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Enquirer and Daily Papers Down but Not Out

By Ben L. Kaufman · December 10th, 2008 · On Second Thought

Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan is a veteran print journalist trying to reconfigure his “paper” and staff under awful conditions in the Internet Age. Success will include keeping older, affluent readers and attracting younger, increasingly affluent readers.

He doesn’t need my advice, and I’m glad I’m not in his position: Casualties (staff losses) are mounting; ammunition (ad revenue) is running out; foes (competition, consultants, analysts and pundits) surround him; and the generals at headquarters say there will be no reinforcements (they’re retreating).

[Read Kevin Osborne's report on layoffs at The Cincinnati Enquirer here; the story includes an interview with Callinan.]

It’s time to dig out wood type for a page 1 response to doomsayers who insist that daily papers surrender to what critics say is inevitable: “Nuts!”

A few months ago, The Enquirer cut 15 newsroom staff on orders from owner Gannett, part of 1,000 voluntary departures in Gannett’s more than 80 dailies.

Last week, Gannett slashed payroll by 10 percent from the many departments in its dailies. That could be 3,000 people. Tara Connell, the corporate spokeswoman, blames the weakening economy and falling ad revenues.  Company stock — long the envy of the industry — has tanked.

Unlike the Autumn voluntary departures, this latest Enquirer newsroom bloodletting included no reporters. It looks like about a dozen — mid-level editors, artists and others — lost their jobs. Osborne's story names names.

Gannett leaves it to each paper to decide whom to fire. Callinan can’t ignore corporate orders and keep his job — throwing himself on his sword wouldn’t save a penny. Gannett would think him mad and replace him while bloodstains were on the carpet in his corner office were still wet.  

The future? With too few reporters, it could be too little vital news, dissatisfied and departing audiences, more fleeing advertisers, insufficient income, more firings, diminished audiences, falling ad revenues, etc.

No Enquirer? Maybe. “Death spiral” is an overused cliche. Still, death of a local paper is not unthinkable. There are papers in two-paper cities like Seattle, Detroit and Denver in deep trouble.

The late Cincinnati Post once had the city’s largest daily circulation. Dailies have died in Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Louisville, Atlanta, New York, etc.

Meanwhile, a lot of money can be saved by dropping printed editions with their production and distribution costs. Whether Tristate residents will embrace an online-only Enquirer in the near future is uncertain or unlikely. It’s a generational thing.

Eliminating always-weak Monday and then Saturday printed editions could begin weaning readers from that familiar format and drawing them to The Enquirer online.

Eventually, an online-only Enquirer will be all we have. That’s not “if” but “when.”

No sweat if reporters, photographers, page designers, editors and others provide “content” that we can't ignore and they learn how to provide user-friendly web pages. 

Curmudgeon Notes

graphicdesigner.net/papercuts says U.S. newspapers have fired or bought out more than 13,000 employees so far this year, or almost six times the bloodletting during the last six months of 2007. Of course you can now add the roughly 2,000 to 3,000 holiday firings by Enquirer-parent Gannett this past month, possibly the largest single bloodletting in American journalism history.

• Are Florida International University students the new scabs, filling pages left blank by full-time reporters who were bought out or fired? Editor & Publisher says The Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and FIU journalism school are creating the South Florida News Service. It will offer students' work to the papers.

• Smart stories about CVG in Sunday’s Enquirer and reader comments on the Opinion page leave little room for optimism. Delta has no reason to lower the nation’s highest prices. Domestic service probably will worsen. More of us will fly from Dayton, Indianapolis or Louisville, where ticket prices are so low that driving costs don’t matter. 

• NPR’s All Things Considered reported the College of Mt. St. Joseph put student Jeremy Jackson on involuntary leave after his family alerted the college to his threat to kill himself. Not others. Himself. The college’s response is not unique nationally since the Virginia Tech shootings, NPR said. If Cincinnati-area reporters followed up on NPR’s story, I missed it.

