Monday, February 02, 2009

Who knows where babies come from?

People who wish some billionaire would endow newsrooms so they don’t have to change – you know who you are – have the musty smell of the mausoleum all about them. They move through twilight, walking stiffly toward a setting sun. They will find no pot of gold there.

Yet the digitalistas who suggest those newsrooms can be readily duplicated or replaced act like willful children, unmindful that substance, craft and capacity matter in the real world, that no group of 10,000 monkeys has ever written Shakespeare, that 98 of the 100 most important pieces of public service journalism last year flowed from professionals in the newsrooms they recklessly disregard.

This is a fool’s game. It’s time for grown-ups to intervene, to end the debate and move beyond the empty calories of nostalgia and the masturbatory fantasies of a theory-based future. A long-deceased, much missed colleague often referred to people with mature judgment and a steady hand by saying, “She knows where babies come from.” Those are the folks we need on the case now.

Journalists in the main are ready now and, thank god, many are already engaged.

The future of public service journalism today rests with editors who are losing sleep trying to figure how to cover an increasingly complex world with fewer experienced reporters and shrinking budgets. It rests with reporters who found a way to learn new media techniques on their own when nobody in charge would train them. It relies on staffers whose love of the profession and devotion to the mission are more powerful than the lure of a public affairs office or law school.

Few reading this will believe it, but I know first-hand that it also depends on executives able to act with steely resolve married to correct intentions, even in the face of indictment by insinuation.

This is an ugly time that sorely tests all those decisions. Despite both the sloganeering (“Innovate your way out of this!”) and recriminations (“Greedy corporate bastards ruined our business.”) economic reality means there is relatively little to be done in the short term but optimize chances for survival. This chiefly involves the distinctly unglamorous activities of paying down debts, cutting expenses and maximizing revenues.

No matter what the mutterjarvisdoctor chorus chants on the sidelines, the hard work of ensuring tomorrow’s public service journalism is being done today in the bloody trenches of established news companies who have shouldered the burden of building a lasting foundation while sustaining a critical mass of talent and mission-driven performance. Many an important conference beckons in Dusseldorf, Davos and Dubai, no doubt, but the pain and the performance that matter today are found in Wichita, Anchorage and Miami.

And in those places, and dozens more I know directly, the right metamorphosis is underway today as newsrooms keep growing the audience for journalism rooted in tested traditions of honesty, fairness and verification and their colleagues learn to monetize it based on demographics, behavioral targeting and portfolio product mixes.


Illustration from Journalism That Matters.

42 comments:

  1. So... the approach you're advocating is to not pull back and yet not pull forward, rather to just sit and, well, just sit?

    That is simply not acceptable. To stand still in the kill zone means to die and I'm not about to just lay down and do that.

    True these discussions around us on how to save journalism are often "out there" in one direction or the other, but that's due more than anything else to a lack of real ideas and information from the actual movers and shakers inside the industry itself than a lack of passion.

    I'd rather have the passion.

    No matter what your particular leanings are mutterjarvisdoctor are at least trying while in many of the places that I know directly, the metamorphosis you mention is stagnant, a victim of leadership that truly lacks any real understanding of the changes impacting our media (yes, media, the plural).

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  2. Thanks to Anon 1135 for demonstrating precisely what I'm talking about.

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  3. Anonymous8:09 AM

    Howard, I'm not dismissing what you said but I would be remiss if I didn't point out that all this pontification and gilded speech you just wrote means nothing in the face of what is really going on. You say the the future lies in "distinctly unglamorous activities of paying down debts, cutting expenses and maximizing revenues". I understand that reality but what part of removing the wheels from the car do you guys not get? We are continually cutting service and the PRODUCT (you know that's where this all went wrong in the first place, when you folks started calling the paper a "product") People notice all of the cuts and the first thing they say is "why do I want to pay MORE for the paper when I get so much LESS?" (actual quote by the way just heard it Sunday night) It really amazed me and I actually wonder what kind of weed you guys are smoking in the executive offices. As someone pointed out in a news meeting the other day in Raleigh, "What is your (management) business plan? Chopping and cutting until there is nothing left? The people doing the actual work know where cuts can be made. There is too much dead wood in upper management. We haven't seen a single REAL cut in the payroll at that level. The sad truth is the people actually doing the work are the ones who get cut while the fat and happy worry about their club memberships and private office space. We have tightened the belt so much we are being asphyxiated. There is only so much resolve people can hold onto when they see a double standard which McClatchy executives seem to embrace.

