Saturday, June 13, 2009

A reporter chimes in on the topic of the year

A Kansas City Tribune reporter chimes in on newspaper standards. It's a good read, except for the slightly gratuitous bone she throws to her own employer at the end.

My favorite paragraph:

"Today, corporate owners of newspapers have turned our newsrooms into little more than sweat shops. While we lofty public servants, otherwise known as working journalists, agonize over the facts and minute details in each piece we prepare for print, corporate has another goal. It seems the companies that make it their business to own daily newspaper chains are obsessed with trying to squeeze more profit from those who, like me, entered the profession believing we are providing our readers with the truth about the conduct of the public’s business."

The pen is mightier than the sword, but a lot easier to lose

Over on Inside Out there is an interesting post today about pens.

As I said in my comment there, I am rarely without a pen in my pocket. A lifelong habit that is simply too hard to break. If I leave the house without a pen, I can usually find one under the seat of the car, in the trunk or any number of other places that I have dropped or stashed one.

For a reporter the pen is, or at least was, the most important tool of the trade. Next was the notebook. Some folks preferred the little flip Reporter Notebooks you see on television and movies, but I always preferred a large legal pad.

When I'm writing quickly, which as a reporter was always, I needed lots of room to write. The lines on the paper were unimportant, just the large space. Sometimes I wrote at an angle, so for me it would have been better if the pages had been blank. It was just my personal preference.

I didn't save my notes either. Some reporters save everything, I saved nothing. When my story was complete and published, the notes went into the trash. Every time, no exceptions. Even a great lawyer can't subpoena notes that no longer exist.

The one time I was called to testify in a murder trial over the interview I did with one of the killers, the end result was that I testified from a copy of my published story and simply verified what everyone had already read. Piece of cake. No notes, no problem.

But back to pens.

Once when I admired a pen being used by a friend and colleague, he referred me to a Flint lawyer, Sheldon Siegel (not the author), who as a hobby makes beautiful wooden pens. They are round and fat and the ink flows out of them like oil from a can.

Although I was notorious for losing pens, I never lost my Siegel pen and still have it, although it has been retired to my memorabilia drawer.

Many reporters can be particular about their pens, I was. In a pinch a black Bic would do, but when I really wanted to do my best work and be comfortable I wanted one of my "fatties" in my hand.

As a police reporter, much of my reporting was done outdoors. In Michigan that means it can get really, really cold. So cold that ink freezes. Usually when it is 10 degrees or less. That's a problem when you're trying to interview a fire chief in the dead of night and he's only given you a couple minutes to talk.

So my trick was to have two pens, one that I kept warm in my mouth, until the other pen's ink froze. A quick switch and I was back in business. By the time the "outside" pen froze up, the "inside" pen would have thawed. It probably looked silly, but it worked.

It's also tough to write in gloves, so Jane, a FJ photographer, purchased me a pair of woolen gloves that had a detachable set of "fingers" so you could keep the rest of your hand warm while writing. As soon as you were done taking notes, you could flip the "fingers" back over and keep your digits warm as well.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Flint Journal article on the Flint Journal

The comments are telling. to reporters: "Stay out of the newsroom" - It's a good thing

It looks like my old boss has seen the light and now believes that reporters should be heard and not seen.

During his tenure as editor of the Flint Journal there were tight controls on many folks making sure they were in the office, attending meetings and under the watchful eye of an editor. If you were out of sight in the office too long, editors started getting nervous. That was even when you were producing a lot. To be fair, they didn't bother me much about it, but there were other examples of folks that were kept on a pretty tight leash.

But now, as head of the new venture, the content czar has come over to the other side. I sincerely praise him for it.

In his recent post, the czar has opened the door to the new journalism with this promise:

"At, I've been assuring the community that we will have a staff of professional trained journalists, and what we're looking for are people with strong traditional reporting skills, but a willingness to use all the tools of the digital age to report the news.

We do plan to equip our journalists with a laptop, and an air card, and we're looking at supplying them with a Flip video camera as well."

If that's a Booth/Advance wide policy that will be a good thing for the new (and old) reporters working at the publications in Saginaw, Bay City and Flint, as well as other Booth cities.

It's a welcome breath of fresh air that the company is now going to supply air cards along with computers so reporters can do their jobs. When I worked there you either supplied your own Internet connection or you had to come back to the office to file a story.

Flushing's Jeff Roth makes a run, finishes tied for Second

Flushing's golf pro Jeff Roth made a pretty good run at the Michigan Open, but couldn't overcome Ryan Brehm. The Grand Rapids beat writer did a good job of including Roth in his final round coverage, but it still hasn't translated to a headline or story over on the Flint Journal site.

Roth tied for second with a 272.

Maybe on Sunday the Journal will think Roth's second place finish is worth a mention?

On the other hand, plenty of good Red Wings coverage over at the Journal's MLive site.

