McGuire on Media

The rabbit hole gets weirder and weirder

This is my sixth  lede on this entry because things are absolutely nuts in the newspaper business on this Friday in October. I really feel as if I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

I am going to issue a couple of  “really big deal alerts” on a few things that might slide off the attention radar unless we are all vigilant. Then I’ll turn the space over to my dear friend Gregory Favre to share some thoughts.

Well, never mind. At around 4:10 pm. PST  word came across the wire that The Maricopa County Attorney has dropped the case against the New Times and the subpeona I describe below.  I’m going to leave the item in just in case this crazy case rears its head again.

“Really big deal’ number one is the Phoenix News Times case.  Do not shrug your shoulders and move past this.  This Arizona Republic story and the original New Times story are must reading and and then you need to move to the ramparts.  There’s going to be a lot of second-guessing of the New Times decision to publish this material when publishing subpoenas is pretty clearly against the law. I can easily argue there were more sophisticated ways to get the story into the public domain. BUT the county attorney and the sheriff are guilty of outrageous conduct here. Before you walk away from this story and go back to your budget, or off to dinner, I want you to read that subpoena  carefully and think about what such a subpoena would do to your newspaper and your web site.  The special prosecutor so overreached here that the American media business cannot ignore this case.  Every quality media law mind in America should take up this cause and this case.

The county attorney and the sheriff in Maricopa County are such bullies I actually think a little cautiously about writing about them. We all know bullying is becoming a popular political approach to dealing with the media. This case needs to be a key place the media draws the line and says this sort of subpoena and arrest on a harassment type of charge will not be an acceptable option.

Another “really big deal” was buried in a story about Media News revenues. The Media News President, Joe Lodovic, issued the usual warnings about the need to grow revenue and cut costs. Then he coughed up this gem: ” Why does every newspaper need copy editors.? In this day and age  I think copy editing can be done centrally for several newspaper editors.

I will attempt to keep my ranting about the needs for quality assurance, affection for local readers and respect for craft to a minimum.  I think it is important to appreciate what’s really behind Lodovic’s comments, and that is a fundamental disrespect for editors and quality. Such disrespect is rampant in the newspaper industry. Some say that disrespect is long overdue and necessary to rein in self-absorbed editors who simply care about territorial fights to defend their empires.

Those people are wrong.  Newspapers achieved greatness because publishers hired great editors and let them run. The blatant disrespect publishers and CEO’s are showing for editors and the editorial processes are speeding the demise of newspapers, not delaying it. Editors want progress as much as the next guy, but they also want to protect the standards and quality that make journalism special. No matter how low stock prices go, editors are the solution. They are not the problem.

The third “really big deal” hits very close to  home. I have given careful consideration about what to say about my good friend Rick Rodriguez and his resignation as editor of the Sacramento Bee.  I am loaded with conflicts AND opinions.  I think I will count to a thousand or so and defer my comments.  However, my close friend Gregory Favre did some ruminating in the last 24 hours which I think is worth sharing.  As Rick’s former boss, Gregory is no less weighed down by conflicts, but I think his comments steer clear of any dangerous territory. I will warn you they are generous to me and some of my friends.  You be the judge.  Incidentally, Gregory and I arrived at our ledes independently, but I think the similarity speaks clearly about what so many editors are feeling these days.

When Will the Scary Scenes Stop?

By Gregory Favre

Former Editor Sacramento Bee

Reading Romenesko every day is like watching a scary or a deeply sad movie. You know that there will be moments when you just want to close your eyes and not watch. But you paid your money and you knew what to expect going in.

You don’t have to pay to read the news industry gossip on, but every day you know those frightening stories are coming. And maybe, you think, if you close your eyes it won’t be true when you open them again. But that doesn’t work.

There they are: More jobs being cut, more co-mingling of news and advertising, more predictions of doom, more CEOs vowing they will cut their way to higher margins. More pain for all of us who love this business we share, whether we are in print, broadcast, online or training others, granted that those of us who grew up with ink stains probably feel it more acutely than most.

I read the names of those who are taking the buyouts or who are being ejected without a parachute or who are just saying “enough” and I recognize so many of them. Getting to know or to work with talented journalists has been one of the great joys of a 50-year-plus career. Now, so often, it’s the joy of those memories mixed with the sadness of loss.

Among the latest losses is a dear friend and former colleague, Rick Rodriguez, who exited his job as executive editor of the Sacramento Bee. We worked together for almost 17 years and I watched Rick grow from a reporter to an assistant bureau chief to an assistant managing editor and then managing editor before taking over the top spot. Rarely will you ever find a colleague as bright, as loyal, as dedicated as Rick.

During my years as an editor, I was blessed with five of the finest journalists and people I have ever known as managing editors: Dave Lawrence, the late Ray Mariotti, Tim McGuire, Peter Bhatia and Rick. All went on to bigger jobs and notched their belts with success after success. All but Ray became president of the American Society of Newspaper editors and all of them taught me more than I can thank them for. Only Peter remains active in the newspaper business, as executive editor of the Portland Oregonian.

David left when he was publisher of the Miami Herald, Ray when he was editor of the Austin American Statesman, Tim when he was editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Rick left just months after the Bee won another Pulitzer and while the paper is in the midst of producing some of the finest investigative and enterprise work being done by any regional newspaper anywhere.

How long can we sustain the loss of this kind of talent and leadership, especially when it is multiplied hundreds of times across the news landscape?

How long can we continue to sacrifice jobs and space to apply makeup to the bottom line, or sellout our core values to satisfy still another advertiser, or be partners in this assisted suicide venture?

How long can we continue to outsource more and more services before we lose total touch with our communities and the people we are supposed to serve?

How long?

Let me know when I can open my eyes again.