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  4. Anonymous10:43 AM

    One thing McClatchy could do immediately is require its member papers to use the stories written by its Washington bureau. Every day, they write vital, sharp and enterprising reports about Washington and the world, but their papers often pass them up for stories from AP or a supplemental service. The McClatchy DC and world coverage is something that sets McClatchy papers apart from others, yet there seems to be no corporate push to make that happen. In competition for attention and eyeballs, the company and its papers need to set themselves apart from the pack. They've done it before, and they need to do it again.

    You can't wish these problems away. The market is changing. Every paper, website and news company needs to increase its original and enterprising content, even with shrinking resources. That's still possible, as each day bring new sources of online records. Editors and reporters should get more training on how to find and develop those stories.

    There's no magical billionaire who's going to endow the industry's way out of its problems. Also, having someone bail out the industry would only encourage the same type of behavior that helped foster the problems. Ask Wall Street how that's working out.

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  5. Anonymous11:08 AM

    I forget: Is using pointlessly obscure foreign terms part of innovating or ruining the business?

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  6. Which was the one you didn't get, 11:08? Shakespeare?

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  7. Mr. Weaver:

    Seems to me that whatever solutions or ideas come from the troops, management types like yourself reject as being infantile. Thanks so much for the support and "we're-all-in-this-together" sentiment (sarcasm alert).

    My experience is that newspaper managers are myopic Peter Principle examples who will make changes only at the point of a gun, a hired consultant or the threat of a bottom line. Male or female, newspaper managers need balls and 99 percent are eunuchs.

    A vast majority of reporters and editors understand change, innovation and learning more than their bosses. They're the ones who have to master new computers and editing programs. They're the ones who have to learn how to research on the web, use time-saving shortcuts. The bosses? They don't even know how to send e-mails (see: Jim Witt, Star-Telegram executive editor).

    So what happens when we advance/suggest ideas? The reactions vary: "Costs too much; you just want to do that because it benefits you; the readers don't want that; costs too much; that's a waste of space (Internet? What's that?); costs too much; Hey, I'm the person who comes up with the ideas here, bub." Most of the innovations are too late and too little.

    An endowed newspaper? Yeah, probably a bad idea. Desperate times call for desparate measures. If you were adrift in the middle of the ocean, would you try to swim as far as possible? Or give up and sink? Mr. Weaver, if you think writers and editors are in a mausoleum that's only because they're working in a dying business.

    I know where babies come from and I know who killed newspapers. Newspapers killed newspapers. Everybody's a little bit guilty but the most guilt lies with the bosses who sit in the offices and will walk away with nice bonus and retirement packages while those doing the "bloody work in the trenches" will wind up living on unemployment.

    When I read this:
    "No matter what the mutterjarvisdoctor chorus chants on the sidelines, the hard work of ensuring tomorrow’s public service journalism is being done today in the bloody trenches of established news companies who have shouldered the burden of building a lasting foundation while sustaining a critical mass of talent and mission-driven performance."

    ... I commend you on your word usage but pass it off as more corporate bullspeak. I know were babies come from and I n

    McClatchy, sir, is better off without you. But considering it's a company teetering on the brink of imploding, I suppose that's damning with faint praise.

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  8. Wtf is a mutterjarvisdoctor?

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  9. Anonymous3:31 PM

    McClatchy and other news orgs. need to start charging readers for access to their sites and placing outs on their content for sites like yahoo news and google news. A search engines only choice should be an aggregate that sends a user to the news orgs. website.

    When newspapers started putting content on the web most people would not pay for access. The web has changed the way we keep informed. I know three papers I would pay for access.

    Online subscriptions should be reasonable with the ability of the user to get the news they want.

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  10. Anonymous3:54 PM

    A mutterjarvisdoctor (n); a talking head that hasn't seen an actual newspaper's books in twenty years.

