Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some posts from around MLive Media Group land

A few notes on MLive Media Group that have come my way in recent weeks.

Talk about good luck, the Victorian home near the Michigan Capitol housing the ‘new’ Lansing offices of MLive Media Group was supposed to be sold when the old Lansing bureau was eviscerated a couple years ago. The housing slump resulted in the house not being sold and for some time only one person was working out of that office.
The company, of course, continued to pay the heat, electric bills for the large house that was really home to just one person. Now with the new bureau occupants the office space may now justify its expense. Sometimes it pays not to sell.

Also in MMG news:
A former GR Press blogger whose 21st century job at the new MMG was to scan for topics pricking the computer keys of readers and then turning those into “hits” on the website has apparently decided the grass is greener at the Detroit Free Press. The blogger was a longtime Grand Rapids Press employee and was part of the new team that was to help transition the news group from dead tree to Internet.

Don’t know if that is a good or bad sign for the new venture that folks are already leaving.
Reportedly, six advertising folks in Grand Rapids have been parted from the company since the restructuring in February. That’s two a month, if my math is good. I’m told that three or four of those were new hires and others were legacy employees, which is what they call folks who made the transition from the newspaper to the new group. Some were long time employees.

It seems to be another dubious sign of a difficult transition for the new company. Wonder what the costs are to hire and fire that many employees in so short a time?
Then there was the comment when the old managers in discussing the new company said: “You’ll be happy to know we’re streamlining  management” as they canned a number of middle managers in the restructuring. Well, I’m told they have added a couple more management levels. Maybe it took more time for self-promotion and the promotion of the new company then they first realized.

There’s also some word that a couple folks, one or perhaps two from the centralized copy desk, are currently on medical leave due to stress. More veteran copy folks, people who were asked to stay on during the transition, have been let go which has put more pressure on those who remain.
Some folks are being pushed to do 20 or more pages for the dead tree editions in one night. The attitude is one of “just get it done” without too much concern about what is going into the print product.

From more than one source I’ve been told that the new attitude is that the newspaper product is no longer the central focus. In fact, managers have been told not to “think newspaper” anymore. What is being manufactured into the print product is just whatever the centralized copy desk finds that has already been published on the website.
From my personal observation the delivered papers are very thin and if I go back I can find that all the stories were published online the week before they appeared in my home delivered version.

When the readers eventually discover how little attention is being paid to the product that they actually have to pay for, and the one that is bringing in the lion’s share of the revenue it may leave a bad taste.
The numbers for home delivery, at least on a couple routes that have been reported to me continue to fall in numbers.

To be fair, on the rare occasion that I visit MLive.com I do find things that are worthwhile to read and I do check in for sports, but at home I can read the delivered paper in about 10 minutes. If I wasn’t a former employee and feel a sense of loyalty to the folks still working there I would be inclined to cancel.
Actually, we’ve tried to do several vacation stops in the past few months while we traveled only to come home to piles of newspapers in and around our Journal box. Whatever system they are using for calling in vacation stops, it’s not working. My wife says on one occasion she talked to a human and the other times it told her to leave a message and that they would call back, which they never did.


Anonymous said...

I asked my former district manager to check the numbers on my two old home delivery routes before she left, and I found that since I quit the Flint Journal in June of 2011 my routes were down another 58 customers, so much for a bump with them adding an extra day of home delivery that same week eh?

This would be roughly $11.60 less per day than what I was making when I gave it all up.

Add that to the 230 I had already lost since the FJ went to a 3 day paper and you're looking at 288 customers less or $57.60 per day,or almost $12,000 in a year.

Jeff Talley

Anonymous said...

I am a former employee who canceled her subscription. It was a difficult decision, but as you point out, the print product is not worth the price when I've already read it online for free.

Indeed, a former colleague confirms what you said about 20 pages a night, and also says that the text for the print edition comes from RSS feeds. Nothing gets in print that hasn't come from the Web site.

And what a mess those unedited online stories can be! Does not allow them any extra copy to work with, either, since the stories are posted at three paragraphs or so.
I do enjoy some of the stories I see online, but I don't know how they will make money with that.

Anonymous said...

You say in your own piece that everyone is being told to think web only, but then you're surprised a few paragraphs later that everything in print was already online?

They want people to move from the print product, as is evidenced by the giant ads in the paper telling people to get it free online. Yes, print brings in the revenue, but it also costs a lot.

The web is the future, and at least mlive has a strategy. Other papers are just doing the same old thing and hoping this whole web thing is a fad. It's not. Anyone who doesn't have a strategy now won't be around to see the future of journalism.

Our pub is working hard to get online going, and we've been very successful. There are a million advantages to it, and with people getting their news on everything from computers to iPads to smartphones, the immediacy of it is so beneficial.

