Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thoughts pingponging left and right in the rain

Greetings, friends,

This will be a quick one, featuring more of other peoples' thoughts than my own, but I wanted to shoot a couple things your way to begin another week.

I already wrote about Jim O'Shea's sad goodbye from the Times last week, so I won't linger on that much longer. I did want to pick up on one thing he said in his farewell remarks (which I'm picking up from LAObserved):

"We journalists have our faults, but we also have a lot to offer. Too often we’ve been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can’t be trusted to conserve our resources. That is wrong. Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and web sites."

And to that, I say: well said. Mr. O'Shea is entirely right and it's refreshing to hear that coming from a newsroom leader. What a shame it has to come as he's being shown the door, but that doesn't make his sentiment any less valid. It doesn't have to come with us storming the accountants' offices with pitchforks and pickaxes. We can seize back control another way-- through producing work people want to read and pay for. While I don't think we'll ever get rid of the dollar-chasers and long distance micromanagers, we can at least keep them at bay by putting out a good product.

Actually, let me amend that to say "continuing to put out a good product." This paper/Web site has come a long way in recent years, largely through the creativity and hard work of people like you. So, as uncertain as the future looks for the industry, we're gonna have to keep at it.

A second thing to notice, one of our former colleagues, Mark Lacter, tracked down our former boss, Tracy Rafter. Read his link ( to the LABJ story ( She's working for a business group that aims to counteract the political power of unions. Out of respect for the woman who used to bring us ice cream, I'll refrain from comment, but you can probably guess how I feel about that.

And thirdly, to end on a positive note, check out this letter from one of our union pals to the north ( Sara Steffens is one of the folks with the herculean task of taking on MediaNews' BANG anti-union campaign. It's a tall order, but her message is one of the most reassuring, reasonable descriptions of the values of a union I've ever read. And a reminder of things we should learn from and follow. Well said, sister.

OK, folks, that'll do it for me on this rainy, rainy Sunday. Hope everyone's dry, warm and enjoying themselves. We'll see y'all soon at happy hour.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

More crosstown trouble

Greetings, friends,

As much as I enjoy when we beat the Times on a story, I take no pleasure when I see things like this. As Marty Kaplan says at the end, it seems like this is a story we hear every few months, with an editor or publisher getting the axe for refusing to take it to the necks of their staff. And whether it's in our company or our competitor, it's always a shame.

A shame because this should be a time for our business to focus on the fascinating opportunities ahead, rather than the bottom line and the ever-shrinking budget. Sure, it's easy for me to say that, dreaming big with other people's money. But I don't think I'm being crazy or naive here-- this is a time when we need more journalists and more innovation, not cutbacks and a race to the bottom.

Whether it's the elections, the volatility in the entertainment world, the Olympics, the (perhaps) recession or that war we seem to hear about from time to time, people want news like never before. While I was waiting in line to get a sandwich today, everyone was on their Blackberries and cell phones, looking at e-mails and news updates. A lot of the time, I'm not all that excited about the news they're reading ("Is Britney really insane?" "Is 50 on 'roids?" or "Clinton's political career is finished/revived/on the rocks/rebounding/troubled/better than ever!"), but it's clear people still want their information.

I wish there were more vision in the industry right now, with leaders who'd stand up and not just get fired to stave off cuts, but who'd go the other way. Companies should be fighting to carve out the market share of tomorrow instead of killing themselves in the scrabble for the dwindling supplies of customer of the past. Sure, the owners give it lip service whenever they consolidate or make another executive hire, but it's rare when you see mass hirings instead of mass layoffs.

So, as it so often does, it comes down to us. Not just at the Daily News, but everywhere in this crazily bouncing business. If we're not getting the vision from above, we're going to have to do it ourselves. That's not to say there's no vision or no plans from our superiors-- we've got plenty of sharp minds (and, coincidentally enough, quite a few of them are ex-union members, but we'll talk about that some other time)-- but since we're the ones who do the work every day, we're the ones best equipped to figure out how to do it better.

For an odd analogy, let me reach back a few weeks to our annual potluck. This is consistently my favorite day of the year at work, one that has nothing to do with any grand corporate strategy. Here's why: the company holiday party was always pretty lousy, so much so that when they canceled it this year, I don't think I heard any complaints. But the potluck, put together with crockpots and microwaved casseroles, laid out in a photo lab and entertained with a boom box, is always a damn good time. We get good food, a nice break from our desks and an hour to relax and enjoy each other's company away from the deadline hassles.