    Ken Doctor, for example, was with Knight Ridder Digital, a company that had a golden strategy: make newspaper websites profitable - and have all your content supplied for free (by Knight Ridder newspapers)! He couldn't even make that work. So that raging success makes him some sort of genius? No - just another negative wag with no solutions or ideas at all.

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  11. Love your work - but can you still get those millionaires to come rescue us all???

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  12. Anonymous4:43 PM

    I liked Howard's take. It makes me feel better to know I'm not the only one losing sleep over my little newspaper chain's jump into almost-completely digital stuff (with paper printing and distribution reduced to every other week -- sigh).

    One thing I've noticed is that, while we spend a lot of time coming up with special content for our website over the past few months (a cold case murder map inviting people to phone in tips to the police, a disaster preparedness microsite with video, podcast and etc, next a gentrification map and then this summer a school ratings microsite looking at graduation rates vs. suspension rates etc that we can update every year), which seems to be attracting readers from the other side of the world as well as our town, I don't see meaningful public-service-oriented interactives on the dailies or weeklies.

    As a middle aged 30-year journalism hack, that scares me, but what the heck? Why be like the competition? We push ahead anyway, and my publisher is empowered to weigh in with crazy ideas -- which somehow our web/graphics guy (60-something himself) always seems to understand how to do (can you put the video of the Seattle school board riot from youtube at the top of the Seattle edition?)It's exciting, but scary because we are literally making it up every day (since we are no longer bound to a weekly production schedule, right? And now we're reaching toward becoming a daily electronic news source, gulp)

    Right now I'm looking at a project in combination with the local Youth Violence Task Force, maybe setting up Twitter feeds for the independent hip hop artists and poets and community activists and professors that cause our web hits to spike when we profile them -- and circulating that among the young people on parole and probation in our metro area who are currently text messaging violent threats to each other and shooting each other on the street.

    And then every day I come to work and read the body count of local and national media compatriots, and worry about how to make our little chain relevant, and struggle to see what other people are doing that works, and no, I can't sleep. I just know it's time to sink or swim, sort out the best of what we've always done, and be prepared to completely change the means of production. In time for the web site re-launch in two weeks.

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  13. Anonymous7:22 PM

    Howard, you live in Sacramento. Do you ever talk to people here about the paper? Because I do. And you know what? They're not reading the Bee any more because they don't like what they see. They're canceling subscriptions, but they're not going online. They're just leaving. Period.

    And that, my friend, is what happens when you bring in the sharp knives to cut the heart and soul out of your news operation.

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  14. Well yes, 7:22 I do talk to people. I also follow the circulation numbers, the online traffic reports, the measures of total unduplicated audience growth.

    And you know what? All the data say you're wrong.

    You can rely on anecdotes for your accusations. Others have to deal with realities. "Sharp knives," "heart and soul." You figure anybody would cut newsrooms if there was an alternative? You're that much smarter?

    No bankrupt newspaper ever did any good. This is a period of survival for news companies (like so many others in the country). Some will make it, some won't. It won't be decided on fuzzy anecdotes and mean words.

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  15. Anonymous10:58 PM

    What do newsrooms actually do? We have a daily newspaper where I live, but every single story is one of four types: (1) reprinting a press release about some public event, (2) reprinting information supplied by police or firemen, (3) if the police or firefighters don't supply information fast enough, reprinting complaints from "community leaders" about how the police are racist, non-information-releasing a.holes, (4) sportswriting.

    You could set up a feed consisting of (1) every local p.r. agency, (2) police and firemen, (3) video from every local sports field, and you wouldn't need the newsroom at all. Maybe the police and firemen wouldn't write up every stupid boring burglary, so the Al Sharpton wannabes are keeping the paper in business?

    (OK, there are also opinion columns, which are like blogs except that nobody reads them. Crud like "Our readers insights' challenge us to set ourselves apart.")

    --Dom

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  16. Anonymous7:15 AM

    Howard --

    I appreciate your effort to spur dialogue here and I am sorry that the tone is so angry. Here are a few thoughts --

    1) The economy is bad for every business. Most repond by slashing prices to prop up sales and consumers have made clear that they demand bargains and lower prices for things. Newspapers have responded by RAISING prices for their product significantly by offering less product for the same cost, or even raising subscription rates. Ad rates? They are through the roof. This would be like the Detroit 3 raising car prices right now. It just doesn't make sense.

