Showing posts with label layoffs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label layoffs. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Goodness knows, Clear Channel blows

I don't care who ya are, this is funny!

Well, it's probably not too funny if you're Bob Pittman, but who cares? It's guys like him who have been ruining radio and throwing away the kind of talent who can produce one screamingly funny parody . . . while standing in line at the unemployment office, no doubt.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Calling Jim McKay

Put a tea-party lovin', gun-totin' Republican hack in the mayor's office one minute, find yourself in the bizarro world the next.

Wait, that was last month. The embarrassment du jour would be Omaha budgetary politics right out of the Black September playbook -- the municipal policymaking version of Munich 1972. All we needed on the news tonight -- and there's still a bit of time as I type this -- is an undead Jim McKay at the anchor desk and a military operation gone horribly bad at Eppley Airfield.

First, the setup: Omaha's former mayor, Jim Suttle, negotiates a new contract with the firefighters union aimed at ending the practice of pension-spiking, where you can work a bunch of overtime, get your salary as high as you can, and then retire with astronomical benefits pegged to that astronomical salary. That's the quick-and-dirty version, granted, but that's basically it.

The practice was fast sinking the city's pension fund, and it had to stop before the city quite literally ended up bankrupt -- and relatively soon, at that.

So, Suttle -- defeated by then-councilwoman Jean Stothert in this spring's mayoral election -- pretty much put an end to that, as had been done when the police contract came up for renewal previously. But the city council, with Stothert leading the charge, rejected that deal as too costly.

Then the council, with Stothert again leading the charge, strips Suttle of his contract-negotiating authority and reserves that job for itself. And then the council, again with Stothert in a leadership role, negotiates a new deal that Suttle warns really will bust the budget before signing the ratified deal in a total "I give up" moment.

Fast forward to this summer and the start of the budget process. The city is facing a sizable deficit -- mainly due to big projected overruns in the fire department budget. The fire chief, Mike McDonnell, says it's due to costs locked in by the new labor contract but Stothert, in effect, says it's because McDonnell is a twit and, furthermore, I'm going to cut the crap out of your budget, lay off all the new recruits and take an ambulance and some rigs out of service . . . and, by the way, why haven't you quit yet?

OH . . . this may have had something to do with Her Honor's attitude toward the chief and the fired, er, fire department:
McDonnell has sought a roughly $94 million budget, which he said was necessary to avoid cuts. That included a $150,000 to pay University of Nebraska Medical Center consultants who supervise the department's emergency medical service. Those consultants replaced Stothert's husband, Dr. Joe Stothert after he was dismissed by McDonnell and Mayor Jim Suttle's administration.
HERE'S some more of how the Omaha World-Herald is reporting the story tonight:
An exit package brokered Monday between Mayor Jean Stothert's administration and the embattled fire chief carries considerable financial implications.

The agreement protects current department staff from layoffs through next July 1 and gives McDonnell a full pension, more than a year before he qualifies for it.

The agreement also keeps all existing fire equipment in service through next July 1, with the exception of a medic unit based in South Omaha. .

McDonnell said the deal means Stothert needs to add about $2 million to the Fire Department budget. The mayor, however, said no additional funds were needed. Stothert said she expected the department budget to pass Tuesday.

McDonnell will receive a $10,900 monthly pension. He said that is about $900 more than he qualifies for with his 23 years and 10 months of service.

“These changes are in the best interest of the City of Omaha and will move the Fire Department ahead in a positive manner,” Stothert said in a statement.

Said McDonnell: “It was an honor to serve the city.”

McDonnell's departure comes as the City Council prepares to vote Tuesday on Stothert's proposed 2014 budget.

The exit agreement, signed by Stothert and McDonnell, must be codified into a legally binding contract by Friday or else it is void.

The chief gets credit for 25 years of service and a retirement ceremony. The city will pay his share of his pension contribution through October 2014.

The agreement includes a “joint non-disparagement” clause until next July 1.

The city will maintain three of its four assistant chief positions through 2014. A fourth chief will retire this October.

McDonnell held a small press conference just before 7 p.m. Monday at headquarters in front of a city fire engine. He had already packed his city-issued SUV with personal effects and memorabilia.

He will be placed on paid administrative leave for the immediate future.

Stothert has made it clear since her mayoral campaign that she wanted McDonnell out.

Efforts to negotiate his future have been discussed intermittently for several weeks.

The two have been at odds over the mayor's proposed $90.6 million Fire Department budget, which could have forced layoffs, demotions and pulling firetrucks and ambulances from service. 
AND HERE'S the kicker: Stothert is refusing to apply for federal grant money specifically made available to fire departments for maintaining present staffing or even increasing it to better meet National Fire Protection Association standards.

Refusing to apply. Refusing to even try to avoid layoffs, unless. . . .

Hardball negotiating is one thing. Holding firefighters hostage to get the chief to retire is the stuff of political terrorism. Obviously, Omaha's new mayor has been taking pointers from congressional Republicans.

The only difference between Abu Packin' and Palestinian terrorists from back in the day is in the degree of her actions, not the principle behind them. It's just a matter of firing a hostage an hour until you meet my demands instead of killing an Israeli an hour until you meet my demands.

What matters to Stothert isn't the firefighters -- or public safety. What matters to Stothert isn't even balancing the budget in a sensible way. What matters to this doctrinaire GOP hack is ideology, sucking up to her right flank . . . and revenge.

How very Black September of her. Right down to this expertly placed shiv in the back, as reported by KETV television:
McDonnell said in order to fund those positions, the City Council would have to add $2 million to the fire department's budget, but the mayor's office said the budget will go before the council Tuesday at the proposed $90.6 million.

