Newspapers: up in flames

Dateline: Tue 10 Jul 2012

Perspective from David Carr, who writes about media in the New York Times (and is himself a minor celebrity for overcoming crack cocaine addiction, becoming a very decent dad and telling the truth with focus and clarity). This was published Sunday, with thanks to a friend who sent it this way:

"While the rest of us were burning hot dogs on the grill last week, the newspaper industry seemed to be lighting itself on fire.

"There have been cracks in publishing operations that are both hilarious and terrifying. The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., published a box score for a baseball game that was never played, after one of the coaches made up a result to spare the other team the embarrassment of a forfeit.

"The U-T, the daily newspaper of San Diego, published a two-week-old blog post — on its front page. And most notoriously, “This American Life” revealed that Journatic, a content farm owned in part by the Tribune Company that produces local articles on the cheap, was using fake bylines. Some of those hyperlocal pieces, which ran in newspapers like The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle, were written in the Philippines.

"Equally confounding, when The Times-Picayune of New Orleans got around to offering jobs to some of its employees in its lower-cost digital news operation — the print newspaper will come out three times a week — many of the more prominent staff members took a look at the business plan and said, “No thanks.”

"Or maybe not so confounding. Maybe they were making a choice to pull back from an industry that by all appearances was starting to come apart. Between operational fiascos and flailing attempts to slash costs on the fly, it’s clear that the print newspaper business, which has been fretting over a looming crisis for the last 15 years, is struggling to stay afloat. There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week."

The analysis then takes a hard look at newspapers' financial state, especially pensions; Gannett is particularly cited for holding a global pension plan that is "underfunded by $942 million." You can read some interesting discussion on this on Jim Hopkins' Gannett Blog, which is a little more nuanced in explaining the chain's financial issues.

My personal favorite disaster story about newspapers was one that took place at the Washington Post and was reported on by the Post's ombudsman April 22; the headline reads "The Post fails a young blogger" but the person who sent it to me used the subject header: "Journalism is in deep shit."

Here's the link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/elizabeth-flocks-resignation-the-post-fails-a-young-blogger/2012/04/20/gIQAFACXWT_print.html

This is a read-it-and-weep story about a young reporter who was blogging for the Post -- which means, really, she was "aggregating" stories, meaning from a bunch of different sources -- and the pressure was so huge that she was averaging 5.9 blog posts a day, stories of 500 words or so, on subjects ranging from the Trayvon Martin shooting to pink slime parading as beef.

In other words, she had a huge load -- and no editor to supervise her.

So naturally, she made a mistake -- which is the original point of how she made the news; she incorrectly ascribed a rallying slogan used by the Ku Klux Klan to the Mitt Romney campaign, which of course shot back with a denial. As the Post explains, the story went viral and her career was toast. She resigned. She was glad to get out of the pressure cooker.

The larger point is that she was out there on her own, trying to do the impossible, which is the task so many reporters are charged with these days.

I dunno. Some friends believe that only "journalists" can do the job of gathering and reporting news. I think it's a wide open field, ever since some enterprising soul commited the first "journalism," telling the story of a witch being hung in Germany in the 1500s. He wrote an eye-witness count, reproduced it (thanks Mr. Gutenberg) and sold it for a pfennig a piece, or whatever. That, folks, is journalism.

It's not dead. But it is on life support....

 

 

Comments

hendy [Member] said:

First, let me define journalism as independent reporting, not directly sponsored by a person or organization. It's supposed to be accurate, and maybe with very clear grammar.

What you're seeing is that publishers of newspapers, once powerful rulers, are screwed. Ink by the barrel are pixels by the gigabyte. Audiences used to be regional, but the tribes now look beyond their boundaries. There are still small towns, local gossip, and the need for obituaries and comic strip, along with editorial invectives. Or is there?

Corporate influence on media is peaking. Independent news sources that aren't tainted by the corporate "personhood" attitude are hard to find. That Gannett, and orgs like United Airlines can NOT FUND pensions is criminal.

Corporate influence as advertiser pressure now buys editorial. They publish their own newsletters, because newspapers don't reach their customers.

Corporate communications infrastructure also rules. Look at how demographic customer information is handled and managed. How is it done? With accuracy. No need in selling Ruth a Corvette. Sell Hendy the Corvette. And they now know who you are, and how to get to you. Why in heavens name do they need a freaking newspaper????

How did this happen? You've been watching it like a slow train wreck ever since you left Gannett. Now the pension fun is looking ugly. Will they tube, and take your pension with it? Will they? I'm very frightened for you and your fellow Gannett/IndyStar friends and comrades.

United Airlines tubed and took their pensions into the hole. Their executives should be in federal prison for life. But you KNOW they aren't. It's a game played by buying off politicians. Legislation and liability are for sale. It's a cost of doing business. Gannett is no different than hundreds of others. Yet people still get hoodwinked into this scam called the American Dream, which is actually the American dream slease on ethics for personal gain. Ok. I'll stop.

2012-07-10 13:32:35

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I'l just admit up-front that if it weren't for my Sunday NYT, I'd probably fade into oblivion. It hangs around my house the way the Sunday Star used to--all week. I've gotten two of my three kids addicted to it, also, for varying reasons:

A superb Travel section. Sharp, witty editorials and columns. The Sunday Style section, which contains gay weddings, and has for years....and you've got to be connected to get your ceremony published. Fascinating stuff.

Cleverly-written obituary/tributes. Solid in-depth sports. A magazine second to none. Investigative stories that hold your interest.

