Monday, August 18, 2008

Deciding what to run

Only a few McClatchy papers used correspondent Tom Lasseter's first-hand report of contradictions about Russia's rationale for invading Georgia on the front page today. Most used a more generic wire report that focused instead on Russia's pledge to start leaving.

Here's a relevant sample of Lasseter's report:

... a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting — missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops — almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.

Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city's main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.

The discrepancy between the numbers at Tskhinvali's main hospital and the rhetoric of Russian and South Ossetian leaders raises serious questions about the veracity of the Kremlin's version of events. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other senior officials in Moscow have said the Georgians were guilty of "genocide," prompting their forces to push Georgia's military out of South Ossetia — in a barrage of bombing runs and tanks blasts — and march southeast toward the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, stopping only 25 miles away.

I don't know why this would be.


  1. Anonymous7:57 PM

    How is this any different than the consolidation going on everywhere else inside McClatchy? Maybe it's your editors echoing what they're heard for a while now, that is how can we justify sending Tom to far off and dangerous places when there are perfectly good enough journalists already there willing to risk their necks for a far lower daily rate?

    Perhaps this is how we consolidate, maybe its our "link ethic" where we "link to the rest."

    Now, I know what you're thinking, of course Tom is a skilled reporter and writer and his work undoubtably goes well beyond "good enough" but it's been made very clear that this is no longer a factor in what McClatchy wants, after all we've all seen talented individuals who've been laid-off irrespective of their skill or talent simply because because they were (rightly or wrongly) deemed a duplication.

    Well, your editors have sent you a message here Howard, Tom is a duplication that they don't think we need.

  2. Anonymous7:18 AM

    7:57's got a point, dude.

  3. Anonymous10:19 AM

    The difference is that Tom works through the National Desk, and they're a sacred cow at McClatchy. While local readers go without city hall coverage, that crew loads up their expense accounts. It's about ego.

  4. 1019: Where is it that you offer no city hall coverage, may I ask?

  5. Anonymous2:30 PM

    Howard, with all the cuts you guys have made in our newsrooms it will soon be everywhere. When in God's name are you going to wake up?

  6. Anonymous6:09 PM

    Smaller newsrooms are our future, Anon 230. They're not going to wake up, because that's the plan. Fewer bodies, less coverage, lots of online bells and whistles, little depth.

    But so what, as long as the bigs get their bonuses. Because most assuredly, the shrinking of the newsroom doesn't mean that senior editors and corporate staff are going to lose their jobs.

  7. Anonymous6:53 PM

    Amen anom609. That says it all. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous9:32 PM

    > "Most used a more generic wire report... I don't know why this would be."

    Interesting, and sad. Makes me wonder which papers were the (seemingly) spineless ones.

    Coffeehouse friend asked me what I thought about Georgia v. Russia, and my gut response was "hell if I know, I'd better check McClatchyDC to find out" - after the Iraq war debacle I don't trust anyone else.

  9. Anonymous7:53 AM

    A number of corporate employees have lost their jobs. The tax dept. was outsourced earlier this year, the Peoplesoft programming was outsourced, and I know of one other corp job that was cut. But you're right, no execs or their staff.

  10. Anon 753: One fact to keep in mind re the number of executives is to remember that we saved $60 million when we eliminated the KR executive team and replaced it with ours; in other words, we're $60 million smaller than they were. In that sense, we took our haircut two years ago.

  11. Anonymous5:32 PM

    You've said this before, Howard. "We took our haircut two years ago." But it's not really true.

    The corporate employees of KR did indeed have that haircut forced on them when you eliminated the KR exec team. But McClatchy corporate execs did not get trimmed. You were the barbers, not the barbees. So to speak.

    You didn't feel the cut of that knife, and to repeatedly say you did is a bit disingenuous.

  12. Anon 532: You don't know what you're talking about. The $60 million in savings is not just replacing their corporate office with ours; it's savings gained because we are doing the same work they did (basically, manage about 3 papers) with a far smaller staff making less money.

  13. "3 papers" should say "30 papers," of course.

  14. Anonymous10:31 PM

    The point here has been lost. MNI, in an effort to shore up the hull after it hit the KR iceberg, has been scaling back all around. To think that this will not impact the quality of our products is simply naive.