The mayor expects the new chief to achieve both the saving and the job protection within the proposed budget.
WOW. Stothert even worked in some Republican magical mathematics. Is there anything our pistol packin' mama can't do?

Except for running a city in an adult, competent manner, I mean.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

And we have a winner. . . .

The 2012 Chickenshits of the Year award goes to management at the Kansas City Star, because that's what they are.

Think I'm being harsh?

Yeah? Then read this from KC Confidential:
Check out this startling tale involving a pair of Kansas City Star reporters reportedly presented with a proposition – a variation on Sophie’s Choice – that only one position remained for the two of their jobs.

“They brought in two reporters – Karen Dillon and Dawn Bormann – and told them that one of them had to go,” says a staffer. “And that they had to decide which one would stay and they had until next week to figure it out. Sort of like ‘The Hunger Games.’ That’s the scuttlebutt anyway.”

There’s more.

“Karen Dillon has seniority, so she has the option of taking it or not taking it,” says the source. “And if she does, Dawn gets laid off. Dawn’s a great person but I think Karen will vote in favor of herself because she’s got teenage kids at home.”

This just in: Bormann is o-u-t.
CAN YOU believe it? I knew that you could.

Just like I knew you'd come around to my way of thinking.

Amid the universal hand-wringing by newspaper-management types about how the difficult economy, a disintegrating business model and everybody's favorite bogeyman -- the Internet, of course -- is killing the industry, I'd like to propose another primary reason for Your Local Daily's impending doom. That would be that most American newspapers (and I don't think this is an overbroad generalization) are run by dolts, chickenshits and a-holes.

Difficult economies, disintegrating business models and the Internet can be coped with and overcome with a little thought, creativity and effort. Dolts, chickenshits and a-holes atop the organizational chart rarely can be.

HAT TIP: Romenesko.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Write for your life

This is what it sounds like when a city fights for its life.

Community leaders and luminaries in New Orleans know what the "optics" will be for their home when the Newhouse family ends daily publication of
The Times-Picayune and proceeds apace in killing the entire enterprise dead. They know that a city that "can't support" a daily paper plays into all the talk about the Crescent City's impending demise.

They know a self-fulfilling clusterf*** when they're presented with it. They know that the area's -- and Louisiana's -- famously crooked pols are slobbering at the diminution of the
Picayune like a dog slobbers at the prospect of a meaty bone.

When you're staring
that in the face, you write something like this to 22 members of the Newhouse family:
It is painful to report that right now it is nearly impossible to find a kind word in these parts about your family or your plan to take away our daily newspaper. Our community leaders believe that your decision is undermining the important work we continue to face in rebuilding New Orleans. Whether you intended to or not, you have already created the impression that our recovery is so tepid that we cannot support an important civic institution like a daily newspaper.

In the end, we fear our community has already made its judgment on the three-day publication plan and the damage already realized cannot be undone. But the relationship between your family and our community does not have to end sourly. If your family does not believe in the future of this great city and its capacity to support a daily newspaper, it is only fair to allow us to find someone who does.

If you have ever valued the friendship you have shared with our city and your loyal readers, we ask that you sell the Times-Picayune. Our city wants a daily printed paper, needs a daily printed paper and deserves a daily printed paper.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond
Archdiocese of New Orleans

Steve Roberts

Scott Cowen
President Tulane University

Ralph O. Brennan

Gayle Benson

Mary Matalin

Cokie B. Roberts

Norman C. Francis
President Xavier University

Archie Manning

Tom Benson

James Carville

Wynton Marsalis

Kevin Wildes S.J.
Loyola University New Orleans

Wendell Pierce
PREACH IT, people. Preach it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The sound of bullshit

I'm sure you're familiar with Potter Stewart's concurring opinion on a 1964 pornography case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sure, you remember. Stewart wrote, in Jacobelis v. Ohio, about an explicit French film that had been deemed obscene in Ohio and its exhibitor fined $2,500:
"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."
Similarly, I think we all know bullshit when we see it. Particularly, we know it when we smell it. But do you know bullshit when you hear it?

Like Justice Stewart, I might never intelligibly define bullshit -- the figurative kind that assaults truth, as opposed to the literal bovine kind -- in all the fullness of its being. But I know it when I hear it, and I just hope the Gambit writer wore his cowboy boots when he covered an appearance by NOLA Media Group head Ricky Mathews and editor James O'Byrne at a New Orleans tech gathering last week:

Word of the digital plan had leaked out before the paper had planned to announce it (ironically, in digital form -- a blog item by The New York Times’ David Carr), and O’Byrne and Mathews were still batting cleanup, trying to get hold of what Mathews called “the master narrative.” Despite the civic shock, Mathews said, the NOLA Media Group had known all along that cutting back The Times-Picayune would be a tough sell in a traditional (if not hidebound) city that loves its institutions -- even if it doesn’t always support them.

“We could have had this play out exactly the way we wanted to, which is announce a new company and talk to your employees simultaneously, and we’d still be in the same spot -- with a really visceral reaction from the community,” Mathews said. “The way to change that is to be talking. I’ve been talking till I don’t have a voice any more, explaining to people what we’re doing.”

(None of that talking has been done in The Times-Picayune newsroom, where 48 percent of the employees were given severance papers last week; 200 people from around the company are being let go. Mathews and O’Byrne have yet to address the staff in person, though Mathews said he had met recently with Mayor Mitch Landrieu for “about three hours, and he [Landrieu] got it immediately.”)

[UPDATE, June 21, 1:15 pm: A source in the mayor's office said the office "wouldn't characterize the meeting in those terms, either in the amount of time spent or in the mayor's takeaway (from the meeting)."]

