According to the Tucson Sentinel, the Daily Star laid off 52 people on Thursday in what one former employee called a “a major bloodletting” for a paper with about 400 employees.
The Tucson paper reported that the company that owns Lincoln’s newspaper, Lee Enterprises,
is widely thought to be on the verge of bankruptcy. The decline in newspaper circulation in recent years, and the company’s crushing $1.1 billion debt from its purchase of the Pulitzer chain (which brought it the Star), have pushed Lee to cut costs.
After the Tucson Sentinel was reporting on the layoffs all day Thursday, the Arizona Daily Star finally reported briefly that it had eliminated some vacant positions and “realigned” its workforce.
“These actions, precipitated by the ongoing weakness in the economy and adjustments to our business model, made for a tough day,” said John M. Humenik, president and publisher of the Star.
Bloomberg News has the story about how the Iowa company that owns the Lincoln Journal Star and 52 other newspapers is trying to avoid bankruptcy by haggling with lenders to restructure $1 billion in debt. Moody’s is saying it’s critical that Lee refinance.
According to Bloomberg, Lee’s advertising revenue fell 9 percent last year.
The company is also in danger of losing its listing on the New York Stock Exchange after its average share price fell below the $1 minimum threshold for 30 days.
It is on.
A battle has broken out between the local newspaper and a prominent local radio talk show host.While “Drive Time Lincoln” and LIBA head Coby Mach started out by saying he wasn’t trying to “pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel,” he didn’t hold back in responding to the Journal Star’s recent story taking him to task for pulling down a six-figure salary while lobbying government to shrink. Not surprisingly, Mach took to the airwaves to fight back, saying the story was a “hit piece” riddled with errors and the reporter refused to meet with LIBA officials to get more information before going to print.
The Journal Star wrote about how Mach earns $106,000 as head of the Lincoln Independent Business Association and got big raises during the recession – even while lobbying governmental entities to freeze salaries, cut benefits and cut positions.
Mach said in response to the story, LIBA board Chairman Tim Cox sent a letter their 1,075 members saying the story contained more fiction than fact, and that Mach got a bump in pay – to nearly $116,000 in 2009 — because LIBA was often operating with only two employees that year. Mach’s salary dropped back down to nearly $107,000 last year.
Cox said the LIBA board of directors set financial and performance benchmarks and Mach was “paid accordingly” for hitting them. He said the job has no pension or retirement benefits and a “bare-bones” insurance option.
Mach was particularly perturbed by the fact that the paper went to Democratic Party state chairman Vic Covalt for comments in the story. Covalt claimed Mach’s job was a part-time job and that LIBA “pays no taxes.”
LIBA says Covalt was wrong on both counts: LIBA does pay payroll taxes and pays rent on a building whose owner pays property taxes, and Mach is required to work at least 40 hours a week and typically works 50 to 60 hours weekly. Mach said the Journal Star reporter, Nancy Hicks, was shown documents proving that, but still printed Covalt’s allegation.
Mach said he puts in a lot of hours – losing “precious time with his wife and two daughters – often arriving in the office by 7 a.m. and returning at 6 p.m., after doing his “Drive Time Lincoln” radio show. He said he attends many night meetings and is “in the office prior to church on Sunday mornings.”
“It’s a great job, don’t get me wrong,” Mach said. “I love it.”
Mach said, “We all have the ability to work harder… (to) work two or three jobs to make ends meet.”
He said the story implied there was some kind of salary threshold at which people are not allowed to have a voice in local politics.
Mach said LIBA invited Hicks to come in and meet with the chairman of the LIBA board and LIBA accountants to explain issues in the story, but she declined, saying, “My bosses are concerned that you’ll break the story on Drive Time Lincoln.”
“Who cares about facts? Or getting the story right?” Mach said. “It’s all about scooping Drive Time Lincoln.”
Mach said he invited Hicks to join him on his radio show the day the story came out, but she declined. (That’s no surprise: The paper would never let me do the show either when I worked there.)
Mach repeatedly questioned why Hicks went to Covalt for comment – asking why the head of the Democratic Party would be asked to weigh in on his salary rather than the head of another business organization or city employees or even the mayor.
Mach said apparently, anyone who wants to have a voice at city hall must “start with an email to Nancy Hicks” first.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing illegal… except become a very influential voice from a nonprofit organization,” he said.