• National news media say rising numbers of students are seeking help from campus counseling services. Jeremy Jackson’s encounter at the College of Mt. St. Joseph (above) poses these questions: If college officials fear a suicidal student will first kill others, how does it make any campus safer if students fear disciplinary action for reporting suicidal thoughts? Won’t this institutional response make troubled students more reluctant to seek help, thereby increasing potential dangers that risk-adverse college administrators fear?

• Sebastian D’Souza, a picture editor at The Mumbai Mirror, scored a rare scoop. His photo of an armed killer strolling away from train station carnage has become iconic. D'Souza told London’s Independent that he was in his office across from the station when he heard gunfire. "I ran into the first carriage of one of the trains on the platform to try and get a shot but couldn't get a good angle, so I moved to the second carriage and waited for the gunmen to walk by.

They were shooting from waist height and fired at anything that moved. I briefly had time to take a couple of frames using a telephoto lens. I think they saw me taking photographs but they didn't seem to care."

• A second scoop: D’Souza’s terrorist was the only captured raider so far.

• India wasn’t on my mind when a friend’s unrelated message closed, “I am praying for Mumbai.” BBC’s World Service home page had it all. It wasn’t long before I became conscious of my rising consumer expectations in a new way: No more waiting for tomorrow’s papers, WVXU’s Morning Edition, afternoon All Things Considered or overnight BBC World Service. Enquirer and New York Times print editions seemed such old news the next morning.

• I’ve praised BBC’s World Service before, but I’m no Anglophile if that means anything British and Olde is better than anything American and New. I don’t revere British literature (other than police procedurals) or British cars (after owning two Sunbeam Alpines, a Morris Minor, a Riley and Sunbeam Imp.) Rather, BBC is the best combination of broadcast and Internet news about the States and other countries. World Service’s web site became my primary access point for Mumbai news: videos, photos, audio, text stories and continuous text updates, plus blogs and tweets from people at the battles and fires.

• There also was a dark side to this instant information from Mumbai. At one point, Indian officials asked news media to ignore tweets or to use these brief, instantaneous text messages judiciously, assuming someone was sharing them with the terrorists on cell phones.

• An unrelated story by Leigh Holmwood in London’s Guardian referred to BBC World Service funding. He told me that Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (think our State Department) has paid the bills since World Service began broadcasting. That was 1932. World Service spokesman Mike Gardner said these are the only direct parliamentary grant-in-aid to BBC, paid because Labour and Conservative governments believe World Service’s independent approach to journalism brings credit to Britain.

• Internet sites run by The Mumbai Mirror, Pakistan’s Dawn, The Times of India, The Jerusalem Post, Al Jazeera English and France 24 provided differing perspectives on the terrorists’ sponsors. Initially, Al Jazeera and Dawn ignored raiders’ claimed Islamic ties or reported them with caution, correctly noting that no one knew whom they were.  

• When the Associated Press caught the Pentagon altering a publicity photo of the first female four-star general, it alerted members and clients about the Bush Administration deception. It also stopped distributing otherwise newsworthy photos provided by the military. The general’s digitally manipulated photo was the second Pentagon photo the AP spiked in the past two months. The Pentagon says substituting an American flag for bookcases behind the general was acceptable because it did not change the meaning of the photo. AP rejected that standard but, a few days later, lifted its ban because the Pentagon said it would avoid distributing altered images.

Trust was a casualty, however. AP says photos from outside sources must be examined closely by at least two editors. If there's any question about the integrity of an image, it won't be used. In rare cases when AP distributes an altered image from an outside source, the caption will explain why the photo was changed. "AP pictures must always tell the truth," Santiago Lyon, the AP's director of photography, told his staff. 

AP said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell promised to remind the military that the Defense Department prohibits changing images if that misrepresents the facts or the circumstances of an event. "Anything that weakens or casts doubt on the credibility of official DoD imagery in or outside the Department of Defense shall not be tolerated," the policy states, but it allows cropping, editing or enlarging a photo to improve its quality. DoD also allows an image to be changed for security or privacy.