“This is an entrepreneurial effort on our part,” O’Byrne told the New Orleans tech group, which was enjoying light hors d’oeuvres and complimentary craft cocktails by mixologist Alan Walter. “Because of the leaks that happened in The New York Times, we lost control of the narrative, and for two weeks we really had to focus all our efforts on what we had to do as a company [which] was to tell all our employees where they stood.

“I know that the layoff at The Times-Picayune seems significant,” O’Byrne added, “but it’s important to realize that we’re advertising for about 50 people in the new digital company. So you end up in a space where you’re going from about 165 down to 140. But you’re eliminating four days a week of print, and a lot of that labor existed to get that seven-day-a-week product.”
HAD ENOUGH? No? Well, you little masochist, you!
“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment,” Mathews told the group. “It’s our goal to create a world-class digital work environment for the journalists who are going to work for us, because we can attract the best and brightest from around the country. They’re going to want to come to New Orleans when the real story starts to get told. … We’re going to be a cutting-edge new media company with a print component that is still extraordinarily powerful. That’s our goal. So that narrative’s not been fully told yet; it will get told. You don’t tell it by being defensive, you do it by doing it.”

Mathews also addressed the issue of broadband access, which is not as widespread in New Orleans as other cities and has raised concerns over who will be able to get the new digitally focused paper. “New Orleans is quite a wired community, but there are certain parts of the community that are not wired,” he said. “So we’re going to invest money working with the Knight Foundation to begin to make a dent in it.”

“We’re going to create a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment”? Really? When somebody says something like that, it can't NOT be bullshit. That's such a red-light indicator of the presence of bullshit that mere language loses it power in its presence.

See, I told you. My mouth is still agape and, obviously, so is my keyboard.

These people are just making this stuff up. It's the inverse of what people tell bums panhandling downtown -- no, I don't happen to have any cash on me right now. Dang.

Instead, Mathews and O'Byrne are out there trying to convince Crescent City techies that they're loaded when, in reality, they got nothin'. My God, it's like a couple of frat boys desperate to get laid. They'll say any damn thing, so long as it sounds good and halfway plausible. They'll make stuff up.

Unfortunately, the mass firing of Times-Picayune staffers, they didn't make up.

Perhaps they'll sleep a little better in the long months ahead knowing it wasn't the economy . . . or the death of newspapers . . . or random fate that did them in and will leave their city with
"three Sunday newspapers a week" . . . and a crappy website. No, it's because -- Pulitzer prizes notwithstanding -- they're just not among "the best and the brightest from around the country."

The sort of folk worthy of
"a Google-Nike kind-of-vibe work environment."

Swoosh, y'all.

DISCLOSURE: I went to college with James O'Byrne at LSU, where we worked together on The Daily Reveille in 1981. I'll just say that I don't envy him, and that life do throw some mean-ass curveballs at people as time goes by.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ricky Mathews shot Tupac, too

I'm usually not one to post NSFW gangsta rap
videos, but this was too delish to pass up

New Orleans' alternative weekly, Gambit, has been indispensable reading -- especially the past three weeks.

Here's a gem from its
Blog of New Orleans today, sticking it to the shameless corporate hacks -- Advance Publications hatchet man (and incoming Nola Media Group publisher) Ricky Mathews, for instance -- presently nosediving the city's venerable daily newspaper straight into the Gulf of Mexico:
At this hour, is fronting a major journalism award it has received for its recent 8-part series "Louisiana INCarcerated," which spotlighted conditions and financial incentives in the state's Byzantine, for-profit prison system:
A team of Times-Picayune reporters was awarded the June "Sidney" award, a monthly journalism prize given out by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, for the newspaper's recent eight-part special report on Louisiana's highest-in-the-world incarceration rate.

The series, "Louisiana Incarcerated," was reported by Cindy Chang, Jan Moller, Jonathan Tilove and John Simerman. It spotlighted how rigid sentencing laws and a strict pardon and parole system conspire to keep the jails full.
Not mentioned in the story: the contributions of photographer Scott Threlkeld, graphics artist Ryan Smith, copy editor Katherine Hart, designer George Berke and managing editors Dan Shea and Peter Kovacs, all of whom were fired from the paper yesterday by the newly formed NOLA Media Group.

Tilove was also fired. Special sections reporter Chang, whose byline appeared over most of the stories, has been offered a job in the general reporting pool.
HEY, if you're shameless enough to do what ownership is doing to The Times-Picayune and its staff, you certainly are shameless enough to exploit, for promotional purposes, the people you just fired or demoted.

Ukfay ouyay, ouyay uckingfay ucksfay.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hell, no, we ain't all right!

Long before anyone busted the first rhyme, put on the first piece of bling or intentionally tried to walk down the street with his pants moving south and his drawers creeping north, my old man invented rap on the back patio of our house in blue-collar Baton Rouge.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

All it took for the old man to go old school (before it was even the new wave), was a wayward hammer head on his thumb and not the nail. Or a balky lawnmower engine. Or a balky dog.

Oftentimes, it was a balky teenager of my intimate acquaintance.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! Gotdamn sonofabitch, c********* bastard!

Though he little realized it, the old man was a human beatbox in coveralls -- as blue as 2 Live Crew, with a purple thumbnail to boot. If only he'd had his own personal DJ to punctuate his raptastic freestyles with some mad scratching and killer mixes.

Eh . . . he would have told him to "cut that goddamn shit off" right in the middle of a performance.

BUT THIS ISN'T about my old man, though I am my father's son -- which pretty much scares the holy living hell out of my wife. No, this is about the carnage at New Orleans' newspaper, The Times-Picayune.

It wasn't the work of a madman, but it was close. It was the work of a bunch of executives at corporate who left not bodies strewn across the newsroom floor, but instead careers.