And why? Because we did it ourselves. No insincere corporate gestures, no crappy rubber turkey and lukewarm gravy. We didn't even have a Christmas tree this year, just an inflatable one. But it woulda made Charlie Brown proud and I thought it was pretty cool, in a goofy sort of way. We were just a bunch of people taking a little time out of a crazy time of year to come together and celebrate.

But it shouldn't end there. We're always going to have to support one another like that. We're always going to have to find ways to do our jobs when the corporate pinchpennies and tighfists cut us off. It's hard, it's frustrating and it's often not right that we put so much of ourselves into the job, only to watch our reward come back in the form of layoffs, cutbacks and more disappointment.

And you guys keep doing it and doing it damn well. You crank out great work, come up with new ideas and consistently impress me with your creativity and effort. You put out a great product, day in and day out, often in spite of the industry climate. You make me proud to work here and proud to call you my friends.

I'll end my little sermon now and let you get on with your evenings, but I hope you'll find some truth in this. You guys are an amazing bunch of journalists, and even more, an amazing bunch of people. And if anyone can figure a way out of this mess that the industry has gotten itself into, it's you.

Thank you for your time, your efforts and your great work, as always.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Darn it! Delayed!

Hey folks,

Man, one week into the new year and I already screwed up on my goal of regular Sunday messages. An anonymous commenter already caught me on it, too, darn the luck! But I can at least offer an excuse, albeit a dumb one: I left my laptop power cord at work and thus had no juice to get my battered machine working until tonight. My apologies to those of you who were anxiously awaiting my weekly ramblings.

On Saturday, Kerry and I went down to the local and met with Vicki and Lesley Phillips from The Newspaper Guild, as well as several of our counterparts at the P-T. We had a good, lengthy session about ways to bring the two units into closer collaboration and how to get folks at both newspapers energized about joining and maintaining the union. With them in negotiations and us a year away, now is definitely the time to keep on our toes. Thanks to Lesley for lots of good ideas and energy.

With that in mind, we'll be coming to you guys soon to find better ways to get everyone involved on some level. While we've got a great unit here, we'll be much stronger if we can get more folks in leadership positions. We want this to reflect everyone's voices, not just my usual droning, so start thinking of how you'd like to be involved.

To get that started, let's all get together for a happy hour on Thurs., Feb 7, around 6 p.m. at our old haunt, the local El Torito. I'll send out a reminder. I've been saying we should hang out for months, now I'm finally getting off my keister and doing something about it. I'll send ya a reminder as the date draws nigh.

And finally, I wanted to highlight some of the great work y'all've been cranking out as of late. I was remiss in not noting the excellent work the Crime team did on the end-of-year homicide page -- Rachel, Rick and Jason all did some very touching stories, while Hans contributed some nice photos. The audio slideshows are particularly well done. And, back in the old-fashioned world of good ol' stories, I couldn't help but notice some killer quotes in Glenn's story on the SAG awards. It's not a subject I'd normally be all that excited about, but because of the way he told it, it really popped.

Alright, folks, that'll do it for now. Keep rockin' and I'll have more news to come.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

The return of the Sunday night missive

Hey folks,

Now that the new year has begun, I've resolved to be more dutiful with my union communiqués, so here we go, back to the Sunday updates. This one will be brief, but there should be more following soon.

First off, Ben Jauron shared with me the unfortunate news that his father, Michael, has died. He's been off arranging the funeral and getting his affairs in order, and it sounds like he's got everything under control, but we should all keep him in our thoughts. I never knew his dad and the two weren't close, but Ben's a hell of a guy, so let's offer him whatever support he needs. Our condolences go out to you and the rest of the family, sir.

Secondly, if any of you folks are free on Saturday, January 12, from 10AM – 3PM, we'll be meeting with our Long Beach counterparts to coordinate how to rally the membership. This is a time of huge change, for our company, for the industry and for the nation as a whole-- we can play a role in shaping how that change plays out. I know this is short notice and that we've all got busy weekends, but if any of you can spare some time, I'd really appreciate it if some people could join us. The meeting will be at the union local at 7844 Rosecrans Ave. Paramount, Ca. 90723. Please RSVP to me so we can get an accurate head count. Thanks a bunch.

And as a third, and final note, I've got two pieces of good news about holidays in '08. In case you missed the memo, we hit our vacation goal and earned the extra floating holiday. They're calling it an anniversary day, which they want you to take relatively close to your anniversary with the company (I want to say it's 45 days, but I don't have it in front of me). And though the memo does not note this, the other floating holiday does NOT have to be taken on your birthday, as per the union contract. I double-checked with Janiga and will ask Ron to put out a note next time I see him. Thanks to Val for pointing that out!

Alright, let's all go out and have another rockin' week. Many thanks to all of you and hope to see you Saturday.