Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Whining? Are you kidding me?

(Note-- I wrote this a few days ago, slept on it, wondered if I should post it, then figured I might as well. While I appreciate Mr. Singleton's efforts to reduce our job losses, I thought he might want to know what it's really like at the properties his company's running into the ground-- BH)

I ran across post on HowardOwens.com yesterday, linked by Jim Romenesko. Owens, whom I'm told is a a respected Internet journalist, attended the Newspaper Association of America conference on the changing business and caught a presentation by our owner, Dean Singleton.

“If you read Romenesko every day and you hear our people in newsrooms whine — they whine and whine and whine wishing for the old days to come back," Singleton said. "Damn it, I wish the old days would come back, too, but wishing for it isn’t going to make it happen. You must be focused on the future.”

Now normally, I try to be respectful of Mr. Singleton, but with all the craziness in the air right now, I can't shut up. This is flat-out ridiculous and shows just how out of touch he is with his company.

Perhaps I shouldn't take this personally. Perhaps he meant some other paper. But, since he didn't qualify his statement, I'd like to respond, particularly to this follow-up comment:

“When we had to make cuts at one of our larger papers somebody in one of our unions put out a letter that said, ‘Well, we won’t be able to put out the same newspaper we have over the past 30 years.’ I said, ‘Precisely. Our readers don’t wnat the same newspaper we’ve been putting out over the past 30 years.’”

The same newspaper? We've desperately been trying to put out a new newspaper and a new Web site with every tool at our disposal, but we are constantly stymied by the company's refusal to make even basic investment in technology. We're well aware of the need for change and have gone out of our way to adapt and grow.

Long before the company proclaimed that it believed that online video would be the next big thing, we requested cameras and found ways to shoot, edit and post movies quickly. When requests for even basic gear got denied, we used our own personal equipment and asked for nothing in return.

This newsroom has embraced blogs and incorporated them into our lives. We post at night, on weekends, even while on vacation. But since the company chose a sub-par server, updating our sites frequently takes longer than it does to create the posts. Today, our readers were treated to blank pages because traffic overloaded the server once again. Our online advertising staff is so small, no one's been able to monetize the tremendous traffic our blogs generate, cutting us off from a key source of revenue for the future.

Rather than shrinking from the constant, Internet news cycle, we've aggressively adapted to it and made our Web site dynamic and interactive. Unfortunately, our Web software, a proprietary program unique to MediaNews, lags significantly between posting time and updating on the site. Just as having a paper come out late is unacceptable in the print world, we will never be able to win over readers and advertisers if our site lags 15-30 minutes behind the competition.

On two recent occasions, when we've needed it most, the site has failed us. During the Malibu fire in November, I came in specifically to update the Web, but found myself locked out and unable to do anything because of software problems. On election night, when we developed a comprehensive online plan to keep people updated with all the news we could gather, the traffic overwhelmed our servers. The information was there, as was the desire from readers, but we couldn't link them because we didn't have the proper infrastructure.

Mr. Singleton, the employees of this company constantly sacrifice because they believe in the product and believe in good journalism. We'd like the quality of a paper 30 years ago, true, but we're also realistic about the pressures of today and are trying our hardest to keep this place alive and vital. But unless you give us the tools to do so, we're like soldiers without rifles.

We realize the financial pinch you're in and have tried our hardest to help fight our way out of this mess, but until you offer us some assistance, we won't be able to put up much of a fight. We're all professionals and understand business is bad, but please don't insult our dedication and desire to do good work for our readers.

Brent Hopkins


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