    2) Local, local, local has always been the mantra. But in my McClatchy paper there is far less local news for the community where I live. My school district and county are almost never mentioned. I've pitched good local stories to the one local reporter left and he says "thanks, wish I could, but I get pulled off for daily stuff elsewhere."

    3) The culture of most newsrooms is toxic. Journalists are creative, curious and engaged in the world. But for some reason, editors prefer a culture where they generate all the good ideas and beat out of everyone any real initiative. They also foster "star systems" where certain reporters are considered gods and the rest muck along doing routine stuff.

    4) Ironically, even though space is cut, my local paper still fills pages with unlrealted copy from other areas - filler. They apparently dont have the staff to fill what space is left.

    5) This blog is a small insight into some of the larger problems - many front line reporters righlty or wrongly hate senior management and senior management is resntful and defensive. Journalism is at war with itself.

    6) Part of the healing starts here - news CEOS who took on massive debt to buy other companies need to simply come out and say that it was a terrible mistake that has made the current sitaution far worse than it would have been otherwise. But nothing can reverse it now so we have to move forward. Consider for a moment Obama's tone today on the Daschle situation - he said he screwed up and has to do better. A refreshing tone in an era where politicans and CEOs simply seem unable to admint when they are wrong.

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  17. Howard,
    I agree with you that there is little more that can be done right now other than to "optimize the chances for survival" while keeping the faith in those who work hard and carry the burdens -- from the newsroom clerks to the editors losing sleep at night looking for better ways. Yes, and even the executives and managers.
    The sniping at decisions past and naive hoping for sugar daddy rescues in the future do not contribute needed solutions. Honest informed discussion, such as you provide, does, I hope.
    That does not lessen my sympathy for former colleagues struggling to do a good job, or sadness that public support and understanding of good journalism has been damaged in the current economic and political meltdown.

    I do not need to blame anyone for the decline of institutions I believe in and worked for.

    I do need to believe the current generation of journalists will find ways to continue providing the information we need as a society. And I want to believe the public will support that.

    //Sanders

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  18. Howard my friend,

    I am HUGELY disappointed in your post here. Musty smell? Oh, really?? I just took a shower. Sorry, I think the executive suites of newspapers have the musty smell for an inability to truly look at the business model.

    Sorry, I find your entry over-the-top and silly to say that advocating non-profit journalism is not grown-up. What??? So let me say it again: Serious journalism is not broken. The business model is broken. Better journalism will not fix the business model.

    You say it yourself; great journalists and editors are doing great journalism. Why would you think a non-profit journalism operation would be any more fossilized than the current executive suites? Publishers beholden to car dealers are just as vulnerable (if not more so) to tweaking the news for their pals than a philanthropic board would be beholden to donors. Honest philanthropic boards know how to do this ethically. It isn't rocket science.

    It may feel good to use fun words like masterbation, but come on, dude, why are you reluctant to engage this very different model of funding journalism? Who is the one unable to look at this through a very different lens? Where is the musty smell?

    And, though, you got a nice plug in Slate, I find it curious that the author criticized the theory of non-profit journalism, but then gave the caveat that all of the actual examples are working quite well. Hmm, when theory doesn't match reality, perhaps the theory needs a reexamination? I honestly don't get the resistance to non-profit journalism except that it is so out-of-the-box from what news executives are used to. Becoming a fund-raiser would take a different set of skills, true, and wouldn't yield huge salaries and bonuses to top executives. Welcome to my world.

    Also, I think it is a cheap shot by you to go after journalists for taking public service jobs or going to law school when they are getting laid off. None that I know feel they have any control over their career path at this point; can you really blame them for looking for a life raft? I wish I were on the other coast so we can hash this out over a soda water. Your blog will have to do. -- Jim

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  19. Whoa, reverend. Come down off of there.

    You were a careful, honest reporter, Jim; be a careful, honest reader now. Yes, we disagree fundamentally about the prospect of philanthropically supported news organizations, but much of your critique represents (at best) a tortured reading of sidelights in my argument. For instance, to characterize what I said about people leaving the profession (as both you and I have also done) as "a cheap shot" or "going after them" or involving "blame" is incomprehensible. Read the words and context and re-examine that charge, will you?