    No one seriously thinks McClatchy editors saw that Lassiter piece and thought, "hey, lets stick it to Howard." It is far more likely they were too damn busy doing "more with less" to even realize that Washbureau had anything in the can.

    This is simply a symptom of the new McClatchy, that the VP of News can't see the reason behind his own lament ("I don't know why this would be.") is, well, sad.

  15. Anonymous3:38 AM

    "It is far more likely they were too damn busy doing "more with less" to even realize that Washbureau had anything in the can."

    Yes, that's exactly it. We don't have time to THINK these days. We're just shoveling stuff as fast as we can, patching holes when we can. It is a mental meat grinder.

  16. Yes, people have too much to do. It's difficult and sometimes impossible to accomplish what we want with reduced staff and resources. Would that it were not so.

    But the notion that this happened because we bought KR is fanciful -- at best a red herring and at worst a scapegoat. Is Tribune failing because we bought KR? Lee? Gatehouse? Etc?

    Things are hard enough when viewed in realistic terms. You do yourself no favors by pretending it is something else.

  17. Anonymous8:08 AM

    Ok, fine. Pick your own iceberg. The economy iceberg, or the "changing reader habits" iceberg or the Craigslist/Google/Blogger/Internet Iceberg whatever, it doesn't matter.

    The fact remains that MNI has been scaling back all around as while its easy to dismiss the cuts as "oh it's just the circulation folks" or "it's the ad designers"... but it's not just them. We're losing good people from our newsrooms and even from our web operations that were supposed to save us.

    There will be more Lassiter stories overlooked and then Lassiter type stories not written. Please don't look suprised when it happens.

  18. Anonymous2:56 PM

    Howard, please read this. It explains everything you guys are doing WRONG. Thanks. And why are you so dismissive of trained professionals responding to your posts. I actually wonder if you can look in the mirror after writing you think blaming the debt we took on with the purchase of KRT has nothing to do with the current problems. Oh well. having your head stuck in the sand seems to be typical of management in every American newspaper company. Again, read this article...and
    PS: Please forward to Gary.