Pick your cliche, tonight's the night

Pick your cliche:

It's for all the marbles.

One and done.
Sudden death.
End of the line.
No place to go.
Something's gotta give.
This is it.
Do or die.
The final curtain/showdown/countdown.
On the brink.

Or feel free to leave your favorite cliche.

Tonight is the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Will it be the the Red Wings or Penguins who raise the cup in victory tonight? Whatever happens, this has been a great run for the Red Wings. I attended 7 games this season and only saw one loss.

Also whatever happens, I want the Osgood doubters to leave the building once and for all. The young man should get the credit he deserves. The Red Wings wouldn't even be in the position for a seventh game were it not for Osgood and his rock steady goaltending.


Game time 8 p.m., NBC, be there or be square. I'll be watching in Buffalo.

Late add: This joke from a former colleague by way of e-mail:

It's Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and a man makes his way to his seat right at center ice. He sits down, noticing that the seat next to him is empty.

He leans over and asks his neighbor if someone will be sitting there.

"No," says the neighbor. "The seat is empty."

"This is incredible", said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the final game of the Stanley Cup play-offs and not use it?"

The neighbor says, "Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Stanley Cup we haven't been to together since we got married in 1967."

"Oh ... I'm sorry to hear that. That's terrible. But couldn't you find someone else, a friend or a relative, or even a neighbor to take the seat?"

The man shakes his head. "No. They're all at the funeral."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A new Audi for a newspaper exec? A gag order for FJ employees?

Early today someone posted a comment (which I can't find because it was left on a much earlier post) that a current Booth executive has recently traded in an American mid-range car and purchased a very expensive "$80,000" Audi sports car which employees, all who have taken huge pay cuts, now see parked in a newspaper parking lot.

The commenter mentioned that the sight of the car has caused at least some employees extreme disgust as they ponder their new lives under tightened budgets and friends who are now gone through layoffs.

I'm not going to get any more specific that that until I get more information - or hopefully a photo of the vehicle - and at this point will assume that the report may be false. Do they make Audis in Michigan now? The foreign car aspect of this story is as troubling to me as the obvious tone deafness such a purchase would signal, again, if true.

Making things more difficult to get news about the newspaper is the new "Free From Editor" clause in the buyouts and severance papers of recently severed employees.

This is rich. A newspaper, a business that makes a living (although not much of one anymore) demanding transparency and frankness from everyone else, has inserted a "gag" (my word) order for employees leaving the paper saying they are prohibited from speaking ill of their former employer. If they do, they risk financial sanctions from the company.

The irony of that needs no further discussion from me.

Again, employees - past or present - are free to post here, anonymously if need be, as long as their comments are within loose civil bounds, don't contain obscenities, don't mention full names of people (with some rare exceptions) and that don't involve the families of employees or other personal, non-newspaper issues.

If you post anonymously (or make up a fake name) rest assured I do not see any e-mail address or direct link to you. I'm still trying to figure out who "inky" is and they have been commenting here since the beginning. I do get a Google Analytics report that tells me generally, by city, where posts are coming from. So far people from 275 Michigan cities, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 75 other countries have stopped by.

Do NOT post from work and if you see the Audi parked anywhere, let a friend or non-Journal employee snap the photo for me.

Props where they are due

The beat writer from Grand Rapids has continued to include J.R. "Jeff" Roth, of Flushing, in his coverage of the Michigan Open in Orchard Lake since I brought it up a couple days ago. So props to him for that.

On the other hand, I received my home delivered copy of the Flint Journal today, and the brief coverage of the Michigan Open doesn't even include a line that Roth is currently in fourth place at the Open.

The leader of the Michigan Open is Ryan Brehm, of Mt. Pleasant, and that location is obviously closer to Saginaw than Flushing, so he received 100 percent of the golf coverage in the Flint Journal. Note to Saginaw copy desk: Flushing is just about 5 miles from Flint and Roth is worth a mention in the Flint paper even if he is only in fourth place, nine shots off the lead.

(Late add: I just checked MapQuest and actually Mt. Pleasant (52) is 18 miles further/farther away from Saginaw than Flushing is (34) .)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Local golf angle completely lost in new Journal golf coverage

As a golfer I'm a bust, but I do like to follow the sport. So it was interesting to notice on the Flint Journal coverage of the Michigan Open in Orchard Lake that a Flushing golfer, who was always covered like a blanket, doesn't even rate a mention in the MLive coverage on the Flint site.

(Update Wednesday morning: An hour after I posted this last night a new story was up on the MLive golf site that included a mention of Jeff Roth down a few paragraphs. That story is still not up on the Flint Journal site on MLive. If the late add was a result of this post, I'm glad to be of assistance. No charge.)