By the end of the day Tuesday, 201 employees of the
Picayune had been told that come Sept. 30, they would be shit out of luck -- not to mention shit out of a job. Of the 201 people getting the old heave-ho, which I think we're supposed to call "right-sizing" now, 84 came from the newsroom.

Firing 84 out of 173 newsroom employees, if we do the math, comes to 49 percent of the people actually responsible for covering the news that south Louisianians need to read. That's how Advance Publications makes sure that "essential journalism" endures in this star-crossed American city in direst need of it.

That's how cheap men in expensive suits "continue our 175-year commitment to covering the communities we serve."

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

Thus goes the first act of a newspaper company transitioning to the "digital future" -- firing half the people who "cover the communities we serve." Trading a seven-day print schedule for a three-day one. Shifting the lions' share of the "news coverage" to the paper's really, really bad website. Letting the vast majority of the newsroom layoffs fall upon the news and business sections.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

MEANTIME, one might be curious about where this "bold move" into newspapers' digital future will take place.

Nothing notable, just your average midsize city more murderous than "pre-surge" Baghdad that also happens to be Latin American corrupt, Latin American uneducated and absolutely Latin American poor. With a small ruling coterie of Latin American-rich types who got that way either through business or genetics.

Also, the digital strategy is aimed at a city where lots and lots of people have no broadband service -- New Orleans has just a 40- to 60-percent subscription rate for Internet service fast enough to fully access a multimedia website. For the poorest areas of town -- which are mostly all-black -- the subscription rates hover somewhere between zero and 40 percent.

It seems to me that it's one thing to argue that most poor folks don't subscribe to the paper, but quite another to, for profit's sake, raise the bar higher and higher to even aspire to be an informed citizen. Like this Harvard professor, one wonders exactly when did we cross the line between having a market economy and becoming a market society -- one where everything has a price.

Even those things that oughtn't.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

By the way, the Picayune isn't exactly losing money. It's still plenty profitable -- just not profitable enough for the Newhouse family, owners of Advance Publications.

GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard!

OH . . .
and then there's this sad reminder amid the economic and emotional carnage inflicted Tuesday on employees of The Times-Picayune: This is the "new economy," bucko. Loyalty is a one-way street that always runs in management's direction. Channel 8 in New Orleans illustrates this principle vividly for us:
"It's almost like a funeral inside, like a wake," said commercial artist Patricia Gonzalez after she got word she was being let go. She said she has worked at the TP for four decades.

Even though employees knew it was coming, Tuesday's developments still hit some like a brick.

"Next to my father's death, this is second in my life. I feel like I lost my family, somewhat ashamed that I lost my job, or will be losing my job," continued Gonzalez.

Staff writer Danny Monteverde also received bad news about his job.

"It's rough today, and it's sad to see all my co-workers and friends, really, and family go through stuff like this, but I had a good six years, I really did. I wish I had a lot more," he said.

Workers who have been axed are getting severance packages, but some were too distraught to pay attention to the details right away.

"I really haven't checked into the package, but I can't talk," Gonzalez said while choking up.


Amoss said laid-off workers can apply for jobs that will be posted.

"When we launch the new company we will have a significant number of journalists, especially newsgathering, reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists," he said.

"I'm never going to give up. I will be reapplying for whatever is available, even if it's to cut the grass outside; that's how dedicated I am to the company," Gonzalez stated.
GOTDAMN sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! GOTdamn sonofabitch! Gotdamn bastard! Gotdamn sonofabitch, c********* bastards!

Freestyle THAT, Advance.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Men in suits do what Katrina couldn't

You'll likely never notice the moment you were saved from the abyss -- or were cast into it.

For a couple of cities and their daily newspapers, that moment came in 1962. And a half century later, the
Omaha World-Herald is still standing, still locally owned and the flagship of a chain of dailies and weeklies across Nebraska and -- now -- across the country.

The other newspaper,
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, has not been so fortunate. In 1962, what had been locally owned since its founding in 1837 (cover price, one picayune) became part of Newhouse Newspapers, a division of S.I. Newhouse's Advance Publications. And now the New York-based corporation has decided New Orleans doesn't need a daily newspaper anymore. Or the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, either.

Instead, the
Picayune, for one, will publish only three times a week -- Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Speculation is that at least 50 people in the newsroom will lose their jobs. That's what it means when spin like this comes down from on high:
Amoss acknowledged that for those who rely upon the newspaper as an integral part of their lives, the transition to three days a week would be difficult. But as emphasis in coverage moved online, he vowed that the essential journalism of The Times-Picayune would endure.

"We will continue our 175-year commitment to covering the communities we serve," Amoss said. "We will deliver our journalism in print, through and on our mobile platforms 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we invite our readers to become a part of the conversation."

Mathews said details of the new digitally focused company are still being worked out, but the transition will be difficult. While many employees will have the opportunity to grow with the new organization, Mathews said, the need to
reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will result in a reduction in the size of the workforce.
"ESSENTIAL journalism" does not endure when you fire dozens of the people who produce it. And you cannot "reallocate resources" that you have just discarded like yesterday's newspaper.

"Yesterday's newspaper." That pretty much describes
The Times-Picayune now.

Instead, what New Orleans will get come autumn is less news on a crappy website. What the city will receive three times a week in print is less news reported by fewer local journalists.

Corporate may or may not try to put a little lipstick on that particular pig, but if Advance follows the path it trailblazed in Ann Arbor, Mich., it will end up just cutting the pretense and butchering the pig. Like Ann Arbor, that would leave New Orleans as a no-newspaper town.

With a crappy website.

I WAS born in south Louisiana, grew up there, too -- in Baton Rouge. I grew up reading the State-Times and later worked there for a while.