    1080&add. Moving in international and financial categories.
    Cox News Service
    LONDON — Punchier headlines. Shorter stories. Bigger photos. None of them have stilled the death knell for U.S. newspapers.
    With readers migrating to the Web and ad revenue failing to keep up with the shift, American editors might look across the Atlantic for tips on how to stave off their demise.
    London, for example, is bursting with several thriving competitors, boasting at least five serious newspapers and four tabloids. In Berlin, Europe’s largest paper, Bild, reported its most profitable year yet in 2007.
    Experts say European papers are prospering largely because they haven’t followed the U.S. path of draconian — and self-defeating — cuts in scope and quality of coverage.
    “It’s a mystery to me why (U.S.) publishers think people will pay more for less, especially when the online world offers so many alternatives,” said George Kennedy, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism who spent the summer in London. “It’s no accident that U.S. readership of the Economist, the Guardian, and the Times has gone up as their American competitors have cut back staff, pages, and ambition.”
    But some experts say European newspaper companies have also been more willing to experiment with new technologies, news and advertising formats, and promotions, and their innovations are paying off in continued readership.
    Perhaps the most important factor in the success of European newspapers is their effectiveness at guiding readers to their Web sites.
    According to the Newspaper Association of America, Web sites of U.S. papers attracted an average of 65.4 million monthly visitors in June. By comparison, the Newspaper Marketing Agency in the much smaller United Kingdom reported that in June, the Web sites of six large national newspapers drew 94.8 million visitors.
    The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers reported this year that European online revenues are forecast to more than double in the next five years, and will account for 12 percent of total newspaper advertising by 2011.
    Susan Kremers, owner of Newspaper Consulting Services, a Minneapolis-based company that advises publishers on how to make use of the Internet, said she has repeatedly urged U.S. newspapers to embrace the opportunities provided by an online edition.
    Too often American publishers have underinvested in the Web, she said, still choosing to view it as supplemental to the print version.
    Kremers said that U.S. papers could do much more in the area of creating expanded local content like breaking news, weather, archives, video, blogs, photo galleries, and polling options.“
    European newspapers ‘’had the benefit of learning from U.S. mistakes,“ she said. When U.S. newspapers were creating online editions in the late 1990s, she said, ‘’we were still unsure where the Web would take us.? Fearing loss of subscribers, many newspapers resisted putting their content online.?Those that embraced it as an alternate source to get their news out, didn’t have the luxury of knowing how many additional opportunities that technology would create.“
    Kremers said that European newspapers also make better use of digital technology.
    In a partnership between Bild and Vodafone, readers who want to find out more about a Bild article simply photograph it with their cell phone camera and send the photo to 4242. This gives them direct access to additional multimedia content such as photos or videos on their cell phone.
    According to the Newspaper Association of America, total daily newspaper circulation nationwide fell from an all-time high of 62.6 million in 1990 to 53.1 million in 2006.
    For the six-month period ending in March, all but two of the nation’s top 20 newspapers reported decreases in circulation. Only the Wall Street Journal and USA Today posted increases — both less than 1 percent.
    Revenues have suffered as well. U.S. papers have been especially hard hit by a decline in print classified advertising, much of which has migrated to free Web sites. U.S. papers also are being hurt by skyrocketing newsprint costs, rising fuel costs, and deep declines in real estate and automotive advertising — two areas of the economy that are suffering badly.
    While U.S. newspapers depend on advertising for about 75 percent of their revenues, in Europe the figure is 50 percent or less, according to Chris Kubas, of Kubas Consultants. But the trend may be shifting, according to the World Association of Newspapers. The group found that over the past five years, the growth of ad-supported free dailies has more than offset a fall in paid circulation, with the result that total free and paid circulation has increased 9.61 percent in the European Union.
    Some papers saw success after modifying their shape.
    Five years after launching a tabloid format, London’s Independent was selling 30,000 copies a day more than its broadsheet predecessor, although it has struggled over the past year.
    The Times, too, posted gains in sales after switching to a tabloid format in November 2004 following more than 200 years as a broadsheet.
    Mario Garcia, whose Florida-based Garcia Media helps redesign newspapers around the world, believes there are a number of reasons why U.S. newspapers are struggling.
    One is an unhealthy dependency on focus groups.
    ‘’Many times an innovative concept is shut down by readers who simply are not used to it and therefore dismiss it as foreign to them,“ he said. ‘’I definitely find that editors outside of the U.S. are more likely to let gut feeling, their nose, their eyes, or just a sense of street savvy, help them make decisions when it comes to introducing new concepts.“
    Garcia also said U.S. editors haven’t been innovative enough when it comes to presenting advertising.
    At many papers, such ideas as ‘’sponsorship ads for the weather or TV listings is seen as intruding into the landscape of the editorial integrity of the paper,“ he said.
    In addition, Garcia said, European newspapers often package the sales of ads for cell phones, print pages, and online sites, an initiative not happening widely at American newspapers.
    Kennedy, the Missouri professor, also noted that British papers market themselves much more aggressively than American papers.
    London’s Sun tabloid recently ran a promotion targeted at upscale Londoners giving them the chance to buy opera tickets at greatly discounted prices. The result? When Mozart’s ‘’Don Giovanni“ premieres next month at the Royal Opera House, all 2,200 seats will be packed with Sun readers.
    ‘’The years of effective local monopoly seem to have sucked out of American papers most of their aggressiveness of imagination when it comes to selling themselves to either readers or advertisers, Kennedy said.

    (Optional add follows)

    Central Michigan University journalism professor John Hartman said he believes U.S. papers should be free in order to attract more readers.
    “But publishers are reluctant to give up 20 to 25 percent of their revenue,” he said.
    Hartman said a different kind of marketplace also has benefited European papers.
    “Europeans simply are more literate and more contemplative than we are, and less infested with video worship,” Hartman said.

  19. Anon808: In hindsight, the KR purchase was bad timing. But, you never know where the top of the market is, until you're on the downslope. You don't see the bottom until you're on the way back up.

    Running a business involves risk and given another look at the facts in the same situation, MNI would _still_ buy KR. At the time, it made sense. You can't take what happens even the day after the sale is completed and use it as a reason why the board should have known better.