    And I used the word masturbation advisedly, to mean something that might feel good but accomplishes nothing. I'll stick with that image of the endowment movement.

    You meanwhile ignore the heart of my argument: that news organizations that cannot survive in the marketplace are by definition out of sync with their audiences. You argue, "Serious journalism is not broken; the business model is broken" Sorry, Jim, but that sounds perilously close to the educator who argued "I was teaching, but they weren't learning." You're now in the camp of those who act like journalism is something done TO an audience, not FOR it.

    NPR and a handful of intellectual opinion magazines (per Slate)do not a counter-argument make. Pro Publica, I predict, will spends millions of dollars to produce a paucity of stories of mixed quality (including, of course, some that are very good).

    I just don't believe journalism in the public interest can rest primarily on elitist institutions like philanthropies. I'm looking for something a bit more muscular, and better grounded.

    But who knows? Change winds have never been blowing harder, though; perhaps I'm blind to the truth that seems so self-evident to you. But as Mike Royko said, "I may be wrong, but I doubt it."

    \-\/\/

    P.S. I'd advise that you stop using multiple question marks. That's a gateway habit to exclamation points.

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  20. Anonymous6:42 AM

    Howard,

    You sanctimoniously decry the anger that rises from the newsroom ranks toward those in the management suites. Yet when it comes time to affix blame for the current depression gripping our profession, the finger-pointing is all downhill. It is those of us in newsrooms who are resisting change, not our betters down the hall. We hacks are mired in the past, not the body surfing whiz kids who thought the gravy train would never jump the tracks. We are mad when we should be grateful for your enlightened management.

    Your company bought our perfectly content and profitable newspaper a decade ago. Why? Because we were damn good (we'd even managed to win the community service Pulitzer without your leadership), we made money and we were among the nation's most innovative. And you have bled us dry ever since. Rather than invest the money we made for you in new products and new ideas where we lived and worked, you gave yourself pay raises, bought corporate jets and mouthed empty platitudes about how delighted we should be to be part of the McClatchy family. Then you mortgaged our individual and collective futures with the K-R fiasco.

    Given the choice most, of us would ask for a divorce from the McClatchy family.

    You have ruined us, Howard. The thin pages you have left behind are a sad commentary on what used to be a great American newspaper. The newsroom management of our paper has performed heroically to meet the challenges brought on by your mismanagement. And they have wept with us when the deep cuts you and your henchmen demanded in the name of protecting your stock portfolios sent good people out into the cold.

    You should be asking forgiveness for your sins Howard, not blathering endlessly about buring bridges and putting the past behind us. It was that sorry past, and your part in it, that created this crisis. If we do not come to terms with that past, there is little hope for the future. It may already be too late.

    Although I am now retired, my newspaper loyalty was, is and always will be to The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC., not McClatchy and certainly not to those who have presided over the near-demise of a great American institution, the community newspaper.

    Uunlike too many on here, and although I will likely live to regret it, I will sign my name:

    Dennis Rogers, N&O metro columnist, 1976-2007

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  21. I'm sorry about your anger, Dennis, partly because I greatly admire your work and contributions, and partly because it represents such a barrier to fixing things.

    We didn't ruin you. (The News & Observer was a failing business when McClatchy bought it. The Daniels didn't believe in its future and it wasn't doing well.) And no matter who owned that paper, the loss of advertising and revenue crash would have screwed them.

    It might make you feel better to blame me, or McClatchy or somebody else. But if we fail (or refuse) to see how the crisis we're in is a complicated confluence of events, we have no hope of emerging.

    You had a great career and certainly you didn't fail, Dennis. But if you become a barrier to change and rejuvenation, that will be a sad coda to a great career.

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  22. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Howard, you are a liar and thief. Plain and simple.

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  23. Howard,

    My strong reaction to this entry stems from my frustration that you label a different business model for news organizations as not “grown-up.” You have been going on for months about how the news business needs to get off its butt and consider new ways of doing things, yet here is a different business model and you dismiss it as musty and infantile. Don’t the corporate suites need to change too? And let us not forget that it is the “grown-ups” of Wall Street and Washington DC and corporate offices everywhere that got us into this mess; grown-ups don’t have a real good reputation right now.