But when I was in junior high and high school, most days I would hop on my bicycle (or into my old man's '67 Mercury) in the evening, go down to Villa Oaks grocery store and pick up an afternoon
State-Times . . . and a New Orleans States-Item . . . and the old gray lady of the bayou morning, The Times-Picayune. From them, I learned about the world.

And from them, I learned what little I know about writing. It was an ink-stained apprenticeship of a fashion.

I had been married for the better part of a decade and had lived in Omaha for three years already when the
State-Times died 21 years ago, and it broke my heart. I had always considered it the better (and livelier) of Baton Rouge's newspapers -- for whatever that is worth -- and I know the city is diminished by the loss of its voice, and by the loss of the internecine journalistic free-for-all with its sister publication, the Morning Advocate . . . now just The Advocate.

As I contemplate a struggling, rebuilding New Orleans without the Picayune -- having only a crappy website and whatever the hell the "print edition" is going to be -- I find myself thinking there but for the grace of Peter Kiewit goes Omaha. That's Peter Kiewit's picture above.

In October 1962, as America endured the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, newspaper titan S.I. Newhouse offered $40.1 million for the World Publishing Co., then-owner of the Omaha World-Herald. The board of directors liked the money, and the deal was almost done.

Kiewit, president of Peter Kiewit Sons', Inc., the family construction business, didn't like anything about what he had read in the
Wall Street Journal. The World-Herald deal, as opposed to the Cuba thing.
During an Oct. 12, 1962, layover at the Denver airport, Kiewit learned from a story in the Wall Street Journal that his hometown newspaper was about to be sold to New York publisher Samuel I. Newhouse.

World-Herald directors were willing to sell the paper to prevent the stock, largely held by heirs of founder Gilbert Hitchcock, from being diffused.

Four days later, Kiewit called a friend, banker W. Dale Clark, who also was chairman of the newspaper board, and asked to see the newspaper's balance sheet. Clark told Kiewit that the board had a buyer and was satisfied with the offer.

The newspaper's directors weren't interested in other offers, Clark told Kiewit, who later said he realized Clark felt a moral obligation to Newhouse.

But Kiewit persevered. Unknown to him at the time, Kiewit had a strong ally in his wish to keep The World-Herald in local hands. Martha Hitchcock, widow of founder Gilbert Hitchcock, felt strongly that ownership should remain in Omaha.

Kiewit spent nine days gathering the financial information he wanted. He was impressed with what he found.

Kiewit called Clark again on Oct. 26, saying he had the necessary information.

"Fine," Kiewit later quoted Clark as saying. "You had better come down and see me.''

Two days later, Kiewit and company colleague Homer Scott met World-Herald directors in an all-day Sunday meeting.

Monday night, Kiewit worked out an offer of $40.4 million. Newhouse's bid was $40.1 million.

Tuesday morning, Kiewit was the owner.
HAD KIEWIT hated the idea of his hometown paper being run from a New York office any less, the name of the World-Herald's anniversary website -- 125 Years and Counting -- might sound rather mordantly ironic about now.

Kiewit, who died in 1979, understood what few in business or the public understand today: Newspapers are not just another business. Newspapers are in the business of earning more dollars and cents than they spend, yes . . . but they also are in the business of community. And the business of democracy. And the business of education. And the business of accountability.

When a newspaper -- whether it appears in printed form every day or not -- is diminished, as Advance Publications proposes to diminish the Times-Picayune and its other Southern papers, it's never just the newspaper's light that grows dimmer. There will be vitally important stories in New Orleans that won't get told now.

There will be vital information that New Orleanians won't get, and good decisions won't be made because of that. Corruption will become even easier in the Crescent City, because there will be dozens fewer journalists keeping vigil over the public's funny business.

And a city that loves its traditions will be at a loss over the radical wreckovation of a big one in town.

I guess New Orleans just hasn't suffered enough, what with all the crime, killing, poverty, ignorance, corruption . . . and Katrina.

FINALLY, let's not even get into the foolhardiness of Advance putting all the Picayune's eggs -- this in the age of foundering Facebook IPOs and a soft online-advertising market -- in a highly uncertain digital basket.

Obviously, there are good ways to make money in the digital universe. There are ways for newspapers to profit online. I just don't trust the Picayune's corporate masters to look for them . . . or to look much beyond the shaky Internet-advertising model.

What could go wrong?

In New Orleans? Pretty much everything. And today, as a newspaper's employees and its city stare into the abyss, it's becoming clear who gets to pay S.I. Newhouse's bill from May 1962 that just came due.

Here in Omaha, I think it would be appropriate if the employees of the Omaha World-Herald -- and the citizens of the city it calls home -- spring for a giant spray of flowers for Peter Kiewit's grave, God bless him.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Profile in leadership

This is so rare, I am compelled to make note of it for a generation with no real frame of reference.

Here is the basic concept: The leader of an organization puts the welfare of her organization and her staff above her own well-being. And fires herself, eliminating her own substantial salary to reduce the number of layoffs required in the new year.

And here is what's even more unbelievable -- it happened at a newspaper. The editor, Sandy Rowe, laid herself off after noting there were too many senior editors to oversee a pared-down newsroom.

IT HAPPENED at the Portland Oregonian, and it's all in Willamette Week Online:

I today announced I am retiring as editor of The Oregonian. This was a tremendously difficult decision but I am confident it is sound. You deserve to know why.

When we first announced the buyout and possibility of subsequent layoffs, many of you wanted to know staffing targets, how and when we would decide about layoffs and what departments would be most affected. Reasonable questions, all. I responded we would not know the staffing target until we had a new publisher and a final budget and we wouldn’t start planning layoffs until the buyout was completely closed. I also said we would protect more content-producing jobs by reducing the number of editors. I did not realize at the time that statement would drive my own decision.