I thought mlive was a joke from reading this blog all the time stating that everything they do is wrong. However, after attending a recent conference where I spoke to actual employees within the company, from the front lines to management, it seems like it's working really well.

Maybe your sources aren't so good anymore.

One more thing, show me ANY company that has restructured completely that hasn't had a lot of turnover during the transition. Happens all the time, as people discover the new way doesn't work for them. Doesn't mean it's unsuccessful.

Cooley's Dictum said...

Yeah, the paper version sucks and were it not for loyalty on the part of this household, then one less check would be enroute to Kentucky each month to continue delivery four times per week.

In fact, my Tuesday paper, today's paper, failed to hit my mailbox/driveway this very afternoon. And so I called the automatic response machine (there are no longer actual humans that one can speak to) and I waited. Waited, eventually, having punched the requisite buttons, I successfully reported the lack of newpaper. Now, I fully expected to see some poor dude of a low-bid delivery contractor (boo-yah, yeah Capitalism!) driving some automotive wreck, some poor bastard that's absorbing a loss to bring a paper whose delivery was overlooked. Inadvertently. No malice. Nonetheless, it'll cost him. Personally.

Instead, I got some yuppie type, early-twentyish dude driving a four-door Buick sedan. He cared not for my rant. My history of having worked on a motor-route lo those many years ago. My disappointment with what has become the fourth Estate and in particular how that lack of a fourth Estate impacts the local arena.

No. He was polite but obviously he cared not. Much akin to the national, state, and local political scene. "Oh, that's too bad but sorry -- we're out of time."

Cooley's Dictum said...

I tried to post a long rant here relative to the fact that my paper didn't arrive today. Apparently the gods of cyber space ate my reply. Whatever....so I report my missing paper to the telephone machine and I wait. Is someone coming? Not coming? Should I go screw myself in the interim? Alas, the machine doesn't say Eventually, some kid in a four-door late-Model Buick arrives. He's sorry but it's a total charade. I offer up that I worked for a year on a delivery route -- nothing. I offer up that I understand the business model for newspapers has radically changed -- nothing. It's as iff the living-breathing moded of the automated-voice-response has just brought me my tardy paper.

Ruth said...

I had a funny experience on the mlive web site the other day. My friend sent me a link to an mlive article about legislators' reactions to the teacher evaluation proposal that just came out. (The article was fine.) Over on the right, there was a box of "articles other people are reading."One of the articles said something like, "Traverse City expecting 12 inches of snow." What?! It's May 1! So of course I had to click on that link. That article? It had been written mid-January. If these web sites are supposed to be able to get you to look at other pages, it seems like it would behoove them to make those article lists relevant in some way!

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth: the blogger Grand Rapid lost is a pretty good guy. Did some good work.

aa.com also recently lost one of their business writers to the Detroit Free Press.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting comments about Booth/Newhouse pension funding on Saginaw News facebook page. Concern that the percentage of funding dropped below 80, which is the goal for funding. Suspect not a problem...a lot of people have been dipping in in last few years certainly.
Might be worth a thread.

On another note...going from GR Press to Free Press...that's been going on since press cards in fedoras

Anonymous said...

Don't count on the Booth pension fund. If you are several years or more from retirement, expect to see only a small percentage of what you have been led to believe you will draw. If your are a recent retiree, I'm sure your benefits will be reduced in the future. Just as the job pledge was pulled out from under employees, so too will the company pension plan.

Anonymous said...

I no longer read the paper. I feel no sense of loyalty to the paper or two those who remains, because 1.) The paper felt no loyalty to me and 2.) I don't even know who many of the employees are anymore.

I will never buy the paper again and I very rarely click on anything on MLive, so as not to give those bastards my precious page views.

I have consistently heard a few things about The Flint Journal and MLive. Regarding The Flint Journal, people are upset that the sections are skimpy, filled with old news written by people who have little or no institutional knowledge of the Flint area. Regarding MLive, I keep hearing the same complaint that we've heard for years that the site is impossible to navigate and that important stories quickly get buried as management wants constant updates with posts of varying significance.

Yet, the people who have been in charge during the decline of some once-great newspapers continue to get promotions while those who did the work in the trenches are cast aside after years of loyal service.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't exactly breaking news, but ownership/management simply does not know what it wants to do. On one hand, they put out this garbage hard-copy product that is light on content and ridiculously overpriced. On the other, MLive is as clunky as ever, and the content there often appears to be geared toward the functionally illiterate. On one hand, they're constantly trying to herd their remaining eyeballs toward the online product. On the other, they continue to hire carny barkers to hawk the traditional rag at grocery stores all over the place. It truly would make for fantastic comedy were it not for all the careers that were destroyed by the circus clowns.