Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A newspaper Christmas story

My "old" journalism friends will appreciate this story about a time when editors were, well, editors. May you all get your "peaches" this year. Merry Christmas from Free From Editors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Job pledge" suit filed by former Times-Picayune staffers

Most of us lived by the pledge, but in reality, knew that it probably wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, but apparently several former Times-Picayune staffers are suing to see if it was worth something.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What happened to (Lost in my Spam filter)

Lost in my spam filter was this link to an insightful report by Mark Maynard about the shutting down of last September. Putting it up here now just to let folks know I wasn't ignoring my job.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Al MacLeese: A throwback to the way newspapers used to be. Buy this book!

My 30-year journalism career spanned 1977-2007, it was a transitional time filled with great joy, excitement and frustration. It was also the time that saw the end of newspaper characters like Al MacLeese, who became strangers in a strange land as newspapers went from being tough, hard scrabble denizens of characters to polite, orderly and antiseptic warehouses of young, healthy news gatherers.
During my time I had the great fortune to meet a few of the old school folks like MacLeese. I actually did meet MacLeese a couple times, but I didn’t know him like Roger Van Noord and others at the Journal, and frankly dozens of newspapers knew him over his long and turbulent career.

Using years of MacLeese’s own recollections, through e-mails – during the times he could afford Internet access – or through snail mail Roger Van Noord has used his own great story telling skills to weave a biography into a pseudo autobiography about  a man who truly represents what was great and bad about journalism in the old days.
Unlike Ed Snowden, the American who took all our nasty secrets to Russia without permission, Roger had MacLeese’s consent for his e-mail and data collection. None of MacLeese’s secrets will endanger our national security or result in the death of any spies.

MacLeese didn't worry about 401ks or savings accounts and it later showed in his life, but you get the feeling that MacLeese worried more about living than dying so he worried about the important things, where to get his next drink or blunt. I'm a Christian so he would not have cared much for me, but through his writings he did as much to help people as many Christians will ever do.

“Unleashed” is a glimpse into the “good old days” of journalism, not that all will see it that way. You can find it on Amazon and for me it was a quick read. Roger can turn a phrase with the best of them, including MacLeese.  If you remember the good old days, buy the book. If you are young and missed the good old days, buy the book. It’s cheap enough even for the wages they pay today's news gatherers or "content professionals" or whatever they call what it today.
You can read it while you head to Yoga class or while you watch the kids at soccer practice, both of which were unheard of activities for reporters in MacLeese’s days.

Unfortunately for my own good health, I started thinking about the book at 4 a.m. this morning when my aging prostate forced me up early to the bathroom and then my brain kicked in and thoughts turned to Roger’s book and all the characters I had met over the years. Finally a two-hour mental tour of my own newsrooms  kept awake until I was forced to abandon wife and bed to write this review/reflection for my blog.
Journalism, or to be more precise and accurate, newspaper work has always attracted engaged Type A personalities. It used to attract talented folks, many who came with baggage like alcoholism and gasp, cigarette smoke. It still attracts talent folks, but with pre-employment drug tests they have to travel with lighter personal luggage today.

During my insomnia this morning I was thinking of the late, great reporter I worked with at the Oakland Press – Jean Saile. I loved her, she, like MacLeese, was right out of “Front Page.” Jean could be affectionately and not politically correctly referred to as a “newspaper broad.”
I used to watch Jean type a story on the old Atex system, a cigarette, with a curved long ash, hanging dangerously over her keyboard as she pecked away at her story. She was probably in her late 60s or 70s when the Press banned newsroom smoking in the early 1980s. On the day the ban went into effect, she quit the newspaper forever. We thought she was joking when she told us she would quit if she couldn’t smoke in the newsroom. She proved us wrong. Some people thought she smelled of smoke, I always thought she smelled of news.

She had a screechy voice, not unlike Edith Bunker (for you younger folks simply Google "All In the Family" and watch a few You Tube clips). The voice would escalate and get louder as the story got more important and closer to deadline. I miss that voice. To me it was the song of the newsroom.

When my good friend and editor, Larry Laurain died of cancer in 1985, Jean bought me a new bottle of Jack Daniels (I was still drinking in those days) so I could continue to spike my morning rewrite coffee with a little inspiration each day. Eventually, and not too long after, I had to take the 12 steps to rid myself of  the demon rum.  I'm clean and sober now, but probably not as much fun.
We had a female food editor who was another character at the Press. She had the nasty habit of printing recipes in the Sunday features section that sometimes did not include all the ingredients. That meant for me, the hapless Sunday reporter, that I had to track her down on a Sunday afternoon so I could find out just how much Pineapple you were supposed to add to the “Pineapple Upside Down” cake recipe she had published that morning for some woman in Orchard Park. Little things, but Sybil was a character. You would not find her in a newsroom today. Maybe some folks are happy about that, but I’m not.