    So let me go at this from another direction. Let me start with the perspective of an advertiser, which it happens, I am.

    A decade ago I spent a lot of money on newspaper and Yellow Pages ads. Now I don’t spend a dime on either. The demographic I am trying to reach – young families with children – finds my product (eternal life) on my webpage and blog. My church webpage gets 400-500 hits a day, and the blog gets about 150. For me, a few hundred hits looking for my church is better than thousands glancing over someone else’s news pages.

    There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that journalists can do to change that equation. You can find new ways to do journalism, muscular or otherwise, but I am not going to buy ads from a news organization. I don’t need to. And I suspect my business is not much different than others.

    So that is my first observation: journalism cannot fix the business model of news organizations. Only a different business model will save it.

    Here is my next observation: Newspapers are producing news products that are in huge demand. The public eats up journalism, good, bad and indifferent. But the public doesn’t have to pay for it. The public gets it for free. You can improve the news product, but it won’t motivate the public to pay for it. When you say the market should regulate the demand for the product, it has; the market has produced so much free media, no consumer needs to pay for it.

    One way to go is to allow the market to fix this; because there is more supply, the market is in the throes of reducing supply, i.e., putting newspapers out of business. Without a different business model, the market will take care of things, thank you very much. But you and I won’t like the result.

    Improving the quality of journalism is not going to do anything to change the dynamic of that market, unless journalism itself becomes scarce, which is what the free market is doing to journalism. In other words, the market will be the destruction of journalism if that is all you are relying upon.

    Time out here: I am NOT arguing for bad journalism. I am arguing that good journalism is not going to save newspaper companies. Good journalism should be done for the sake of good journalism.

    But you need to look at a different business model.

    If art museums, dance companies, theaters and symphony orchestras are vital to communities, so is the newspaper. Those institutions live off a combination of donations and sponsor-supported advertisements (the NPR/PBS model). I am not sure why you diss that model out of hand; PBS and NPR do great journalism, some of it in more depth and muscular than newspapers.

    Yet, not every newspaper/news operation would lend itself to this model. I have no idea how McClatchy should handle its massive debt (though I am not alone in thinking it is headed to Chapter 11 to restructure the debt). I do think some newspapers could convert to a non-profit model with a donor base and sponsor-supported ads. It might be the only way some communities can have newspapers or web-based print local news.

    But it would take a different kind of executive than currently inhabits newspapers; the skill set requires executives who can recruit and work with donors and philanthropic boards. Such executives would be paid more like non-profit executive directors rather than publishers in the go-go ‘80s and ‘90s (again, welcome to my world).

    I don’t expect you to agree with a word I write here. But I do wish you would engage with these ideas rather dismiss them out of hand as musty and infantile.

    -- Jim

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  24. Anonymous3:38 PM

    Howard, your time is up. You are retired from the field of battle. You chickened out. You fled.

    Shut up and leave the rest of us to deal with the shambles you left. Just shut up.

    The first line of your obit won't be your Pulitzers. You leave in shame.

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  25. Dorothy Korber10:35 AM

    Hello, fellow retiree:

    Okay. I re-read what you wrote about the future of public-interest journalism: "It relies on staffers whose love of the profession and devotion to the mission are more powerful than the lure of a public affairs office or law school." You argue that this is not a cheap shot. Really?

    I can name five women reporters who have recently left the Sacramento Bee -- all of them top journalists with a passion for the profession and a legacy of contributions to the public interest. These five weren't "lured" away. They are breadwinners for their families who made a hard decision based on cold reality. First, they needed to find a safe haven in this economic storm. Second, tight times at the newspaper make it less and less feasible that serious public-interest journalism can be accomplished.

    We are real people living in the real world, Howard. Our lives tick away, second by second, and we can't spare the decade or more it will take for a new business model to evolve.

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  26. Well, Dorothy, of course that's true. You make rational decisions in your own self-interest, as you understand it. That's understandable -- and certainly well understood by me.

    But isn't what I wrote true? How is that a shot, much less a cheap shot?