Hicks said she could not comment on Mach’s rebuttal, and other editors were out of the office Friday and unavailable to comment.
However, Mach skirted the central issue raised by the story: While he has lobbying government to keep salaries lean and cut benefits and jobs and urging the government to pay more like the private sector, he was earning a tidy six-figure salary leading that lobbying group.
I was surprised to read that Mach makes six figures, because a few years ago, when the City Council was debating whether to hire a researcher, Mach, a chamber representative and I were sitting in the back of the room and we all were kind of shocked when a councilman mentioned that the person should make about $80,000 a year. Mach jokingly said he would apply for the job if it paid that much.
I guess it really was a joke.
As to Mach’s questioning why Hicks went to Covalt – I think the answer is obvious. Over the half-dozen years I covered city hall, it was very clear that Mach and LIBA and Drive Time Lincoln were a thorn in the mayor’s side. More than once, a mayoral aide tried to get me to write a hit piece on Mach.
They felt it was a conflict of interest for Mach to head up LIBA and also host a radio show – plus occasionally act like a reporter by attending press conferences.
It is a weird dynamic: Coby lobbies for LIBA, but also sometimes puts on his journalist hat. It’d be like Rush Limbaugh also having a job as the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and attending White House press conferences, too.
That’s why I’d bet this story was fed to the paper by a Democratic operative (perhaps Covalt himself) or a member of the mayor’s office. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
Yesterday, Gannett Co. laid off 700 employees — including one of my dear friends who got the news this morning. Ugh.
Read about it here.
It’s said to be the largest single round of of newspaper layoffs since July 2009. Gannett is the largest U.S. publisher, in terms of circulation, and owns USA Today.
My friend was one of 13 people laid off in the newsroom of the Des Moines Register.
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.
I’m perplexed by the way the Lincoln Journal Star is handling the identity of a woman who made new allegations against the man being held in connection with the disappearance of a 19-year-old Bellevue woman at Peru State College.
Joshua Keadle is jailed on charges relating to the disappearance of Tyler Thomas. The day after his arrest, another 18-year-old woman came forward and accused him of repeatedly raping her and threatening to throw her in the Missouri River.
This is a horrible story, but what keeps catching my eye in Journal Star coverage is their decision to refer to the second woman, the 18-year-old, by the initials used in court documents. I don’t know if those are her actual initials, but in my experience covering courts, they usually are.
But whether they are or not, using the initials will only lead to speculation about which Peru State student it is — further victimizing the woman.
Figuring out how to identify accusers of rape and other crimes is always tricky: The media rarely names the accuser; usually only the accused. This often prompts a newsroom debate, depending on the case. Most newsrooms have written policies on the subject — which is appropriate.
The Omaha World-Herald used the initials in an earlier story, but then today did not use them. Hopefully, they re-evaluated.
Quite simply, I’m stunned.
When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I didn’t know where I was headed or how I would get there.
I still don’t, actually.
But I’m amazed at all the people who are ready to help me get there. I’m also amazed at how many people have found me here in the blogosphere – it’s a weird Web world when one unpaid blogger can generate nearly the same amount of traffic on stories she generated while working for the only newspaper in town.
I know exactly how many hits my “top stories” drew while working for the Lincoln Journal Star, and I know how many hits my stories here are getting, and let me tell you this, we are almost at the same level already, just a few months in, with no advertising other than a couple of guest appearances on Jack & John’s radio show and a story in Buy Lincoln (with more to come).
The only place I’ve advertised is Facebook – and I’m now a believer in the power of social networking.
I’m also a believer in you, my readers, who have astounded me. So far, I’ve had a reader offer to sell ads for me – for free. I’ve had a reader offer to take photos for me – for free. I’ve had a reader offer to write stories from Washington, D.C., for me – for free. I’ve had prominent elected officials tell me “thank you” for writing these stories that would go untold.
But most of all, I’ve had readers interested enough to check out the blog every day. Truthfully, I didn’t know if anyone would be able to find the blog – but they have. Every day, more people are signing up for e-mail subscriptions, which alert them every time I post a blog. I haven’t started tweeting, but I’m thinking I probably should.
I’ve also been asked to be a regular guest on Fridays on KLIN’s Drive Time Live, talking about my blog and other blogs, which I will start doing today.
