty metal coin box on the paper machine.

I looked up to see the new business reporter pulling open the door and taking out a paper.

With a twinge of a sarcastic tone, I said the the new reporter: "Unless you really screw up, they don't make you pay for those."

Maybe you had to be there.

Newspapers vs. Internet: A great cartoon battle

Found this on uses power point to make its point has put up a power point that it will present to explain to folks what it is going to do.

Most interesting is the information that the company will have 30-35 'news' employees. Hopefully they will flesh out some of these details in the question and answer period.

Again I am surprised at the lack of graphics or dramatic presentation in the power point. Honestly, I detest power points. Haven't seen this one presented, but in general power points usually end up being the speaker's speech notes put up for everyone to see.

In my humble opinion, power points work best when they are not the talking points (or speech notes) read by the speaker. My favorite power points are the ones where the speaker uses the "point" to show me pictures of what they are talking about.

For the power point I might have suggested instead of a listing of "Topics" that a mock up of a printed page would have been more interesting and could have been presented in machine gun style so people could 'see' what the speaker is talking about.

As a reporter I had to live through countless power points where the speaker put up a 'point' and then read each one like I was too stupid to read it myself. Hopefully, this is not the case here.

Comerica Park: Church our way

A young man (younger than me) has been attending our Wednesday night Bible study since September and I haven't had a chance to be one-on-one with him to get to know him better.

So with my wife in Buffalo for two weeks, I took the opportunity to get tickets to last night's Detroit Tigers game against the Texas Rangers and invited him. Our new church (New Wine Anglican Mission) believes that church is not a building.
Jesus was not confined to a 'building' and his ministry was pretty much where ever he was. Church is a state of mind and it is all about relationships and looking after one another and helping others. Our mission statement is simple: Love God, Love People.

Some of us meet on Monday and Wednesday nights and many of us meet on Sunday and most of us meet on both days. There's no 'rule' about what day 'church' is. We rent an inexpensive space in the City of Flint and 95 percent of all our financial support goes to ministry and not keeping up a building.

It's come-as-you-are and our pastor is awesome. We look for ways to be together for fun (like baseball games, barbecues and game nights) and we take care of each other.

We pray for folks we've never met and look for opportunities to meet people where they are.

All that to say, that you can 'do' church at a baseball game. Scott and I had a great time and I think we got to know each other a lot better. Dare I say I have made a new friend and one can never have too many of those. It was also my first ever visit to the new park. I went to several games a year at the old Tiger Stadium, but lost my zeal for baseball many years ago. I may have gotten some of that back last night.

Oh, and the Tigers won 4-0 on a night that began with cloudless skies and 74 degrees at first pitch. It ended with a cloudless sky and 71 degrees. On the way home we talked and listened to the Detroit Red Wings win their playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime.

I'm on a real high today for a lot of reasons.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hallelujah Chorus in such a unique way

The Hallelujah chorus as you've "never" heard it.

Thanks Doc Loomis for posting this on Facebook.

Where have all the journalism students gone?

A poster on Jim Carty's blog posted a link to an interesting story about where journalism students are going now that the newspaper business has posted the No Vacancy sign.

My friend Kim will be most interested in this story because he said I ruined his life by hiring him for his first newspaper job. His original career goal was the one the former journalism students are seeking now.

"Do not call" legislation hurt newspapers: Publisher

A long, but good read from a publisher who is still bullish on print.

About page 6, the publisher blames a lot of the circulation drop on federal legislation that allowed people to opt out of telemarketer calls, which were a major source of new newspaper subscription starts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The sad countdown has begun

On Facebook I've noticed that a number of current Flint Journal employees are counting down their days to May 29, which is the last day for many there.

For many it is the end to the only real job they have ever known and you can feel the angst and sadness in their posts.

All of them deserved better. Frankly, most of them don't realize it yet, but better is on the way. Newspaper work will never be what it once was. The goofy characters, the ones who finished work in the newsroom only to continue it with colleagues at a local gin mill into the wee hours, are all gone.