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  27. Dorothy Korber12:43 PM

    I think the problem is the word "lure." I do not see myself as lured away from newspapers. I see myself as propelled.

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  28. Howard,
    I think the problem is with your use of the word "lure." The word implies that reporters are leaving for glamor and riches when, in fact, they are looking for a life raft.

    Let's also not forget that a number who have taken buy-outs are having difficulty finding any job, and some I know are collecting unemployment. They were not exactly lured to leave; shoved might be a better word. Your line on this suggests that people in the newsrooms have a great choices. What they are faced with is gutting it out in the newsroom and waiting for the next round of layoffs. You hit a raw spot here. And I may be 3,000 miles away but I can see from this far away that the mood at The Bee is about as low as the stock market and still in free-fall. The poster above who said journalists are at war with themselves hit on something.
    Jim

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  29. James: You said my post "suggests that people in the newsrooms have a great choices."

    Huh? Am I the only one who read this graph? "This is an ugly time that sorely tests all those decisions. Despite both the sloganeering (“Innovate your way out of this!”) and recriminations (“Greedy corporate bastards ruined our business.”) economic reality means there is relatively little to be done in the short term but optimize chances for survival. This chiefly involves the distinctly unglamorous activities of paying down debts, cutting expenses and maximizing revenues."

    The key point here is that these *are* decisions. As I readily acknowledge, they may be painful or unwelcome ones, but constructions like "shoved" suggests there was a more benevolent alternative available. I've said plainly that I don't believe there was. If you want to stand outside looking in and interpret it otherwise, I can't help that.

    Had I recognized it would cause this distraction, I'd have used the word "prospects" instead of lure. but the sentence does say just what I wanted it to, and it's an accurate statement. I'm sorry that makes Dorothy and others feel worse. I can tell you, it doesn't make me feel good either.

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  30. P.S. Jim -- I feel a little guilty taking so much of your time on a Sunday. That's a work day for you, right?

    I suppose you can think of this as missionary work, though, trying to save a lost soul.

    \-\/\/

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  31. Oh, let's see -- I had my first bishop's visitation today. We didn't spill the wine or trip over his hat. Your blog is a nice diversion from churchy stuff and it keeps me outside the bubble of the church, which I'd like to think is one reason they hired me.

    In all seriousness, I deeply, deeply care about journalism, and I think I have something to say, at least I hope I do. Also, the debate/arguments here parallel the debate/argument about the future of the church, though in the church it gets buried in code words and with people tossing the Bible at each other. Here it is more straightforward (Ok, very straightforward when they call you a thief, argh!).

    I don't mean to get off on the distraction, and I would like to talk about the business model of journalism. Yet we aren't just talking theories of journalism, markets and business models. We are also talking about real people who've devoted their lives to this profession, love, and are agony at the prospects now facing them.

    As for the decisions, yes decisions are being made, but mostly by people not in newsrooms, not on the frontlines of pounding a news beat. And I am not just talking McClatchy. I have many friends, like you, who have lost jobs, been laid off, or jumped ship at the LA Times, NY Times, SF Chron and various other places.
    Ok, it is time for my Sunday nap... Cheers,
    Jim

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  32. Jim Richardson5:26 AM

    Howard,
    Nap over…
    You asked what alternatives there are to the lay offs and other management decisions. Here’s a few:

    1- The corporate guys could do something really bold. They could say: “Newspapers have been really good to us, and we were serious when we said this is more than a grubby business to us but a public service. So now in this economic crisis we are going to work for $1 a year until we dig this industry out. We might have to sell a house in Sun Valley to make ends meet, but we are going to get this industry on its feet.” Let me point out that in the 1930s the “Dollar-year-man” was a national hero. Where are they today?

    2-The pay for local publishers, executive editors and other top managers at the local newspapers should be capped at, say, no more than one-third the median pay in the newsroom. Maybe some of your ego-inflated execs will walk. So what? Other talented people will take their place.

    3-Everyone flies coach, no exceptions.

    4- No more corporate retreats at resorts, wineries and tropical islands. Retreats will be at the Holiday Inn.

    5- Once you have spread the pain, then you can talk lay-offs, job sharing, and the like. None of the above will save the news industry alone, but tone matters. Belo Newspapers giving out bonuses to executives and then laying off people is greedy, greedy, greedy. Those who say they don’t want “elitist” news products should look first at who the elitists are.

