Thursday, April 30, 2009

Log Rolling in Our Time

The old Spy magazine had a feature called "Log Rolling In Our Time," in which it took to task reporters, authors and others who wrote blurbs and book-jacket copy for people who had done the same for them. Like a lot of things in Spy, it was witty and irreverent.

Well, my thoughts turned to Spy when I spied Arthur (Pinch) Sulzburger Jr.'s write-up in Time about Carlos Slim, the Mexican industrialist and now investor in the New York Times. Without Slim's money, the Times would have been in a deep financial hole. It essentially didn't have sufficient cash flow. I know this is "not in our backyard," but it's so fawning that no wonder the newspaper industry is in trouble.

Here's a short excerpt:

"It was obvious from the moment we met that he was a true Times loyalist. We had an enjoyable conversation about what was happening in this country and everywhere else in the world."

This is just too delicious and easy to mock.

Read the rest here:,28804,1894410_1893837_1894158,00.html

Trickle Down Theory

You know things are really, really bad when the decline of the old media has trickled down to the Poynter Institute. Staffers over the age of 55 years old were offered voluntary buyouts this week in order to reduce expenses.

Earlier this year, Poynter froze employee wages and reduced its contributions to retirement accounts. As an industry group, they've got to change drastically, like the newspaper industry itself--or else it won't be around much longer.

Your ESOP at Work

Tribune Co. is going to pay Sam Zell's legal expenses in the Rod Blagojevich mess. Catch the Chicago Tribune story here:

Financially strapped Tribune Co. plans to pay the legal bills of company Chairman and Chief Executive Sam Zell, who has been interviewed as a potential witness in the federal corruption investigation of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to a filing today in bankruptcy court.

For the rest of the story, click here,0,4456884.story.

Goodbye, Cruel World

Folks, there's lots to catch up on. If you haven't read Orlando Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall's goodbye letter to ASNE, here it is. My editorial observations are in (red).

Dear ASNE friends:
As I end my year as ASNE’s president, I want to thank you for your support and guidance. I have been honored to serve as your president. Along with this note, you will find my report to the ASNE board on an extraordinary year. In Marty Kaiser, ASNE will have a new president with passion and energy. I will help him in any way I can.

If I were to give the usual speech at our convention, I would talk first of the tremendous respect, admiration and affection I have for all of you. Your courage and tenacity are inspirational. The strength I draw from you has enabled me to fight for the organization whose values I cherish.
I end my ASNE year both hopeful and angry. (I'm not going to take it anymore!)

Many, in and out of our industry, are working hard to envision new models to support journalism. I cheer them on. But I am angry at the pundits who would dance on newspapers’ graves. (The biggest grave dancer is Tribune owner Sam Zell. Unfortunate choice of words.) Their anti-newspaper vitriol disrespects the work being done by journalists in newsrooms all over America. (What bigger disrespect than being shown the door? Crocodile tears. )

These pundits take delight in telling us we are failures. Yet truth be told, the vast majority of local public interest journalism--the watchdog stories, the investigations, the coverage of city hall and the school board, the stories with impact on public policy--is still being done in newspaper newsrooms. (No argument there.) And that is why thoughtful people are frightened (a bit of hyperbole) about the perilous state of newspapers. They know that the loss of every journalist is a loss for democracy. (Then why is the newspaper industry laying them off in droves? Does that mean newspapers are anti-democracy?) And that is why we must fight on.

Hope has been hard to come by lately, no doubt about it. We have had to say farewell to storied newspapers and talented journalists. And yet I see hope popping up like the brave flowers of spring that rise from frigid ground. (Poetic.) I see it in our huge and growing audience--our Web audience is up more than 10 percent in a year, Nielsen reported last week. (Thanks to Casey Anthony.) I see it in the digital skills of our staffs. I see it in the transformation of our newsrooms to digital information centers that also produce a print newspaper. (Digital information centers? Hmm, not sure I know what that means. What's wrong with digital news centers?) I see it in our ability to engage people through social media. I see it in creation of online communities hosted by our newsrooms. I see it in the redesign of our print papers. (Okay, so the redesign didn't help much.) I see it in the undiminished commitment to public service journalism. (I'd say that's a flame that has turned into a flicker.)

At this point, I feel like giving the Winston Churchill finale about fighting on the beaches and never giving up. (With all the dead soldiers lying around you on Normandy Beach. How depressing.) But you are already doing that. You are battling on every front, not for yourself and not for your company, but for the journalists you lead and the communities you serve. (But for the corporate owners who pull our strings.)

Journalism is being reborn. How painful! How exciting! None of us knows what it will look like in three, four, five, years. (Nope.) But we do know it will be alive and kicking because we will not, and cannot, fail. (Onward, news soldiers.)

Thank you for your friendship. You are the unsung heroes of journalism. (Firing people is hard work.) Lead on.

Best wishes,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Arrested Development

The latest newspaper circulation figures came out this week, and--quick!--run for the hills. Things look worse than ever. The industry decline didn't take a holiday. In fact, it accelerated.

The Orlando Sentinel -- down 9.4 percent to 206,205 daily circulation
The South Florida Sun Sentinel -- off 10.4 percent to 195,522 daily
The Los Angeles Times -- fell by 6.5 percent to 703,181
Baltimore Sun -- plummeted 9.6 to 210,098
Chicago Tribune -- declined 7.4 percent to 501,202

Editor and Publisher rightly points out that the chain's vaunted redesigns have not pulled the newspapers out of a serious slump. So much for design and form over content. The 50-50 ad-to-news ratio, fewer pages and less reporting are not fooling anyone. Less is less, not more.

