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.



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