Led by Chris, in early November we went back into the budgets, determined to ensure the company’s profitability in 2010, the essential ingredient to retain jobs and turn our focus from cutting to building. At that point it became clear we would have to shed about 70 jobs total from the newsroom staff. As we have gotten much smaller as a newsroom, it is also clear we have too many editing positions concentrated at the top of the organization.

Over Thanksgiving I wrestled with the number of layoffs we would need and determined it was best to start by removing my own salary from the budget. I informed Chris of my decision last week. Doing this preserves other jobs.

The biggest single timing consideration for me is my conviction that we are indeed right on the brink of having both financial soundness and great opportunity for the future. That is the good news. The economy is starting to turn and Chris and his leadership team are putting all the pieces in place to take full advantage of our strong market position and growing online opportunity. It won’t be easy, but by this time next year, I predict this company will be in a modest growth position.

In News, I have no doubt you have the leadership within yourselves and in this room to meet the future with vigor and commitment. I am very proud of that. The superb work you have done and the public service we provide through our journalism has never been attributable to the editor or a small handful of people. It is from all of you. Yes, we are smaller than we have been and many talented colleagues have left, but look around you at the talent still here, ranging from veteran Pulitzer Prize winners to young super-talented digitally savvy journalists.

You will not lose the passion that drives you and in that, too, I take great pride. What you do is worthy, often inspired, and has never been more needed than it is today. Amid the noise of the media marketplace, more than ever the fight is to be the trusted source of local news and information. That is what you do so well, and you will win that fight — on any platform the market chooses.

I will miss you a great deal, but that is overshadowed by the gratitude I feel for the good fortune of having worked with you and every day having fun, laughing, struggling and, ultimately achieving tremendous things together.

I cheer you and wish you Godspeed on these important next steps in the journey.

SANDY ROWE is the kind of editor you'd kill to work under and learn from. Unfortunately, staffers won't have that opportunity any longer . . . because she put those same staffers above herself.

That's good people. And good people are, increasingly, rare people in corporate America.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brother, can you spare a book?

Because the mayor is feckless, the city council is spineless and Omaha taxpayers are shameless, the city's library system has been decimated.

And that same level of public non-service will be creeping across all of city government. Soon.

From a story this evening on KETV, Channel 7:

A day after the cuts are finalized, the reality is made clear for the libraries --the downtown branch will no longer be open on the weekend. Homeless shelter outreach programs disappear. Book trading between branches is severely curtailed. The Florence branch closes. Homework Hot Spots program disappears.

Mary Mollner is one of 53 to lose a job. More than a mentor, Mollner helped senior citizens connect to a 21st century world and she helped the jobless reform their resumes and find work.

"We bring the world of information to them and they come to us," Mollner said, fighting back tears.

Mollner's ideals of educating and enlightening aren't lost.

"During this time off, I'll go out and volunteer," Mollner said.

Teenagers like Samantha English turned to the library after school for homework help and book clubs.

"The programs here are fun. They actually get you out of trouble," English said.
ONE BRANCH'S HOURS are being reduced by 19 hours a week. Another's by 14.

And on the reductions in service go -- another 19 hours here. Four hours there. Two hours over there.

And at the main library downtown, a 21-hour cut per week. It will be closed all weekend starting Sept. 8.

I would suggest that high-school teachers start accepting Wikipedia as a legitimate reference source.

MEANWHILE, the head of Omaha's firefighters union has grudgingly negotiated a two-year pay freeze with the mayor. The deal stipulates that firefighters will get a raise in Year Three no matter what happens with the economy.

It also says they'll get makeup raises on top of their regularly scheduled raises if the fiscal picture improves. Would that my wife -- who had to take, without benefit of negotiation, a 5-percent pay cut plus five days' furlough -- could get to "sacrifice" to such an extent as our firefighters.

About the only thing hard times are showing us in the 21st century is to what extent we all figure every man -- and woman -- is indeed an island, contra John Donne. Librarians get fired, city services get slashed and the little (and big) things that make up a city's quality of life take a beating, all because people who damn well have enough money to live in a six-figure house say they'll be damned if they pay another $25 . . . or $50 . . . or $100 a year in property tax.

And because the best other alternative the mayor could come up with was a Rube Goldberg "entertainment tax." One that would hurt a struggling industry enough -- and thus garner enough angry opposition -- that its demise at the city council's hands was a given.

And because Mayor Jim Suttle doesn't have the cojones to implement an occupation tax that's been on the books since the early 1980s.

And because the city council ran out of creative alternative ideas before it even had a one. That is, apart from a recent proposals to furlough every city worker still standing for two-weeks.

BASICALLY, hard times came and no one stepped up. No one -- not government, not business, not taxpayers.

No one.

And we're officially hosed. Except, ironically, for the hose jockeys. They're making out just fine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fresh media meat on the chopping block

The Grim Reaper puts in some overtime at yet another American newspaper. This time, it's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

IT SEEMS 74 newsroom employees saw the handwriting on the newsprint and took buyouts. Others, including the entire news art department, just got the ax straight, no chaser, reports Scott Henry on the Creative Loafing Atlanta newsweekly web site.
But AJC staffers are most outraged by the surprise firing of newsroom assistant Mark Slockett, who had worked at the paper more than 30 years. I’m told Slockett had struggled over whether to take the buyout, but had ultimately decided against doing so because he was only a few months away from being eligible to receive full retirement benefits. I’m trying to verify this information, but I’ve already spoken to more than one newsroom employee angry over the apparent shoddy treatment of Slockett.

“This had always been a company that took care of its employees,” one staffer told me who asked not to be named. “But this seems to be an indication that they don’t care anymore.”
JOURNALISTS, just like everybody else, have to get it through their heads: You're pieces of meat.

