Friday, February 27, 2009

A -30- For The Rocky

Good Night And Good Luck
Even if you never read The Rocky Mountain News, its demise after nearly 150 years should sadden you.
So should the passing of other newspapers -- in cities large and small -- that will inevitably follow down this path in the near future.
You often don't know you'll miss something until it's gone. Rest assured, The Rocky and its beleaguered brethren will be missed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Denver To Become a One-Newspaper Town This Weekend, Assuming the Post Can Hang On

Even when you know someone has a terminal illness, you still feel the jolt, the pervasive sadness and the lingering melancholy when the final moment arrives.
Such is likely the case in Denver as the Rocky Mountain News closes up shop with tomorrow's edition after 150 years.
Scripps told us in December this would happen if no viable buyer came forward. It's hard to believe many folks at the Rocky actually expected that to happen as the newspaper business withers. You knew it was not a negotiating tactic. The Rocky was bleeding cash big-time, $16 million alone last year.
So, another city becomes a one-newspaper town. But The Denver Post, which had a joint-operating agreement with the Rocky, is hardly in a position to gloat, hard as Dean Singleton might try. Its finances are flaccid at best, and employees have tentatively agreed to double-digit givebacks in wages and benefits to keep the paper afloat.
Rocky employees will still be on the Scripps payroll through April 28. But that hardly reduces the urgency to find a new job. The only problem is here are few to go around for those who want to remain the news business, except for a lucky few scooped up by the Post.
To all those who battled to the finish, it was a great fight. May the next chapter be as compelling as the one that just ended.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Philadelphia Newspaper Bankruptcy: What Next

Staff Told Not to Worry. That Means It's Time to Worry

I'm not sure if newspaper owners realize that filing for bankruptcy over the weekend means you'll escape attention.
News of Journal Register going Chapter 11 surfaced on Saturday, while Philadelphia Newspapers pulled the bankruptcy trigger late last night.
We're going to find out about it sooner or later (most likely sooner), so running to court over the weekend looks a little churlish if nothing else. It's as if there's something to hide. And the sorry state of the newspaper business is hardly a secret.
PNI CEO Brian Tierney was quick to mention this was done solely so the company could restructure its $390 million debt. The bankers were playing hard ball -- and wisely so -- so Tierney was left with little choice but to file.
Tierney says operations are profitable. Presumably, that means staff wouldn't be asked to help bail out the company any more than they already have with layoffs, buyouts and givebacks. That's comforting to hear, but Tierney and his partners have clearly shown they're in way over their heads, having bought the Philly papers for $562 million in 2006 just when the business model for newspapers was being blown to smithereens.
Whether they stay or a new owner assumes the reins, simply getting the banks to ease up likely won't be enough to keep the beancounters in wolves' clothing from clawing at the newsroom doors.
Restructuring debt ultimately comes at a price. Let's hope it's not too steep for those who remain at the Inquirer and Daily News to pay.

This Isn't The First Time Rick Santelli Has Had To Do Battle

Sometimes It's Been With His Own Colleagues

Last week's rant by CNBC's Rick Santelli on the mortgage bailout by the Obama administration is already the stuff of viral video legend.
And no matter how hard White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wants to insist that Santelli "doesn't know what he's talking about," Gibbs and anyone who has watched him on CNBC knows he does.
It's not just sounding like a wounded populist that makes him right.
But he's asking questions that many people have conveniently declined to ask because that wouldn't provide a salve for what ails the economy. The Obama administration wants the quick fix that printing trillions of dollars may offer. But Santelli knows better, and that makes him vulnerable to being bullied from the bully pulpit of the White House press room. But having popular opinion on his side doesn't hurt.
Actually, Santelli has been through these battles before, oddly enough, with some of his CNBC buddies. Back when Wall Street was in the process of crashing at the end of September, anchors Maria Bartiromo and Dylan Ratigan were among those essentially labeling anyone who opposed the $700 billion bailout being pushed by the Bush administration as dimmer than the average 15-watt bulb.
Santelli loudly and proudly took them on Sept. 29 when the bailout was defeated in the House, noting that Americans were concerned they were being "led down a primrose path" by Hank Paulson & Co. and didn't want to pay for others' mistakes.
That he didn't change his tune when a new president took office shouldn't be surprising.
Gibbs might be surprised to learn Santelli actually wants President Obama to succeed, but without bankrupting the country first. As Santelli told the Chicago Tribune:
"I want the new administration to win this one. It's a question whether spending our children's money is going to make us win or not, or is it going to take its own time to heal, like a cold going away?"
Sounds like he knows what he's talking about. Whether the right people are listening remains to be seen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Journal Register Goes Chapter 11, Hoping Nobody Was Looking

UPDATE 2/23: Journal Register Tries to Redefine Chutzpah in Bankruptcy Filing. Check this out.

