Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Party's Over

I got a chance to catch up with some Sentinels and ex Sentinels at a party over the weekend. There were lots of hugs and kisses all around. Most people looked exactly the same. A few looked just a tad older, but we won't name names. My apologies for not remembering each person's name, although I missed only one or two. No names will be published here to protect the innocent.

We gathered not to bury the Orlando Sentinel but not exactly to praise it either. The people who are no longer at the Sentinel could fill a house, and we did. There was a palpable sense of loss at how low the paper has fallen. Here's evidence: I was interviewed on talk radio earlier in the day, and the host asked listeners to call in with questions. Not a peep was heard. I'm thinking the guy has really low ratings or expectations of the Sentinel are significantly diminished. In the old days, if you had a comma out of place, you would hear about it from a readers.

Here are some instant impressions from the party:

  • The most popular question was, "Are you still there?"
  • One person was astonished at how the Sentinel buried news of approaching Hurricane Fay inside the paper. In the old days, back when hurricanes mattered (who can forget 2004?), a hurricane would merit page one.
  • Folks talked about how much physical space there was at the paper now. There was a time the Sentinel had a clean mafia who "cited" you if your desk got too dirty or the paperwork out of hand. I was once warned because I didn't have a photo of my husband and daughter in a proper photo frame. Unbelievable, but true, and so Sentinel. Now, there's plenty of room to roam and space to fill. And I guess nobody cares what you do with it.
  • Some folks are enjoying a leaner management. The Sentinel was always known for its top heavy structure (as is Tribune overall), layers of managers who were always looking for an opportunity to get in your way or prove their worth. No more, and what a freedom that is.
  • The best line of the night: The newsroom has become like an emergency ward, where stories are tended to in triage because there are so few people to go around. While that might work in a hospital (and even then it's questionable), in a newsroom stories that aren't at the top of the list often don't get told at all. That's especially true in these lean staff times.

The people who are no longer in daily journalism seemed more relaxed and talked of other things. The ex Sentinels I talked with said they were glad they left. One recent departee said he was sleeping much better.

The people who are still doing newspaper work of course seemed very worried. Everybody is networking and keeping irons in the fire. They know red letter day can come at any moment. And old buddy said, "It used to be that newspapers didn't pay well, but your job was secure. Maria, if you were to walk into the newsroom now, you wouldn't recognize it."

Say amen somebody.

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