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Lots of stuff happening over at the paper these days…

Wow… it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on over at the Lincoln Journal Star these days.

I’m told eight veteran newsroom workers recently agreed to voluntary buyouts that were less than generous — putting the newsroom on edge about whether that’s enough cutting to stave off layoffs.

The buyout was offered to employees with at least 15 years of experience — and if those positions are left empty, the difference will definitely be felt in a newsroom of about 50 employees. That’s a 16 percent reduction in staffing, if my math serves me. But perhaps they will fill some of those positions with cheap, young workers.

And then today comes news that a new publisher has been named: Julie Bechtel, who worked at the Journal Star as circulation and operations manager before leaving in 2002 to become publisher of the Bismarck Tribune in Bismarck, N.D., and then moving to the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, in 2005.

Yes, I worked for Julie in Bismarck. I found her to be an unorthodox publisher — she is definitely not a boring, stuffy suit. Far from it. I could tell you some stories.

As with most publishers, the bottom line was paramount with Julie. I remember one morning at the daily reporters’ meeting, a reporter was all excited about doing a story about a person who’d found a tiny, live lizard in her head of lettuce bought at the local grocery store. They’d even gotten a produce employee to talk about it, and they’d rather wisely said it’s not that big of a deal when you’re buying lettuce from South America, for example.

I just laughed though, because I knew there was no way in hell that story would get in the paper. Grocery stores, you see, are newspapers’ bread and butter, so to speak.

Sure enough, by day’s end, Julie had spiked the story. She said she’d consulted other Lee publishers before making her decision. Something about how the story lacked news value…

Of course, it was a rarity for Julie to get involved in such a decision. But I love unorthodox managers and found her to be a barrel of fun and fair on other important matters, so it should be interesting to see what she does with Lincoln’s newspaper.

However, with buyouts underway and layoffs looming (?), becoming publisher in Lincoln may not be that fun right now.


BN trains may have to be rerouted from Lincoln to Kansas

The Wendy's and a hotel near the intersection of highway 2 and Interstate 29 are closed and surrounded by a dirt dike. The sign on the hotel said "Lakefront property for sale."

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway spokesman said flooding along the Missouri River may cause trains to be rerouted between Lincoln and Kansas.

BN spokesman Andy Williams said today that about 40 trains — most of them carrying coal from Wyoming — travel daily from Lincoln to Napier, Kan., but that route may change.

“We’re hoping not to have to reroute them,” he said.

If that happens, the trains would likely go from Wyoming south down the Front Range.


BNSF rebuttal sheds light on arena situation

Haymarket arena construction

Construction workers near the site of a diesel spill that's being removed from the area where a new arena will be built west of the Haymarket.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has been largely silent during the past several years, as Lincoln has embarked on its plan to convert its
dusty downtown railyard into a $340 million arena and shops.

But now, BN has spoken up.

Don’t know if you saw it, but BN spokesman Andy Williams wrote a letter to the paper trying to set the record straight on what is going on with that extra $3.4 million BN wants from the city in order to get relocated as fast as the city wants it to. BN has been taking a beating in the blogosphere for requesting an extra $3.4 million to move out of the city’s way.

Williams laid out all the delays that have occurred — saying the city was eight months behind schedule in executing agreements and acquiring property for excavated material, six months behind schedule in providing environmental reports to BN and buying the Union Pacific property and two months behind schedule in awarding sanitary sewer work. Williams says “these are just some of the examples of delays” that prevented BN from beginning construction in June 2010. He says construction did not actually begin until March 2011. Which is funny, because all along the taxpayers have been assured that everything is on time, and on budget. Doesn’t sound to me like this train is on time at all, my friends.

“That is much later than the dates even specified in the agreements, yet the completion date of September 2012 has not changed,” he wrote.

Again, I think the city ought to explain to taxpayers — you know, those people footing the bill for this project — what has caused the delays. I’ve asked city officials, and they won’t say. I’ve asked Williams, and he won’t say either. But his letter seems to imply that the city is behind the curve, not BN.

Williams did assure me that BN has a good relationship with the city, despite this little delay problem.

“I would characterize our relationship as very good,” he told me.

Let’s hope between the two of them, they can bring this train in on time.

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