No Such Luck; Could Be Too Little, Too Late

The real question over Journal Register filing for bankruptcy today is what took so long?
Now comes the waiting for the company's 20 daily papers and 159 non-dailies. It's regrettably too easy to bet against them.
The company also intends to go private, which will spare them the further embarrassment of seeing their stock price listed. Lately, shares have traded for under a penny.
And if you're looking for more information on the company's Web site, good luck. Seems you're not alone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Won't Lay You Off, We Just Won't Pay You

Media General Giving Employees Two More Weeks of "Vacation"

Maybe it has already cut its staff to the bone so layoffs are out of the question at its newspapers. Still, Media General says in lieu of more reductions, it'll require employees at its newspapers -- including the Tampa Tribune and Richmond Times-Dispatch -- and TV stations to go on unpaid furlough for 10 days.
In other words, two weeks of pay employees might have otherwise expected to get have gone bye-bye.
Gannett employees, by contrast, suddenly and uncharacteristically have it good. They only had to take a one-week furlough. At least for now.
And in case Media General employees weren't feeling enough pain, their 401k match will leave the building starting April 1. With that perk, though, they have plenty of company. The Bergen Record and New York Daily News announced similar moves in recent days.
As Marshall N. Morton, president and chief executive officer, obfuscated: "Despite aggressive sales initiatives and significant cost reductions already implemented, we need to build in additional expense savings to offset the revenue shortfalls we anticipate."
Fear not. Shareholders will also feel the pain, as MEG is suspending its dividend.
The company says all this will help shave $28 million from what it owes. Chances are few employees expect that'll be nearly enough.

Gannett's Slow Death By a Thousand Cuts

Gannett, like all other newspaper companies, is being withered by the tsunami of falling circulation, fewer advertisers and inexorable reader migrations to the web.
However, unlike some other publishers in trouble, Gannett has taken a perverse pride in putting out papers that were mostly a lot less than what they could have been. However, because the company was reaping healthy, double-digit profit margins from many of its properties, investing in the news product was barely an afterthought.
Now that the profits are rapidly draining, suffer the product even more. Nearly 10 percent of Gannett's newspaper workforce was pink-slipped earlier this year. Those left were forced to take a one-week unpaid furlough, a sorry episode that could very well be repeated.
Rather than outright close a paper, Gannett is instead turning some of theirs into zombies. Posters on Gannett Blog told of big cuts at the Elmira Star-Gazette and Ithaca Journal that essentially eliminated their graphics departments and copy desks. Those functions will now be handled by the Gannett paper in Binghamton.
Elmira and Ithaca will now function essentially as bureaus, with a few reporters and maybe a stray editor or two to watch over them. Last one out, please dim the lights.
Of course, this is has become S.O.P. at Gannett. It already prints the Daily Record in Parsippany, N.J. and the Poughkeepsie Journal at The Journal-News, which is 60 miles away from the other papers. It's not exactly the best commute when the weather's bad and customers are left wondering where their papers is. Now they know.
Given that Gannett's stock price has now gone south of $4 and the company's total market cap has slipped under $1 billion, there will be more panicking by publishers. If you thought your local Gannett paper was thin and provided almost nothing of value, just wait.

Post Editor a Chump For Defending Chimp Cartoon

Col Allan Needs To Work On Being Disingenuous

Nobody expects subtlety when they look at the work of New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas. He enjoys being a bad boy and so, apparently, do his employers. He's offensive as often as he tries to make a point. Sometimes he even does both.
But then there are the moments when Delonas goes beyond the inane and becomes insensitive or worst, as the cartoon seen here, just plain racist.
Even worse than the cartoon itself, however, is Post editor Col Allan attempting to explain it to us dullards.
No, it wasn't simply Delonas conveniently using the shooting of the chimp who attacked a woman in Connecticut to lampoon Barack Obama. Instead:
"The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy."
OOOkay. So, a woman violently mauled by a chimp is ripe for parody, eh? There was no other way to comment on the stimulus, it seems.
It reminds me of a radio station ad campaign where they "apologize for anything (fill in name of shock jock here) said today."
In other words, hey, we just sign the paychecks then get the hell out of the way.
Otherwise, why would you write about us?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are The Dominoes Starting To Fall at Journal Register?