At this rate of decline, the Orlando Sentinel will fall below 200,000 in daily circulation for the next circulation reporting period--about 187,000 daily circulation to be precise. At this rate of decline, newspapers have no choice but to go for online eyeballs whole hog, and even that strategy won't work because the revenue generated won't be enough.

If it's any consolation, some papers at other chains turned in an even worse performance than Tribune's. Circulation at McClatchy's Miami Herald was down a whopping 15 percent. The St. Pete Times' circulation fell 10.4 percent.

Missing Persons File

A reader sent this link to an Orlando Sentinel "careers" video that apparently is on the newspaper Web site. The clip is supposed to demonstrate what a great place to work the Orlando Sentinel is. However, it's outdated.

The point of the clip now would be, how many people can you count who no longer have "careers" with the paper? I counted six or seven, but there could be more. This is a little like finding the hidden shapes or objects in a photo or illustration. Click on the link below to find out how many you can spot.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cashing In

In case you missed it, this little nugget was buried in Tribune's bonus news as reported by the Chicago Tribune: "The Tribune Co.’s publishing division generated $461 million in operating cash flow last year, a margin of 16.7 percent 'during one of the worst years in newspaper advertising history.' ”

Sounds like that's a very respectable figure--considering. Cash flow measures the money or cash companies generate in relation to their sales or revenue to pay expenses. If that's the kind of cash flow margin Tribune's publishing division can generate in a bad year, imagine what it must have been in a good year--20 percent, 25 percent, 30 percent?

Of course, the amount of cash generated is not enough to pay off Tribune's billions of dollars in debt. And we all know that Tribune achieved the nearly 17 percent cash flow margin by rolling lots of heads down the aisle, which freed up cash by reducing expenses.

Considering all the heads that are still being axed, perhaps the cash flow margin for 2009 will hit 20 percent or better?? Banks and creditors are going to love it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribune Asks Court for $13M in Bonus Money

Tribune Co. has asked the bankruptcy court for permission to award $13 million in bonuses to certain employees, even as more newspaper employees are being shown the door across the country, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

About 670 managerial employees are to benefit for doing such a great job of escorting people to their cars, with average payments of $18,000.

Payments are expected to total $12.2 million, while another $1 million in bonuses appears to be up in the air.

Meanwhile, another 70 employees may get about $2.5 million in severance payments that is owed to them, which sounds like a decent move.

The Delaware bankruptcy court is expected to rule on the motions during a May 12 court hearing.

I've been thinking more and more that the real pirates are not in Somalia, but here in the United States running the free (hah!) enterprise system.

Read the full post here:

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I am heartened by the response to my last meager post. I think many of you may already know who was on the hit list (see below). From what I understand, there is more to come later this year as well.

Writing this blog is getting harder. The bloodletting is huge, and folks can't blame Sam Zell any longer. Zell 'fessed up in an interview posted on Romanesko ( last week that he clearly underestimated the extent of the rot in the newspaper business and that the Tribune buyout has been a failure. It's not all Zell's fault. The people running this and many other newspapers are like the captain of the Titanic. Full speed ahead, into the iceberg.

I can no longer abide the "solutions" many news people still cling to, such as charging for content. Forget it, folks. The newspaper industry had a chance years ago to pool resources and aggregate content and it chose not to. How's that for vision? Google is not a monster. Google is simply filling a vacuum that new people created.

If newspapers put up a pay wall now, they will get some minor revenue but lose a lot of readers. It's time to come up with something a little more creative and 21st century. Hello! Free is not a bad business model. Many newspapers are free, especially weeklies. They are advertising supported and can be audited like paid subscription. Newspapers have to make "free" work.

Dearly Departed
Jerry Jackson, business reporter
Dave Darling, sports copy editor
Yoon Om, layout editor
Eric Palm, layout editor
Joan Andrews, layout editor
Angelisa Pinkston, layout editor
Karen Saunders, copy editor
Joy Dickinson, copy editor, to continue Flashback column
Geoff Nordhoff, wire and copy editor
Andy Goodwin, copy editor
Mary Tindall, copy editor, reporter
Dave Swiderski, copy and wire editor
Steven Ford, copy editor
Kim Calhoun, copy editor
Bonny Shonkwiler, copy editor
David Srinivasan, copy editor
A copy editor who doesn't wish to be named.
Elayne David, copy editor
Terry Godbey, copy editor, 26 years
Nicole Bogdas, layout editor
Helen Eckinger, Lake County reporter
Greg Gammonley, data desk, nice guy
Jay Hamburg, GA and religion reporter
Eleanor Trouse, from library, after 43 years of service
Bill Speros, deputy sports editor
Adam Shiver, sports copy editor
Pete Schreiber, sports copy editor
Robyn Shelton, medical writer, leaving for law school
Jerry Greene, sports columnis, wrote last column last week, after 33 years
David Whitley, sports columnist moving on to
Lynn Hoppes, associate M.E. in sports, moving to
Mike Berry, copy editor

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Days of Thunder

Folks, there's a lot of chatter taking place over the social airwaves about heads rolling at the Orlando Sentinel this week. One source put the figure at 20 job cuts affecting the copy desk. Frankly, I didn't know there were more than 20 people on the copy desk left. Seems very high, but also somewhat plausible. The Chicago Tribune is cutting about 20 percent of its staff.

Definitely a red letter day for many people at the Sentinel. Best of luck to all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heads Roll at the Sentinel

Don't know all the particulars just yet, but I've received several emails stating the Orlando Sentinel has cut more positions. I know that some newsroom veterans have left or are about to leave. Other folks say the copy desk is the target of this round of staff cuts.

Just letting you know the ranks at your hometown paper are getting thinner by the day.