There were many more characters that I came across, I remember a Detroit TV anchor – Bill Bonds – who was a hard drinking a-hole who once called me a “turkey” on the air for a column I wrote about him that was none too flattering. We exchanged unpleasantries on the phone, but later he offered me his left over French fries at the Detroit Press Club. I just looked at him quizzingly when he handed me his plate. For the record, I didn't eat the fries, although I was tempted.
The newsrooms I lived in had tension, arguments, heck sometimes editors and reporters would nearly come to blows, but it was because we had passion about what we were doing.

I can only imagine if a reporter threatened to rearrange an editor’s face in today’s world, they would likely be sent to some “anger management” clinic for an extended stay to heal them from the problem. In MacLeese’s days editors and reporters “made up” by going to a nearby gin mill and soaking their disagreements in gin, vodka, bourbon, but hardly ever scotch.
Now before you think I’m advocating a return to those boozy, fun-filled days of the past, I’m not. They had their place, but they were very destructive to the people involved. Roger’s book will give you all the evidence you need of that as it relates to just one man.

Al alienated friends and family alike with his self-centered and destructive behavior. But he was a genius at a typewriter/keyboard and he did what we were told to do in that day, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Hopefully, today’s “new” journalists will work to continue the tradition of affliction, even if they’ll have to find a way to do it at clean and orderly desks that don’t include a bottle of Jack Daniels in the drawer.

For those who knew the “old” newspaper office, it was harder and harder to live in the “new” newspaper office. Probably because it felt more like an “office” than a news room.
As I recall more stories and personalities from the old days, I’ll start posting them here, probably for no other reason that I need my sleep and I don’t want to think about these folks at 4 a.m.

Next up, ” election nights when they were really election nights.”

(Eds note: I have no idea why the font size shrunk, I'm calling together a meeting of the computer squirrels I work with to see if I can fix this, until then I'm sorry)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lessenberry: Editor's column "Journalistic understatement of the century"

In his own bare fisted style, Jack Lessenberry, political analyst for Michigan Radio, checks in about the "the election coverage."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Flint Journal editor responds to the missed election coverage

The Flint Journal editor stepped up and took the blame for the lack of competent election coverage. It was the right thing to do, but the comments are pretty brutal nonetheless.

Update: Poynter has an article about this as well.

Update: Jim Romenesko has chimed in as well.

Media drops the ball on Flint City Council race

Let's expand a little on the previous post that talks about a convicted murderer getting elected to City Council in Flint. I went back to see what kind of coverage the Flint Journal did on the run up to the election on the candidates. A name search of Wantwaz Davis, the convicted murderer who was elected shows several previous stories. Here was a story on his second place finish in the primary, which includes no mention of his criminal background.

Here's the story done in the run up to the election that appears to be a Q & A that was likely filled out by the candidate and submitted. In the past a reporter would have been at least required to do a background check of the Journal files and perhaps a Nexus check of a person just to see if there was something to flag in their background. It also appears there was little or no editing of the comments provided by the candidates. Flint is in lower case and the sentences are not well crafted. So either they were cut and paste from what the candidate submitted or the editing is worse than I thought at the new

By the way, the story is headlined "Everything you need to know about the Fifth Ward City Council Race."  It appears that everything didn't include the fact that one of the candidates was a convicted murderer. As a voter, I might like to know that. Maybe not, but I think that's key information.

Then the first story after the election (Wouldn't a headline "Flint elects convicted murderer" been a juicy headline) buried in this story is an brief accounting of the Flint Council race.

And there is just so much irony in this  MLive video of Wantwaz Davis talking about people with felony convictions not being able to get jobs. Wouldn't it have been fun to hear the reporter behind the camera ask him about his own felony conviction in this video staged in front of a crime scene?

Certainly you can blame voters, but most voters still count on the media - print and broadcast - to provide them the basic information they need about elections. The failure of media, both locally and nationally is epic, and part of the blame goes directly to the downsizing and "youth movement" in the media. Too few reporters and excessive demands coupled with fast food pay is not a recipe for journalistic success.

It wouldn't have been hard to find out either. A simple Google name search turned up a legal settlement for prisoner Wantwaz Davis from his time in prison.

It's just a matter of hours or days that this will be a national story and a national embarrassment for the local media

When the media allows the people they cover to basically determine what you write about them, this is what you get.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Election coverage ain't what it used to be

Despite glowing reports on how coverage of news has gotten better even with all the cuts somehow the recent election coverage somehow missed that a convicted murderer was running for office. And, he got elected!