    6- The news execs need to go on a listening tour, in their communities and in their newsrooms. Not focus groups and reader polls, but old-fashioned gatherings with small groups and crowds, and then listen. Gregory Favre did that years ago. Why haven’t the current leaders done this? The corporate suites talk a game of serving their communities but how in touch are they with those communities? And if the best ideas come from the people on the front-lines, how good are the execs at asking for those ideas?

    7- Tone matters. Let me say it again: Tone matters. And, Howard, your tone still matters even though you aren’t there. I still think you are one of the good guys. You have a track-record of great journalism and you can add so much to this if you can stop talking about burning bridges and where babies come from. Come down a few pegs, and deal with this stuff as if it is about real people and acknowledge that some other folks may have some good ideas worth looking at.

    8- And have another look other business models for newspapers.
    -- Jim

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  33. Correction to Item #2 above: should say one-third ABOVE the median salary in the newsroom. Also, in your previous comment about one of my incomprehensible sentences, cut the article "a" and it makes slightly more sense. See, I still need editors...
    --Jim

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  34. Anonymous8:09 AM

    We didn't ruin you. (The News & Observer was a failing business when McClatchy bought it. The Daniels didn't believe in its future and it wasn't doing well.) And no matter who owned that paper, the loss of advertising and revenue crash would have screwed them.

    It seems a bit disingenuous to say the Daniels family didn't believe in the future since the roots of the future were planted with NandO.net and later The Nando Times, Sportserver, etc. Being the first online "newspaper" does not seem to me to be lacking in concern about the future of the business but rather someone seeing where things were heading and making inroads.

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  35. Anonymous10:33 AM

    I don't know whose fault the mess we're in is, maybe no one's. But I do know that it's not helpful to have you, Howard, who took a golden parachute out of here, pointing the finger at all of us who are still here, facing pay cuts and lying awake nights wondering whether we'll be able to afford our mortgages. And to question the "devotion" of those who have left for more secure jobs — when journalists are being laid off and sent out to look for new careers in the worst economy in 100 years? And then, on top of all that, to sit there and make snarky comments about multiple question marks. I'd like to use a thousand exclamation marks to tell you that you make me sick.

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  36. 1033: Well, while I'm giving advice I have some for you, too, tough guy: Why don't you STFU when you don't know what you're talking about?

    I didn't leave with a "golden parachute" or buy-out or any other extra payment or incentive at all. I took the retirement coming to me as a 30-year employee. I signed onto my wife's retirement health insurance.

    What's more, my comments didn't "question the devotion" of departed employees at all. Read it again: it makes the factual observation that the future of the business will be decided by those who stay, not those who leave. That's just true.

    Anonymous, erroneous assumptions and misinterpretations. I don't think I'd take you seriously if you used ten thousand exclamation points.

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  37. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Howard: As Jim says, tone matters, and yes, because of your former position, it still matters for you.

    The sarcasm and the crude language we've seen here since you officially left McClatchy are NOT helpful to your cause — whatever that might be these days.

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  38. Jim Richardson3:52 PM

    This story in Capitol Weekly is worth a serious read:

    http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=50511198771&h=7PNfk&u=-yADX

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  39. Anonymous8:50 AM

    Howard, I have to agree with 9:42..... It's not that I'm offended. It's just that the tone is displaying a pretty disagreeable personality and a gigantic ego that sure doesn't seem justified, given what's happened to your (and my) previous employer.

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  40. Anonymous11:13 PM

    Agree wtih 9:42...my gods

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  41. 809: But how much of Daniels' spending on Nando -- when, really, how was that going to compete with CNN, MSNBC and the BBC as a national news brand in the long run -- contributed to the debt that he ran up before selling to McClatchy? (See http://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/18/business/the-media-business-in-surprise-sale-mcclatchy-buys-a-prominent-southern-paper.html)

    What else contributed to the debt?

    So the questions for Dennis would be these:

    1. What happened to the Daniels debt in the next 10 years under McClatchy?

    2. What in the last two years distinguished what has happened in Raleigh from what has happened to every newspaper in America?

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