J.R. Roth has always had first rate coverage in the Journal. If memory serves he has won a championship or four and is in the hunt for the Michigan Open this year at -2 in fifth place at the close of the tournament today.

But apparently the beat writer from Grand Rapids doesn't know this, nor does the copy desk who is editing the wire and Booth copy from the tournament that is being posted on the Flint MLive site.

The Michigan Open is the biggest pro tournament in the state next to the Buick Open and J.R. Roth is a perennial high finisher and one of the very best Michigan golfers. But despite the protestations that the new online coverage would be as good, or superior, to what we are used to has slipped on a banana peel with this coverage.

In fact, it appears that Saginaw merely used a PGA press release, one that didn't even mention Roth's name. Very disappointing. content czar: Blogs are good and bad

The content czar from is doing the 'on the other hand' dance about the future of blogs on the new site. In a nutshell, he believes that blogs are both good and bad and that will link to the good ones.

One of the sources he cites is Jeff Jarvis, best known around here for his influence in the MLive site. Nuf' said.

Wonder if they'll link to my blog?

Also, the more I look at the acorn the more it looks like a Frenchman in shadow with a really cool beret.

Monday, June 8, 2009

An 'old timer's' lament

This is a great read by a reporter who I remember reading. She has captured perfectly the demise of newspapers. It's a long tome (well worth the time), but here are three of my favorite parts:

"Page redesign – that harbinger of newspaper death -- had already hit The Record. Seeking answers elsewhere, the business managers bought in to another notion of what could save the day: "CI," short for "Continuous Improvement." Some called it "Constant Insanity." It was a business improvement model, inspired by the Japanese, meant to impose greater order and efficiency on the daily newspaper."

And then this that could have been written about the ninnies who prowled the Flint Journal newsroom during the last several years:

"Our percentage of days meeting deadlines was supposed to improve, our general wastefulness decline. Signs went up around the newsroom, with the word "Muda," or mess, in Japanese and the international interdiction sign across it. We received threats and reprimands about the pileup of papers on our desks. Had my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Dade, been reincarnated as a Twenty-first Century newspaper editor? It was hard to know whether this was a misguided business department mandate or one person's obsessive-compulsive disorder. Either way, it was an unconscious metaphor. By definition, journalism was creative and untidy and all of the efforts to treat it like banking or insurance or accounting misunderstood its essential nature – and would be sure to fail.

Panic seemed to intensify at the Record, in the form of quantification. How large is the mess on your desk? How many minutes late is your copy? How many words are in your lead? There should be no more than 26, it was rumored. There were edicts against anecdotal leads, and leads with dependent clauses. Annual reviews included byline counts – how many stories could you write in how short a time?"

And this is rich also:

"Still, many editors were driven by an opposing motive to win journalism prizes. Bad ideas floated downward from sterile news meetings where editors tried to second-guess an imagined Pulitzer board. Or they recycled old ideas that had already won prizes. Police brutality was a favorite. Nursing home abuses. Kids who kill. These were often more topics than stories. Let's write a 10-part series on PCP – so we did. But the winning-prizes motive could occasionally leave room for serendipity, for real, original creations to emerge from the notebooks of reporters who were out in the world. There was still hope for the languid."

Candy Cooper nailed it. Wish I'd written it.

Northwestern computer nerds to the rescue?

A hybrid journalist/computer nerd is the newest graduate type out of Northwestern University. A great journalism school, by the way. Not quite as good as Michigan State University, but close. This came from Fading to Black.

Daily Derelict reports new paper coming to Ann Arbor

In the wake of the departure of the Ann Arbor News, another company is planning to move in and publish a new paper. Not sure I get the economics, considering it is a JRC project and everyone knows all their problems.

A look at the disappointing Chicago meeting of newspaper types

Another Facebook find. A story by John Temple, former Rocky Mountain News guy. The future of journalism

Found this article about the "shoot-out" over news gathering in San Diego. Thanks to a Facebook friend who posted this there this morning.

Acorn has many meanings, but so far none about the news business

Offline I was contacted with the suggestion to check the term "acorn" in one of my favorite sources -

Obviously, this is in relation to the new logo for and not one of the definitions on the Urban Dictionary relates to the news business. But if you go there, be warned that some of the acorn definitions of acorn are adult oriented.

But when young people dump a new term on me,, is where I go to find out what it means. That way I don't have to look stupid, or unhip, by asking the person what the terms mean.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A little bit of optimism for those left behind

For the folks still laboring in the trenches at newspapers comes this bit of optimism from Fading to Black.

And I will admit, that for me, there is no excitement and satisfaction as fulfilling as that when I found a juicy or unusual story that I could not wait to investigate and tell.

I get the attraction.

MLive moves Red Wings up front

OK, I ripped MLive previously for not prominently displaying the Detroit Red Wings news up front on the various newspaper web pages. This morning on the Flint page, the Red Wings were front and center. So props from here.