A bit of a black eye for the election reporting team I would say.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The New Media - See No, Speak No, Hear No Evil

This article from Jim Romenesko highlights a lot that is wrong with the emerging new media.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A belated post on MLive's awards

In response to a comment on a previous item (you can see my response to the response here) I am posting a link to the editorial awards won by here.  (Scroll down to the last three comments to view the exchange)

Honestly, I was not aware until the comment that they had won the awards (although it appears there are more than one "Newspaper of the Year.". I'm not a daily, or even weekly reader anymore of the print or online product so I just missed the honors, it was not a deliberate slight.

Congratulations to all the fine people at MLive for the achievement.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Want to be a journalist? Skip journalism school

Here's just one of many examples of why you should not go to journalism school.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper trying to buck the trend

A good read on a newspaper that still values great investigative reporting.

My favorite part of the piece:

"Stanley says giving reporters freedom — and a feeling of being engaged with quality work — is one of the most important steps to keeping staffers happy. “People like to have a lot of say in how they do their job, and they like to have a degree of independence in what they do,” Stanley told me. “People also want to be master craftsmen, they want to be master journalists, they want to be master mechanics. But the most important thing is a sense of purpose larger than ourselves. You want to work for something that matters.
“If you provide those three things, you have a happy and engaged workforce and the sky’s the limit on what you can accomplish.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CJR: A report on the Ann Arbor News changes

Not surprisingly the company itself refused to comment to the Columbia Journalism Review, but the take on the whole enterprise is not too positive.

Make sure you follow this link as well for more coverage.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Well that experiment didn't last long announced some major changes to the experiment that began with such promise just four years ago. The major changes is that after Sept. 11 it will no longer exist. It is being folded into the group of companies and that the former news print version is reverting to the former Ann Arbor News masthead.

Good luck with that.

And don't miss the growing list of comments under the story, at least the ones that haven't been deleted because of how negative they are. Here's just one sample of the 91 posted so far:

"Next to, the software that drives MLive and the presentation is the worst. Also, using the name "Ann Arbor News" is a giveaway that you think WAY too much of yourselves.You don't deserve to use that moniker, especially since you killed it in the first place."

Friday, August 30, 2013

A blogger chimes in about the "new"

An interesting read on the effects of layoffs at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reminder about posts and comments

It's been awhile since I've had to delete a comment, but as a reminder I try not to allow personal attacks on people by name. Part of that has to do with the anonymous nature of most of the comments.

It is fair game to comment on specific things people have done  and perhaps using a title. But again when I deem (it is my blog after all) an anonymous comment is simply a personal attack on an individual without any facts or support behind it I will not post it.

From time to time I get e-mail from folks who give me information to check out and I will try and do that and will protect your anonymity.

In the more than five years of Free From Editors I have deleted less than 10 comments, but today I had to again. That does not count the posts I delete because they are computer generated spam.

Thanks for playing nice.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A little late, but a CJR post worth reading

Not sure how I missed this excellent piece by the Columbia Journalism Review on the history of the "job pledge" at Advance, but worth a read for former employees. I must say that most of us knew the pledge wasn't really a "lifetime" guarantee, more of a union busting clause.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

We've come a long way baby (in newspapers)

Well, at least this proves that some newspapers were thinking about the impacts of the computer and Internet about the time Al Gore invented it. This 1981 news report about the Internet and newspapers is a fun listen.

It shows that some newspaper execs could see there would be an impact, but even in these early days they discounted what it might mean.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Oregonian employees join the march to the door

The Advance newsroom strategy has moved to Portland. Welcome to the brave new world. It's a long, but familiar read. Some of the links are worth following as well.

Sunday, June 23, 2013 on "We're doing great"

A self-serving, self assessment was posted by While I wish them well, if the comments are any indication they may want to do a story on what the readers think.

Hopefully when the boss visited the various MLive offices he brought with him a living wage and bonuses for those "professionals" who are toiling in the vineyard.

As the comments have mounted as the day goes on I'm struck that sometime since I posted this today and now a pretty significant statement has been edited out of the article. A commenter pointed out:

"below about 30 comments there is a statement that mlive has more "aggregate" journalists than were employed by the 8 papers 16 months ago. this is highly misleading in that most of the local cutbacks occurred more than 60 months ago.
that being said, as one of the former employees, i have no grievance with mlive. it just seems that the current execs maybe could just own up and say, "the economy and changing market conditions forced us to cut back," rather than trying to assert that today's product is superior. most remaining readers would appreciate the frankness and the reasons.
p.s.: when i make nostalgic visits to my old reporting clippings, which were compiled monthly in the newspaper library, i admit a number of them are too long and wordy, instead of criticizing today's citizens for having short attention spans. lol on that. !!! "

(Note from me: I thought that statement seemed suspicious when I read it, but I took it at face value, but the above commenter pointed out the obvious and now that statement seems to be missing from the article).

