Monday, December 24, 2007

The stretch run

The last edition of the Cincinnati Post will hit the streets a week from today. Today's incarnation of the Post won't be missed. As Dan Sewell's story says, the Post is a ghost of its former self. E.W. Scripps has been cutting and cutting there for 20 years, without any pretense the newspaper might get better.

In theory, the benefit of competition for newspapers is that it makes each paper better. Competition scares you into doing your best every day. The real death of the Post might have some at some point in the past 10 years when the Enquirer stopping giving a crap about what was on the Post's front page every day. Did you read Sunday's paper? I can't believe I wasted $1.50 and 10 minutes on it. Stories like "Whatever happened to....?" is what you get when you have editors with no imagination and no resources. A dull effort, it read like the reporters did the entire thing by telephone, and it was dressed up to make it look like it was something. The editors also chose to lead the paper with another meaningless Christmas shopping story. It was a terribly weak Sunday effort, one that can't be blamed on a "slow news week" just before Christmas, or a short staff. It was a general lack of wherewithal -- planning, people, news judgment, imagination -- that produced Sunday's waste of newsprint. However, Sunday's paper did a fine job of wrapping around the advertising inserts, which is all Gannett cares about.

Make no mistake: The Post should continue to scare the Enquirer into publishing a quality product. The junk that the Enquirer put out Sunday as news isn't compelling to any reader, whether you're 40+ and reading it on paper or a 20-something reading it online. The people who put out the Enquirer should stand outside Post offices next Monday, and watch those folks walk out, carrying boxes, never to return to that newsroom, and know that that's their fate if boring newspapers like Sunday's edition become a habit.

Know that there is no joy at the Enquirer over the end of the Post. For instance, it's not uncommon for a newspaper to hire at least some of the staff of its defunct competition. Not here. The Enquirer will hire no one from the Post full time, though it might use one or two on a freelance basis. The Enquirer recently held meetings for its staff about life post-Post. Publisher Margaret Buchanan was asked about hiring Post folks. We have no openings, was her reply. That's only part of the story. Several recent hires from the Post didn't last long. They were openly contemptuous of the editorial "leadership" of Tom Callinan and Hollis Towns, and quit rather than waste their careers at the Enquirer. The Enquirer isn't willing to submit itself to any more of that abuse.

Worse, however, is that the demise of the Post will bring no windfall to the Enquirer. Buchanan said in those meetings that the Enquirer expects revenues to decline by as much as 8% in 2008, so the cost-cutting is likely to continue, as they say, till morale improves. During the meetings with staff, Callinan was heard saying the Enquirer had to build its audience “to serve advertisers” in order to grow its business. No one cross-examined Callinan on that, but many in the newsroom believe it means the Enquirer just won't hit you very hard if you have money. It all made sense after I read last week's overly-reverent coverage of the new Western-Southern 660-foot glass phallus downtown.

An analyst quoted in Sewell's story says, ""It's the relatively rare community that does have two papers anymore." Two newspapers? Has he been to Cincinnati lately? It's difficult to argue we even have one.


Blogger Editor said...

Truly, horribly said. Thanks for the inside details.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Editor said...

Ooops. I meant to write: "Truly, horribly SAD."

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the oops: It very sad and horribly true. The people at the Post deserve praise and recognition.

I think there are good "news" people moving to bigger and better things. Best wishes and best of luck in any and all endeavors. I will miss the Post.

4:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Post died the day the JOA was signed.

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who stuck with the Post over the past decade deserves a medal.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Quim said...

Your ideas about competition are naive. All competition gets you is the worst acceptable product.
That's pretty much what we got.
If you want to succeed, you have to make something unique. That's difficult. Competing is easy. You just make your product cheaper.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Quim, but your "about me" explains your reply.

Media competition is a good thing for far too many reasons than should be shared here. And, if you think Gannett will spend more once they've knocked out competitors (a lot have disappeared in the last few years here), they you really don't get them.

And, not sure if you've noticed, but take some time to really look at the "unique content" that is shared across the Enquirer's various papers and websites. It's frequently shared, it's often presented to communities of interest that could care less, and it's too often far from timely.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, Newsache. But in fairness, I think your point about the Enquirer not hiring Post reporters is a bit overblown. In reality there are many more Post reporters that worked out (Perry, Coolidge, Henderson) than did not (Osbourne).

The Enquirer is not hiring any Post reporters because they really don't have any openings. Should they have openings? Absolutely, but they have gone through a period of unprecidented staffing cuts to the reporting staff, mainly so they can beef up their on-line staff.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous A Concerned Reader said...

Anon 3:29 p.m.,

Henderson also quit, FYI.

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 3:29 p.m.,

Henderson quit over "creative" differences. Henderson is a young, creative female. Those three things are certain death.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not so. word in newsroom is the top dawg likes them young and female in his newsroom.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm old, male, and white to boot. Boy am I screwed.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because Henderson quit doesn't mean she didn't work out, and it doesn't support Newsache's position that she was disgruntled with managment. She lasted more than two years, I believe, and because she is young and talented left for greener grass elsewhere.

Good for her.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Quim said...

"And, if you think Gannett will spend more once they've knocked out competitors (a lot have disappeared in the last few years here), they you really don't get them."
No idea where that came from. Actually, I would expect the opposite (Gannett to spend less).