It's a utilitarian world out there, and you're only worth what you're worth to somebody else. Truly, like
Dino used to sing, "You're nobody till somebody loves you. You're nobody till somebody cares."

American society has chosen its path, and turning back won't be easy. Because, frankly, we're all pretty much in agreement -- at least until we're the piece of meat on the chopping block.

No, in the womb or on the job in this utilitarian kind of world, you're worth only what you're worth to your betters.

You may be king, you may possess the world and it's gold,
But gold won't bring you happiness when you're growing old.
The world still is the same, you never change it,
As sure as the stars shine above;
You're nobody till somebody loves you,
So find yourself somebody to love.

And quick.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Another day, another newspaper bloodbath

If it's Wednesday, it must be the Dallas Morning News.

And it isn't pretty. Out of 200 job cuts at the newspaper this week, 50 came from the news-editorial side of things.

Reading the DMNcuts blog today, it occurs to me that the only time journalists get to go out gracefully -- at least amid the Great Cull -- is when the whole newspaper goes bow down and slides under the waves forever.

Then, at least the band gets to play "Nearer My God to Thee," the captain (or, in this case, editor) gets to say some last noble words and everybody dies like Englishmen.

But when the corporate sniper is picking off ink-stained wretches one-by-one, luring them into Human Resources for the kill . . . well, what's the glory in that? The last journalist well remembered for going out that way was when a Japanese sniper got Ernie Pyle.

At least that was war, and not some non-lethal, corporate version of a campus shooter.

NO, WHEN THE corporate reaper comes calling with a machete, not Fat Man, there is no blaze of glory, nor is there one last spiffy "farewell" front page. There's just all the grace, and anger, and fear, and bitterness and nastiness of average human beings being dealt a losing hand.

There's no warm fuzzies, and there's no collective sense of loss that causes loyal readers to say "She was a great old gal; I'll damn well miss her, bless her heart." No, all there is is the messiness of fear and loathing, with the occasional poignant leaven of grace.

That's what I saw today reading the DMNcuts blog. Here's a sampling . . . and let's start with the grace amid some real tragedy:

I too have had the hammer fall on my head. I devoted myself to the newspaper biz and the Morning News. It has been an honor to work with so many talented and committed people in news. I appreciate the prayers and best wishes. I am 58 years old, a woman, single and have had a stroke. What now? Here is part of the breakdown: 6 off the news copy desk, all in their 50s except one; one off the news desk, 13 in sports; 2 in business; mostly zone reporters in metro; no one from TSW, national or international except a special writer. Where are the managers? God bless you all.
Laura Miller, 15 years at DMN, 32 year career

Thank all of you in The DMN newsroom for your words of support and encouragement this morning. It's the world's greatest understatement to say that it has been an honor to work with you.

I have learned so much from you during my two decades at The News. The talent and dedication in that room is amazing. Some of you, and you know who you are, have given help and understanding during many difficult times.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to work at a job that has allowed me to do so much with my life so far.

I'm still a little numb, knowing that for the first time in nearly 32 years I do not have a newspaper job.

But I will be fine. I have many good friends, a loving family and a partner whose unconditional love has indeed made me a better person. We will celebrate 21 years of being together next weekend.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Frank Trejo

At the moment, it’s hard to imagine work that’s as invigorating, as important and as much fun as being a journalist at a daily newspaper. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside some of the best reporters, editors, photographers and designers in my years at the Morning News and the Star-Telegram, and I’ll always cherish the memories.

That said, tomorrow will be a new day, with new adventures. I’m looking forward to exploring them.

Here’s hoping that, for democracy’s sake if nothing else, the decision-makers in our industry figure out how to steer journalism through these icebergs safely. Meanwhile, my parting requests to you are that you never abandon the principles and passions that drew you to journalism and that you continue to be kind to each other.

Journalists are some of the smartest, funniest and most compassionate people I know. Please stay in touch. You can find me on Facebook.
All the best,
Mary McMullen Gladstone
NOW, with that over, let's get to the everything else part. And, for what it's worth, I would NOT want to be an editor at that newspaper tomorrow. Or any other time soon.
Anonymous said...
While I do not want anyone at the DMN to be out of a job, I am confused why, once again, the worker bees took the hits.

Where are the mid-level managers and managers in this?

I thought one of our problems is that we are too top heavy.

Please explain.

Anonymous said...
...still no managers? In my section, we now have an editor for almost every staff member. Literally.

Anonymous said...
I'm sorry, but anyone surprised that the grunts are the ones being given their walking papers while the professional meeting attenders will still be going to those meetings must be new or not paying attention. When you decide who stays and goes, you normally stay.

Anonymous said...
I'm not surprised, I guess. But I did think more editors would go if we were too top heavy?

Who are they going to edit?

We still have just as many layers of management. With fewer to manage.

Anonymous said...
"..still no managers? In my section, we now have an editor for almost every staff member. Literally."

Why the manager envy? They'll get sacked or demoted after they sweep up the debris from this debacle. Make a prisoner dig his own grave, it saves the VIPs from putting forth energy and their own time.

Anonymous said...
11 gone in Metro. None are editors.

Anonymous said...
"11 gone in Metro. None are editors."

Um, it's because there are out sourcing constituents who will be put in place of many of those pink slipped today. Mgrs. will be needed to put it all into shape for the next several weeks and then the next bloodbath will begin once protocols has been established. Soon it will only be top heavy on the top 2 tiers of A.H. Belo - CEO's and VPs.

Anonymous said...
If past layoffs are any indication, I still don't think any metro editors will be getting sacked -- at any time. When it's done today, that's it. Management always takes care of itself -- look at every single department. At other newspapers, editors have been laid off or demoted, but not in Dallas.