Eight New York Weeklies Fold Up Shop This Week

In the overall scheme of things, the closing of eight weekly newspapers in upstate New York with a combined circulation of just over 15,000 hardly represents a seismic event in the sorry world of newspaperdom.
But the papers, in the New York exurbs of Putnam and Dutchess counties, are owned by Journal Register, which can hardly be confused with a going concern nowadays, with its stock trading for less than a penny a share.
This comes after Journal Register threatened to shutter last month two dailies and three weeklies in Connecticut, when a white knight named Michael Schroeder rode in to save them.
No such luck across the border, which means residents will have to rely more on Gannett's Poughkeepsie Journal and Journal-News for coverage of their communities. Given all the recent cutbacks at those papers, good luck with that.

Monday, February 09, 2009

New York May Soon Be Starving for Restaurant Critics

N.Y. Observer Really (And Euphemistically) Axes Moira Hodgson, its Longtime Warrior of the Two-Top

The literally peachy New York Observer has decided to mirror the lousy restaurant business in the Big Apple and do away with its dining critic, Moira Hodgson, who'd been contributing reviews to the weekly since 1987.
Seems Hodgson was having difficulty getting the Observer to pick up the tab for her meals, a pricey proposition in the city. And given that her fee included the restaurant bills, that could have meant Hodgson was going deep in the hole.
But what grabbed me was how Observer editor Peter Kaplan described Hodgson's departure to Julia Moskin in The New York Times' Dining Journal blog.
Kaplan said the Observer decided back in December to take a "breather" from Hodgson, although it now appears her words have breathed their last, at least in the Observer.

ESPN Must Be Juiced By Latest A-Roid Get

Trading Scoops With

When I caught wind that A-Roid (wisely, I might add) fessed up to taking steroids following the Saturday mega-scoop by, I naturally headed to that Web site, assuming that's where the latest news was.
How naive.
Seems Alex Rodriguez wasn't going to flay himself to the reporters who had outed his propensity for juicy juice back when he was with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.
Nope, that honor was reserved for ESPN, which got Peter Gammons to Miami pronto, so A-Roid, er, Rod could say he was really, truly, genuinely sorry for being naughty -- even though Major League Baseball had no way to sanction him., at least, cited ESPN in the lead for its latest story, though its original dispatch may be what most fans will remember most, as they remember where they were when they heard about the implosion of the player they thought could be the real home-run king, not that no-goodnik Barry Bonds.
Alas, no.
Now comes the time for everyone to take a dump on A-Rod, justified or not. ESPN's Jayson Stark and Buster Olney have already wasted no time. Tim Kurkjian's surprised A-Rod fessed up so fast.
Sure, it sucks. But before we lump Rodriguez with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens into the Cooperstown discard file, let's at least remember the kind of numbers he put up before and after he admitted juicing (assuming, of course, those were the only three years he took performance-enhancing drugs). The guy still has prodigious gifts. But will any of that matter even a farthing of the hundreds of millions the Yankees will pay him is very much an open question.
The asterisk is just above the 8 on the keyboard.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

NPR Opens Up Elusive Window Into Dark Side of Hasidic World

Stunning Report from Barbara Bradley Hagerty Reveals How Insular Religion Protect Pedophiles In Their Midst

If you're not an Hasidic Jew, chances are you're persona non grata to them, especially if you're a less-observant Jew, as I found out when I was a reporter in a suburban New York county where thousands of them lived.
They live in a world that, in many ways, resembles the shtetls of Eastern Europe from where the sect sprung. They are content to wall themselves off from much of the world to remain ostensibly righteous, and steadfastly devoted to G-d and Torah.
But they remain human beings. And like the general population, some share dark secrets, which are rarely revealed because the communities they live in are so close-knit.
So, a report by NPR's religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty on sexual abuse in the Hasidic enclave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is, to say the least, a revelation.
As disturbing are the allegations by two men who say they suffered abuse, are the attempts by the chief rabbis to handle this matter themselves -- in other words, do whatever they can to sweep this scandal under the rug.
Most Hasidim don't indulge in media such as TV, radio, English-langugage newspapers. So, any hubbub over this report may go unnoticed. Suffice to say, though, it's a safe bet many of them have heard stories or rumors about abuse, or knew someone has been molested. This story will hardly be news.
But for the rest of us, let's hope the secular and Jewish media keep on this story, and perhaps allow for healing to begin.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Great Ad. Now If Monster Can Only Help Us Actually Get a Job....