The comments have continued through the day and are 99 percent negative.

Friday, June 21, 2013

New book by a former FJ staffer

Jerry Wright has written a book about his wife's valiant struggle. Those of us who worked with Jerry know what a faithful husband he was. I haven't read the book - yet - but wanted folks to know it is available.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kim Crawford: Star of stage, screen and radar

For all you old Flint Journal folks, former reporter Kim Crawford will be featured tonight as an "expert" on the Travel Channel's production "Dead Files."  As they say, 10 p.m. Eastern and 9 Central time.

Just a heads up.

Here's a link to the trailer for the show:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Someone is trying to look out for unpaid/low paid interns

Hopefully, these interns will win this suit and prevent newspapers from basically using them as unpaid news servants.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The anatomy of a story and how it went wrong under the "new" journalism

This is an interesting story on how the Washington Post quietly edited and corrected a major story without any correction.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back to the future: A daily newspaper returns to New Orleans

I thought this might have been an April Fool's joke, but then I checked the date and source and it appears that Advance has decided being a daily newspaper company in New Orleans is not such a bad idea after all.

Here's the Poynter take on the AP phone records seizure

The news that the Department of Justice seized phone records from the Associated Press is disturbing to the extreme. Here is what Poynter says about it today.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Scott Pelley on today's Journalism

This link will take you to a series of recent quotes about the state of journalism by CBS anchorman Scott Pelley. (I think the obvious spelling mistakes may be the fault of the website and not Pelley, but who knows?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sloppy journalism at the Miami Herald

What I enjoyed about this article was the Miami Herald editor's excuse for why the mistake happened. Now the "new" journalism is blaming its mistakes on the realities of the  "new" journalism.

When something is as easily checked as a person's criminal record simply by going online, is there really any excuse?

And then there is this from Poynter on the Internet sensation of Cleveland hero/woman rescuer Charles Ramsey.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The newspaper bleeding continues

I know a former book page editor who won't be surprised at this news.

Monday, April 29, 2013

More newspaper circulation gobbly dee gook

Not sure what this article is even saying, but I put it up here in case you can interpret it.

A couple items for your breakfast reading

An interesting Pew Research study on the current state of the news media is pretty good reading.

And a few pictures to drive the sadness home.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A young former journalist skillfully sums up the biz

Well, I was waiting for a nod from the writer before posting this, but others are already sending me links to this and Inky has already commented with the link so if you want a concise wrap up of what is happening to journalism today read this young woman's blog post. The comments are good too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Just in case you were wondering if cutbacks had an effect on journalism quality

According to this survey, the cutbacks are not helping with the quality of journalism.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A good, investigative piece on Advance's New Orleans newspaper strategy

This Columbia Journalism Review article on the head scratching Advance strategy in New Orleans is long, but really good read for anyone interested in the whirlpool that is today's newspaper business.

As the person who sent this to me said, brew up a good pot of coffee, curl up on the sofa and enjoy!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yikes, it's getting ugly at JRC

Feeling badly today for my friends who work at JRC properties.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More bad news for my friends at the Oakland Press

Looks like more bad news is coming for the Journal-Register Co. employees.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Flint police exec holds two jobs - Free Press

I knew Mr. Jones when he worked at the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. The Detroit Free Press broke this story about his dual jobs.

Newspaper expert responds to Advance, 60 Minutes segment

Kevin Slimp, a newspaper "guru" had this to say recently about the 60 Minutes segment on the Times-Picayune cutting publishing days. He has talked about Newhouse before like this article from August.

He was critical of 60 Minutes, but his bigger beef may be with the Advance folks who so poorly represented newspapers on the program.

And this about the supposed surge in online circulation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More reporters, more print, what an idea!

Here's a story about a newspaper that is bucking the trend. (This is a link to a California paper, although the Flint Journal ran the same story. I just choose not to try and negotiate the website to find it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

60 Minutes looks at Advance newspaper decisions

In case you missed 60 Minutes segment on Advance's decision to neuter its newspaper presence in New Orleans.

Friday, January 4, 2013

I'm OK, you're OK

With posting being quiet for the last couple months a loyal reader sent an inquiry as to whether all was well in the Smith household.

We have had some family challenges that have kept us busy, but we are fine and preparing for our trip south to Tucson starting next Wednesday. You can follow our adventures there at starting Thursday.

I do have some pending Advance related posts for Free From Editors and I promise to put them up shortly. One has been pending since the election and deals with some apparent confusion over the endorsements for each of the MLive properties. A loyal reader sent me that tip and I will get to it shortly.

Thanks for your concern.