Anonymous said...
WHY, WHY, WHY were there no editors in the newsroom laid off? I just returned from a very painful "cry in your beer" booster party for 3 of the folks laid off from our department -- all very talented, hard working people. I am sick and tired of all of this. Are we worker bees eternally destined to get the shaft at this paper? Who is the little grubby guy gonna push around the newsroom now?

Anonymous said...
I think the worker bees are about to be replaced with much cheaper, less qualified, worker bees. They will need the editors to back stop these inexperienced reporters who will provide all the community news coverage under the supervision of the editors.

Anonymous said...
So, I'm leaving the HR guy's office after hearing the official, carefully crafted adios spiel, and in a remarkable display of dorkery, my supervisor, who had, up to that moment, cleverly kept his mouth shut, says: "Thanks for your service." Cue the spit take. I knew he was a gossipy, anal little dweeb, but, man, what a goof to say that.

Anonymous said...
I count 50 people gone. I fear what management has done is give readers 50 fewer reasons to read the paper. It's already starting to read like a printed version of TV news. It seems to me that putting out a product of lower value is not the way to position yourself for the future.

Anonymous said...
This paper has never done the right thing.

Anonymous said...
If DMN were the only newspaper to start dying then one could justify total outrage toward "Uncle Belo" but the entire industry has been caught behind a new paradigm that marks the end of the Newspaper Press era. Arrogance and blind faith in the status quo have crippled the newspaper industry.

The funny thing about pruning a tree is that if you know what you're doing, the tree will come back healthier, if not and you are just blindly hacking at every limb in sight, then the tree probably won't survive. We'll soon see if the A. H. Belo's chief pruner knows what he is doing.

Rod Dreher said...
Rod Dreher here. Three things:

1. I am not operating this blog, though like everyone in the building, I'm reading it.

2. This terrible thing we're all living through has nothing to do with George W. Bush. Many of my conservative friends are convinced liberal bias is what's dooming newspapers, but I point out to them that liberal newspapers serving liberal audiences are in the same sinking boat as the rest of us. I wish the political bias arguments on either side were correct, because that would suggest a way out of this hole. But they're not.

3) Anyway, today should be about mourning for and helping the colleagues we've lost, and doing what we can going forward to make sure this is the last time the paper has to take a hit like this. It should not be about cheap recriminations.

Anonymous said...
Need a laugh today?

I am informed (by a DMN colleague who remains behind) that when the laid-off newsies went down to HR, they "gave them all leather-bound books with DVDs and forms for writing resumes valued at (they were proud to tell you) $700."

This demonstrates the mindset that's going on in DMN's HR. Is there anyone here who really wouldn't have just rather had $700 cash to walk out with, to help tide them over till the first TWC benefits arrive?

Anonymous said...
Trust me when I tell you that "the leather-bound books with DVDs and forms for writing resumes valued at (they were proud to tell you) $700" were regifted leftovers or promotions never intended for those now RIF'd. HR may be trying to spin how gracious A.H. Belo is but I can promise you that Belo paid nowhere near $700 each for that stuff unless it was originally intended for execs.

Bad form for HR to mention the prize value with no option to decline it for cash. Tacky, tacky, tacky but for those left the beatings will continue until morale is restored. Say "thank you Uncle Belo!" and walk away.
SOME SAY journalists are just a bunch of liberal-commie-pinko bastards and, at long last, they're finally getting theirs. That they just did it to themselves, because no real American wants to pay for Pravda.

Some might be liberal, commie, etc., etc.. Most, I am sure, aren't . . . at least the commie-pinko-bastard part. Besides, let he who is without sin, and all that. . . .

No, these reporters, designers, copy editors, et al, are just as human as you and me. With all the good, the bad and the ugly that implies. Remember that.

And remember this, too. Times are hard, and any of us could be next.

There but for the grace of God. . . .

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This is a joke. Then again, this is Wednesday.

The spoof below comes from the best thing since The Onion -- a website called Not the Los Angeles Times. And it is just that, a joke.

Actually, there still are a few employees at the Los Angeles Times, and at many other American newspapers.

BUT IT'S STILL only halfway through the week. Monday, this might not be funny anymore . . . so, for those reading this next Tuesday, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend.

With that said, however. . . .

For the 23rd time in 18 months, the Los Angeles Times is losing its top editor. Raul Jones, a former newsroom janitor who rose through the ranks as layoffs shrank the number of real journalists, was fired yesterday after refusing to lay off the paper's last employee – himself.

In a blistering farewell e-mail sent to himself, Jones defended his stance against further cuts. "I had to draw the line," he wrote. "It's one thing to sack everybody else, but I can't countenance my own dismissal. Who's going to cover city and state government, the war in Iraq and Britney Spears? The quality of the paper will suffer."

But Tribune Co. spokesman Randy Michaels said the paper would do just fine, thanks to sophisticated new software that rewrites wire-service stories in the style of former Times reporters.

"We analyzed past articles and found that 38% of all stories began with the writer mentioning the time of day," Michaels said. [Click here for recent examples.] "Our new software will duplicate that formula."

As Michaels spoke, cleaning crews swept through the Times' newsroom, removing cobwebs and tearing down Xeroxed portraits of former publisher Mark Willes, whose smiling face had been plastered all over the building by reporters nostalgic for the "good old days."

Removing editor Jones wasn't easy. Because he was the paper's last employee and wouldn't dismiss himself, Tribune executives had to find a replacement editor from Chicago who was willing to can Jones and then promptly resign.
COME TO THINK OF IT, none of this is very funny at all. That's because, truly, what we see as a knee slapper today is what corporate media bean counters see as reality . . . tomorrow.