We loved our work so much that we were willing to duel daily with our editors over assignments and sometimes incomprehensible editing. We fought for what we believed was right, we fought for the integrity of our stories and we fought for our readers. We were not always right, but we always cared.

For most of us the Flint Journal was more than a job, it was a family, it was friends and it was an opportunity to live out our passion for writing and journalism. We gladly took less pay than what we could make in other fields, although the pay was never too bad at the Journal (then, not now) for the chance to come to work everyday and work our craft.

We didn't punch a clock and most of us didn't watch it either. If I could go back and get paid for every hour I worked, I'd be a much wealthier man than I am today. It was never about the money. Until the last few months, there were very few days that I didn't wake up and look forward to going to work (work was not necessarily going to the office, but chasing my beat).

It was exciting, it was different everyday and it felt like it mattered.

That's why leaving it is so hard. It's like a root canal with no pain killers.

Many good reporters and writers remain, but they will be stretched even thinner than they are now. The bosses who remain won't help much, won't tap out a story or two to fill a hole, but will continue to demand more work for less pay.

Newspapers have become word factories where the assembly line has been sped up to the point that a bolt or two will be missing at the end of the line. The readers will blame the workers for the quality problem, but the real blame lies elsewhere. It lies with the folks that are speeding up the line.

I tip my hat to the friends who are leaving, I may even raise a Diet 7-Up to their departure. For those that remain, my best wishes as well and just a little note, one that used to grace the desk of my best friend in the business, to keep you going:


The tractor as percussion

OK, I spend way too much time surfing You Tube, but I saw this first on Facebook and then went hunting for it over on YouTube. There's something really cool about using a tractor as your percussion section. Please notice the tractor has its own microphone.

I have no idea what country this takes place in, but I want to go there.

I don't know who's lying, but it is a little Alice in Wonderland

The recent controversy over who is lying about what Nancy Pelosi knew about waterboarding and when did she know it leaves me a little cold.

But it did make me wonder why everytime I saw Ms. Pelosi smile I was reminded of something else.

Don't know who to believe, Ms. Pelosi or Mr. Panetta, both because she is a current representative and Panetta is a former representative it makes it hard to believe than a member of congress would ever lie.

Do you know how to tell if a member of congress is lying? They are lying if you notice that they are breathing.

And then there's this conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland that is a pretty good description of Congress:

"`Cheshire Puss,' [Alice] began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider.

`Come, it's pleased so far,' thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

`I don't much care where--' said Alice.

`Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.

`--so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.'"

"`But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

`Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

`How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.

`You must be,' said the Cat, `or you wouldn't have come here.'

Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you're mad?'

`To begin with,' said the Cat, `a dog's not mad. You grant that?'

`I suppose so,' said Alice.

`Well, then,' the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad.'"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Welcome home, the best gift you can give our troops

Probably motivated by my service in Vietnam, I have a strong affection for the men and women who serve our country in the armed services. The experience of many veterans of the Vietnam War were negative when they returned home.

Many of us simply went back to our lives and because I was going to a small community college on the San Francisco peninsula, service in Vietnam was not something you boasted or talked about in the liberal, protest roiled campuses of northern California.

I'm a sucker for our troops. When I am traveling and see soldiers, airmen, marines, coasties, and sailors (especially sailors) in airports, I always walk up and thank them for their service. Much to my wife's chagrin, I have sometimes anonymously purchased meals for a table of 4 or 5 veterans sitting in an airport restaurant. It's a gift I give to myself because it feels good to do it.

No matter how you feel about the war do these folks the honor of thanking them for doing what so many others avoid. I was reminded of this by an e-mail attachment I received from a member of my church.

This was a 2007 "Person of the Week" segment on ABC's evening news.

Military service made me a better person, but it is a sacrifice, so let them know you appreciate it when you see them. It just takes a second to say "Welcome home, thanks for serving." It'll make their day, and I'll bet it'll make you feel good too.

Doesn't hurt to thank those like my own father, my father-in-law and others who fought in World War II, the Korean War or Vietnam either.