    Now, with other properties (Lee, Landmark, etc) on the block, would it make sense for MNI to make offers? My gut says no, it wouldn't. Do I expect us to? No. We're getting our house in order.

    It's painful. There's quite a bit that I'd like to see done differently. But it's quite another to lay the blame for where we're at on the KR acquisition. We had debt before the KR purchase and made less money to pay off that debt with fewer properties. Strib was underperforming long before the revenue crisis hit the rest of the chain. Let's undo getting into more diversified markets, have kept Strib and where are we? I suspect we'd be worse off. Strib and the three Bees + Merced. Roughly half the "classic" McClatchy chain by property. Better than half by circulation. Four out of 12 markets with catastrophic housing market failure. Another large metropolitan market with ad trouble. Avista Partners didn't buy Strib for what seemed like a song only to be skipping debt payments to stave off bankruptcy.

    If that's what MNI in 2008 looked like, I'm fairly certain we'd be looking at more than a 10 percent layoff and the wage freeze.

    Setting aside our challenges of transitioning to an online business model and finding sales staff that knows the product they're selling and the audience they're selling to, many of the most reliable advertisers we've had in the last decade have business models absolutely in the shitter.

    Car manufacturers and dealers? Check.
    Department stores? Check.
    Banks? Check.
    Investment houses? Check.
    Housing developers? Check.
    Real Estate agents? Check.
    Airlines? Check.

    Much as it's nice to imagine the 2008 we'd like, given the economic facts, what course of action significantly changes our position for the better? The facts would have always demanded careful expense management and very pragmatic decision making. They would have always entailed loss, mourning, bleeding and pain. We can argue percentages and we'll always do well to remember stories and people. But our survival is by no means assured, we do not improve our chances by carrying more that we can afford. We did, however hard it may be to see, help ourselves buying KR.

    (As an aside, instead of pasting the complete article, multiple times, how about a url? Those are fairly economical.)

  20. Anonymous8:00 AM

    Thank you for your explanation, Nathan. (And yeah, that guy's a little OCD with the huge multiple posts.)

    I have to say, I found Nathan's discussion of MNI/KR kinder and less condescending than Howard's usual "get over it, dumbasses" tone. I saw the Billionaire Boys Club swaggering off to lunch together the other day, and it didn't inpsire much faith.

    So who wants to explain to me what happens when the stock drops to $0? We don't have far to go.

  21. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Sorry folks about those who were irritated with the multiple postings. I didn't have a URL and thought it was a pretty interesting piece which had a lot of relevance to the way things are proceeding with our company. And to be honest it doesn't take a second more of time to copy and paste the whole story than to copy and paste the URL. One click.

  22. Anonymous10:28 PM

    Ok, again the point was lost. MNI is attempting to cut its way out of the mess its in and that 1) is not the right approach and 2) damage has occurred to the news product and will continue to occur if someone doesn't do something to change MNI's approach.

    The reason why MNI is in such trouble is really irrelevant here. The whole KR thing seems obvious to those that don't wallow in the details of newspaper acquisitions but most people recognize that if it's a cause at all, it's certainly not the only one.

    What is troubling indeed is that Howard Weaver -- our very own patron saint of News, the only VP who (if I'm not mistaken) comes from a newsroom (but surely the only one who remembers what the inside of one looks like) -- doesn't appear grasp what his corporate trimmings are doing to our papers, and if he's not in our corner, Good Lord who will save us from his peers who have nothing but dollar signs in their eyes and bonuses on their minds.

  23. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I agree with you, 1028, but I think it's too late. Stock is down to $3.58. It's not a matter of bonuses...but dollar signs? You bet. Because they're going to have to cut the dividend, which has remained remarkably stable despite the plunging stock price. And when the dividend is cut, Gary will be out. And Howard. And the whole crew who've led us into this mess.

    And then who'll be in charge of the ship? I'm not especially thrilled with Gary, but God only knows what slash and burn artist will take over MNI when he's gone.

    Howard may have gone corporate, but he's still one of the good guys. We're in far better hands with Howard than we will be with who comes next.