It wasn't a bang-up, slam-dunk, one-for-the-ages Super Sunday for the ad industry. But there are always a few gems. The gemmiest of them all was the moose -- and its caboose -- for Monster.

Number two on the short hit parade was CareerBuilder. I guess it helps if you're looking for a job to laugh to keep from crying. You may not get any closer to working, but at least it'll dull the pain for 30-60 seconds.

Hey, Russ Stanton! Edit, Don't Spin

Los Angeles Times Editor Wants to Smell Like A Rose While Standing Knee Deep In Crap

On the one hand, you can't fault newspaper editors for wanting to find the half-full glass lined with silver. Presiding over newsrooms where your budget is slashed to bits and all those empty desks feel like they have eyes fixed on you can get can justify hitting the snooze button three or four times.
But can we stop already with the spin? Among the bromides we've had to suffer from editors goes something like "Despite the recent reductions, we still have the largest, most robust news organization in the state."
Yeah, but that doesn't mean the cuts you make won't be any less apparent. Such is the plight facing the beleaguered Los Angeles Times, which last week announced it would cut 300 more positions, including 70 in the newsroom -- a reduction of 11 percent.
That means the Times is left with about half the number of journalists it had in 2000, before it was acquired by Tribune.
So, it's time for some candor from Times editor Russ Stanton, instead of dancing around the truth.
"We are all too familiar with this process, but over the past year in particular," he wrote in a memo to the staff. "We have come through each of these downsizings and continued to produce some of the highest-quality journalism in our industry."
If true -- and the last time I checked the Times is still an eminently decent if much-diminished newspaper -- then that speaks volumes of the desultory state of the media industry.
But it doesn't speak to what the Times was and will never be again, a media titan and cash cow like few other properties in this country. Nowadays, the emperor doesn't necessarily have no clothes, but the seams have started to fray in some embarrassing places.
Stanton should own up to this reality and tell everyone "Look, this is what we can't do anymore. Don't even expect us to try. But given what's left, here's what we're going to focus on and do better than anyone else."
Of course, that's a lot easier said than done when you have a publisher who's effectively knee-capping you. Eddy Hartenstein, not Stanton, was apparently the one who made the decision last week to kill the California section and fold it into the A section, even though as blogger Kevin Roderick points out, a better candidate would have been the desiccated business section.
A safer guess is that Stanton is not saying what he should because he likes having a job. Too bad 300 more Times employees won't be able to say that soon.

Wall Street Journal A-Heds Still Rule Even if Murdoch Hates Them

Best Lead of The Weekend

The Wall Street Journal has long been known as more of an editor's paper than one for writers. But kudos to whomever was responsible for this lead in Saturday's paper on a story from Andrew Higgins and David Gauthier-Villars on a controversial tram line in Jerusalem.

It took perhaps nearly a millennium, but Arabs and Jews who each claim this sacred city as their own have found a cause that unites them: hostility to a streetcar none desire.

It's prose that's economical, with every word well-chosen. And it does what any good article is supposed to do: get us to read more.

American Express Caught Lying To New York Times

So Why Even Try Making Up Excuses? Violating Media Relations 101

Ron Lieber's column in Saturday's New York Times business section dealt with how American Express would cut customers' credit lines if it didn't like their spending habits or where they were using their cards.
That effectively meant Amex had cooked up a blacklist of merchants. Not so, spokeswoman Susan Korchak, one of the company's top flackettes, claimed to Lieber. "The letters were wrong to imply we were looking at certain merchants," she said.
Lieber focused on the plight of one man who had his credit limit chopped. One reason given was that customers who had shopped at stores he had made charges at had stopped paying their bills. What stores? We're not telling, said Amex.
But here's where the story gets really interesting. As Lieber writes:

Now, the company says that there never was such a list. So what about the language in its letters to cardholders, which calls out particular “establishments” where cardholders had shopped, I asked. Well, apparently that was all just a big misunderstanding, despite the number of people who must have been in on drafting the notes in the first place.

Granted, Lieber is paraphrasing when he writes "big misunderstanding." That's probably the term he had to use after Korchak was left out of breath backpedaling from a corporate FUBAR. And being married to a former Amex employee, I can tell you that, if anything, too many people review things before they go out. What was in the letter was what was intended. There are no misunderstandings at American Express.
And there is also no more list.
The company last week decided "spending patterns" would no longer factor into decisions on credit-line reductions.
Fine and dandy. But in the process, Amex gave itself a black eye by denying the existence of something that they and many of their customers knew was there all along.
The first lesson you should learn in P.R. school is never lie to the media -- and, by extension, the public.
Rule number two: see rule number one.