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest. Coolidge and Perry both work hard.
Henderson was over her head and had a hard time turning even routine stories. Osbourne never broke a sweat and gave no notice when he quit last Christmas.
As for the handwringing over the demise of the Post, the newspaper in its final years was one of the worst newspapers in the country. Scripps might have started out as a newspaper company, but it seems much more enamored with cable television than producing top-notch print products. The Post, in recent years, wasn't worth the newsprint its stories were printed on. Often, the paper would use wire or Dayton Daily News stories for its report. That's pathetic.
Yes, there are problems at the Enquirer and some of the decisions there defy logic. Still, a good number of people work hard each day to turn out the best news report they can. Unfortunately, there is a layer of top editors who are able to turn any good read into simplistic babble.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest NewsAche,

The home stretch is one thing. The death of a newspaper (like it or not) is another. Will you report in this?

9:46 PM  
Anonymous Phantom Girl said...

Two things about the death of the Post.

1. With the combined circulation number effectively dropping, there will be more pressure on producing revenue at the Enquirer, mostly to maintain status quo.

2. With budgets meaningfully at the bone already, additional cuts will have to come in personnel. With the Post gone, and the pretense of competition with it, news staff at the Enquirer will be vulnerable.

A joker in the deck could be the company's overall condition and Gannett top management's desire to salvage what's left of the value of its stock. That could trigger cuts earlier than many suspect.

And if a recession kicks in during the first half of the year, it could get nasty.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Screwed By Gannett said...

If revenue is expected to decline by 8% for 2008 then I am sure the sales budget will require a 20% increase in revenue.
That is the Gannett way---set unrealistic unobtainable sales goals and then make further cuts in resources to ensure no one makes plan or bonus.
Margaret- are you listening? Your neck is next on the chopping block if you don't attain your revenue goals set by GCI.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last thing Gannett ever does is hold management accountable for anything. It's a sinking ship, and people with talent and potential leave sinking ships. What's left are those craggy Gannettoids who sold their souls to the company a long time ago and know how to alter their skins and say the right things at the right time, usually during masturbatory management meetings. The Enquirer is run by a former ad saleswoman and Gannett order-taker ill-suited to inspire an upswell in readership. Callinan's recent remarks to staff about the need to serve advertisers is a frank admission of the Enquirer's abandonment of one of the hallmarks of American journalism - editorial integrity uncorrupted by advertising concerns. Gannett would do well to do a major house-cleaning at the Enquirer and hire as many of the Post people as possible. There's actual talent there.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of you silly idealists sound the same. Big bad Gannett is slowly destroying journalism! Stop. You want to blame someone or something? Blame capitalism as an organizing principle for society. And, I’m sure many of you, if you truly examined the core of your professional and philosophical beliefs (which I recommend if you want to know what you’re talking about when you start spouting off about such things), would do just that. I’m sorry the good old days are gone, when business was good, when 20 percent profit margins allowed “real” journalists the freedom to do “real” journalism. So what do you do now that business is bad, now that the bottom line is a big factor for some – NOT ALL – newsroom decision making? How should you react? You can do one of three things. You can leave the business (look that word up in the dictionary). See ya. Good luck in the Peace Corps or working at that non-profit that you always wanted to join or writing that profound life-changing (for others) book that you always knew you had in you. You can stay but join the army of Collective Cry-babies, which most do. They’re the old, bitter people for whom nothing is ever good enough. You can spot the dour expressions and feel the cynicism emanate when they’re near. Or when they post on blogs. Scary folks. They don’t have the guts or stamina to change directions. So they cry. Or you can ride it out, work within the existing, and ever-changing framework to achieve goals – maybe not an idealist’s goals (but then again, an idealist’s goals are never met), but small goals nonetheless. Create something new. Here’s a fact of life – everything changes; it’s those who adapt and then achieve who are the most admirable people. Not to mention the happiest people. All complaining will do is add another layer of bitterness to your soul. If that’s your thing, if you’re the masochistic sort who is only content when unhappy, then knock yourself out. Good luck with that. But know this: free market economics are not going away anytime soon. Until then, this is what we have. Management is beholden to corporations who are beholden to stockholders (and consumers). When revenue shrinks, business models change. In ANY business. Sorry people, but that’s the way it works. The great economic battle between Adam Smith and Karl Marx is over. Smith won the battle (but Marx's prophecies may yet win the war). Get used to it. And fulfill your duty to the public the best you can. Do it with fervor and optimism and knock off the self-pity and anger at forces that are way beyond your control.

4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually "Anonymous 12:24", Henderson was promoted to the Butler County office before she left the Enquirer, and Hollis told her he would throw her resignation in the trash the day she left, if she wanted to stay. Henderson turned many a routine story, and was in no way over her head. She has been doing just fine on her own financially since she left. Trust her.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Amused Voter said...

Another reply to "Anonymous 12:24,"

If I remember correctly, Osbourne broke the story about the lady owing $1 in taxes who was going to be jailed in Milford or Loveland or somewhere, which led to several stories. I think he also did a 1A piece on rural meth labs, so I'd say he did, in fact, "break a sweat."

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, isn't a quim another word for female genitalia? I believe it's from Erica Jong's, Fear of Flying.

7:26 PM  

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