Now I think I understand why newspapers are cutting, cutting, cutting: If one unpaid blogger can scoop a newspaper with dozens of reporters, imagine what a full-fledged nonprofit news website could do? I’m a newspaper lover, but I hate the fact that we have to mow down forests full of trees to print papers every day. I look forward to the day when newspapers are mostly online – but I know online papers won’t be able to support the kind of staffing that is now paid for with print advertising.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the Brave New World of journalism won’t kill newspapers, but I believe eventually, newspapers will be all online, and there will be fewer reporters then.
It’s already happening. When I left my job, a colleague and friend told me about a content mill that I could write stories for. It’s called Demand Studios – and basically they pay like $7.50 to $30 per story. Go to journalismjobs.com and you’ll see these big ads for Demand Studios. There are still journalism jobs out there, too, but not as many, and Demand Studios and other content mills seem to have the money to buy the biggest ads.
But what’s different is Demand Studios is hiring freelance writers to write about topics readers have inquired about on sites like about.com and livestrong.com.
You go to this website where they’ve got thousands of story ideas, you pick one and write it up. It gets edited by another freelance copy editor, and if you do it according to their somewhat rigid style, you get paid. Quickly, into a Paypal account.
But they’re paying peanuts for these stories, and lots of out-of-work journalists are doing them.
This journalist who referred me to Demand Studios said he made about $30,000 in 18 months, just writing these stories on the side of his full-time job. I don’t know how in the world you could make that much money doing it, unless you’re writing a lot of them off the top of your head — which a lot of their writers seem to do.
I got approved to be a writer, but I’ll be damned if I could find a single story I wanted to write for them. They were the most obscure, weird stories I’ve ever seen. And if I ever felt like a person on an assembly line while working for a newspaper, this was worse. If only they could get a computer to write the stories for them – well, they’re getting close.
And yet, if you go to journalism websites looking for jobs, these are the biggest dogs out there hiring.
I’ve seen the future of journalism, and it is scary.
A recent Journal Star editorial lambasted a Virginia group for “pouring thousands of dollars into attack ads” in the November election and then refusing to report their campaign expenditures, claiming their campaign was “purely educational” since they didn’t urge a vote for or against a certain candidate.
This made me wonder where the editorial writers were earlier this year, when Vision 2015ers were pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the University of Nebraska Foundation’s UNF Charitable Fund, which spent about $200,000 on radio and TV ads supporting passage of the arena project.
They, too, claimed it was an “educational campaign,” but if you saw those ads with Tom Osborne, I think it was pretty clear which way T.O. wanted you to pull the lever.
It was a circuitous way to get their message across, but it also enabled Vision 2015ers donate money to the pro-arena campaign in a way that made it impossible to know who donated how much. And the beauty of it all was that since the money was going into a “charitable fund,” all those donations were tax-deductible.
To quote from the Journal Star editorial, about the Virginia group: “That robs Nebraskans of the opportunity to find out what sort of people are trying to influence their vote.”
Several accountants contacted me questioning the legality of a nonprofit “charity” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote a ballot question. Some complained to Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has authority over non-profits, but he certainly had a conflict of interest in the matter, since he was promoting the arena all over the airwaves. (Remember those heart-warming nonpartisan ads with Bruning and Beutler?)
When Bruning participated in a pro-arena press conference toward the end of the campaign, I asked him about what he’d done in response to those complaints about the UNF Charitable Fund. He said he’d never heard about them, but promised that if any violations were found, he’d do something about it regardless of his personal support for the arena.
“I call it like I see it,” he told me. “The law is the law.”
A few days later, he emailed me to say that it was more of an IRS issue.
But you didn’t read about any of that in the Journal Star. Why? The editor said it wasn’t important enough to write about before the election.
That’s one of those moments where a reporter does her best to fight for a story, and then bites her tongue til it bleeds. Because I was not stupid, or easy to push around. Or both.
Forget Mary Tyler Moore, Broadcast News and even Anchorman.
My favorite take on newsrooms comes from author Malcolm Gladwell, who talked about how he got into the news business in a hilarious recounting of his first gig writing for the Washington Post.
For the record, I cannot believe this happened. And no, I never did anything like this when I worked for newspapers. But I totally believe every word of it.
Start listening to this episode at 45 minutes, 25 seconds.