They've announced an upcoming charge for online access, and as soon as the cost is determined, I'll buy it.

I mention thinks because they print all their warts--mistakes, retractions, whatever--right on p-2, prominently, promptly. The Old Gray Lady determined long ago that readers deserved no less.

We can't expect the medium to survive in every major city, the way it has in NYC. (Or has it?) It's a difficult business these days. Multiple competitors, and so many specialized delivery modes that it's mind-boggling. And my mind is not easily-boggled.

Hendy, I gotta love ya. "And maybe with very clear grammar." Good luck on that. Strunk and White weep daily.

By the way, total time spent with last Sunday's Star: 9 minutes. Less if I didn't know two of the persons on the Obit page. I'm knowing more and more of them it seems.





2012-07-10 13:48:50

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Don't look now, but we may be heading towards Pravda, comrades.

2012-07-11 00:02:18

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Hendy sez: "Corporate influence as advertiser pressure now buys editorial."

It has always been thus!

Were you asleep in the Pulliam years? Offending advertisers was an editorial department no-no. And who can forget those "front page brides"?

2012-07-11 13:52:17

hendy [Member] said:

In my industry, it buys editorial and doesn't hide the fact.

The quid pro quo has never been more obvious. A "free press" is nearly an oxymoron, and so blatantly so.

2012-07-11 18:03:33

HortonElla [unverified] said:

This is known that cash makes people autonomous. But what to do when somebody does not have cash? The one way only is to get the <a href="http://goodfinance-blog.com">loans</a> and just secured loan.

2012-07-11 18:08:47

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Underfunded pensions are at the root of many financial failures. Dispense with pensions, make people responsible for their investment nestegg. Nobody stays with the same employer long enough to earn a useful pension anymore. Municipalities are cutting back services because they can't afford the pensions awarded in more solvent times. Pensions are an anachronism and if they aren't there, corporate vultures may be less inclined to raid a company for the pension cash (and are these crimes ever prosecuted?).

2012-07-12 07:44:40

hendy [Member] said:

Tom, pensions are a perk, and often times a perk-annuity given because real wages are so low or ugly. Ask a 'lifer' in the US Army if they would stay ten more minutes if they didn't get their pension.

But if you work for one, a guarantee that you'll be taken care of in old age, you should be paid that pension. The lowest scumbags in business are the ones that find a way to take pension money-- people's hopes-- and not fund them, or to put them on the line when they go bankrupt because they raided the corporate coffers.

In my book, pensions should be funded not by corporate stock, but by cash, and paid into trust just like 941 tax withholding is done. To do so otherwise, is a scam.

2012-07-12 17:58:25

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Hendy, I agree pensions should be inviolable. But they aren't. So they either should be protected from predators and stupid state legislatures, rock solid, or done away with.

My son and his wife are Marine field grade officers. They eye their retirement benefits after 20 years, but those benefits don't keep them in service; they look instead at a youthful retirement as the gateway to a second career, perhaps enabled by their military pensiions. And those military pensions had better NEVER turn up underfunded.

2012-07-12 22:06:52

hendy [Member] said:

I tend to agree with what you say, Tom, but doing so also connotes that I believe in the irrational employment picture. It used to be that we built businesses for the long term, and invested in employees in the same way. Now it seems, every one's in it for as much as they can earn as quickly as they can earn it, and long term decisions aren't considered.

It's because publicly traded companies must report excellent quarter after excellent quarter to Wall Street, else the value of their stock is trashed into oblivion. Microtrading exacerbates the problem by creating artificial value and market manipulations.

I wish your son and DIL well. I think their pensions are safe.

2012-07-13 07:19:08

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Spot on, Hendy.
Wall Street analysts have probably done more to create our economic malaise than anyone. It's the next quarter that matters, they say, not the long term. Corporate investors take the bait. Individual investors follow. Everyone wants to cash in as soon as possible and sit on a boat in Bimini. And nobody wants to actually build anything, which by nature is a process that takes time and involves risk.

2012-07-13 07:55:54

whosear [Member] said:

Glad to have your take on Dan...stopped reading his political columns due to predictability, but still enjoyed his moments of life stuff.

My teacher retirement is in better shape than what it was in 2008, and my PERF is one of the strongest.

I worked for Central Soya under the old guard, and it was a Keynesque run oompany. I considered a career there, but when the prima donnas started running things, I bailed. The company when through financial straits for awhile until they were replaced. One of the former execs actually was fired as a consultant to the Post Office in the 80's.

2012-07-14 19:38:09

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

The lessons we should all be taking from this is that you cannot rely on anyone but yourself for your well being. Don't count on a benevolent boss, government, church, social security, pension or bartender. You are doomed to be disappointed if you think anyone but Mom and Dad and mate will put your well being high on the menu.

2012-07-15 17:58:02

hendy [Member] said:

Tom, Social Security is safe. Please investigate how it's funded and how it works, and what it's liabilities and assets are.

It's wise, as you suggest, to have your own retirement accounts, in a diversified investment portfolio, modest as that might be.

I have my own 401k plans, modest as they might be. You should, too.

2012-07-16 09:16:36

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Hendy, I cam across a little more disgruntled than I meant to. Try this: For financial security one should not rely on a pension and I cannot imagine that people still do since there are ample examples of pension funds evaporating. Besides, people don't stay with companies very long nowadays...and there are far more self-employeds than previously. Pensions are an anachronism for all but people in the military.

2012-07-17 07:14:04

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