• The AP/Pentagon brouhaha is the latest in which Photoshop is a player. News media struggle to define what is acceptable. For instance, it was unethical for the Iranians to manipulate the image of one of three just-launched missiles to show four just-launched missiles. It was unethical for photographers to combine their photos to show a more dramatic human confrontation from Iraq or add an extra cloud of bomb debris over Beirut. Photographers also have removed other players’ distracting limbs from sports photos and overdone it when playing with sky/cloud colors. Photographers get fired for such stunts.

• Jason Haap, who runs Cincinnatibeacon.com, raises a question on his blog and in an Enquirer guest column: If the president-elect is biracial, is it accurate to call him black? If the news media decide he’s black, does that deny a powerful role model to biracial Americans? If Obama as a black president is something wonderful for African-American children, does this exclude biracial children who don’t want to deny or reject one parent’s racial identity to embrace the other? Haap and his wife — he’s white, she’s black — have biracial children. Haap asked MIT linguist Noam Chomsky about Chomsky’s use of "African-American" to describe Obama. Haap posted Chomsky’s reply on his blog: “Unless there’s a reason not to, I refer to people as they choose to be referred to — since these labels have no clear meaning anyway. We’re all multiracial, to the extent that race means anything. Obama refers to himself as African-American. I’m not sure what he means by it: maybe that his father was African and his mother American. Linguistics has nothing to say about the matter.”

• If Obama’s “black,” he’s the first African-American president. But Obama is biracial. Is he the first bi- or multiracial president? Previous presidents would not have acknowledged a mixed racial heritage, even with the tradition of embracing Native American ancestors.

• Diehards insist Obama is ineligible for the Oval Office, saying he was not born in the United States and/or because his father was a Kenyan national and/or British subject. In its Palinesque foreign affairs report on that issue the other night, Local 12-WKRC repeatedly referred to “Nigerian” and “Nigeria.”

• Not to be outdone by a local TV station, LATimes.com carried a Pearl Harbor anniversary story on Dec. 7 by Associated Press, saying “this year’s remembrance ceremony focused on the aftermath, including the B-52 bomber raid on Tokyo..." Yeah, and they dropped the A-bomb on Okinawa along the way. It’s B-25. The B-52 — a plane, not a rock group — didn’t exist in 1942.

The New York Times’ Brian Stelter says “longtime local TV anchors are a dying breed. Facing an economic slump and a severe advertising downturn, many stations have cut costs drastically in the last year, and veteran anchors, with their expensive contracts, seem to be shouldering a disproportionate share of the cutbacks.” He says local TV ”remains the most popular single source of news in the United States. Slightly more than half of the population watches local news regularly, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, while only 34 percent read a newspaper each day and 29 percent watch a network evening newscast. But the ratings for the broadcasts have gradually eroded over the years. The typical late newscast now reaches 12 percent of viewers watching TV in a given market, down from 21 percent 10 years ago.” He quotes Robert Papper, chairman of Hofstra University’s journalism department, saying “longtime anchors at top-rated stations in local markets are at little risk. ... (B)ut if I were a very highly paid anchor of a No. 3 station, I’d be really nervous.”

• You want scary? What if many of the 29 percent of Americans who say they watch network evening newscast are among the 34 percent who say they read a daily paper? That suggests most Americans have no regular source of foreign news.

• In a Business Week ad, WE, the Alliance for Climate Protection, asks our nation’s leaders to FREE US from foreign oil. However, rather than a petroleum supertanker bringing us foreign oil, WE’s ad pictures a Great Lakes freighter, like, you know, ore, grain or something like that.

• It was the best perp walk in months for the news media. Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress in ‘cuffs after shooting himself with what New York cops says was an unlicensed handgun. Burress would have benefited from handgun safety taught by Keith Nelson to our class of conceal/carry permit applicants: Don’t carry a handgun in our waistline because “You might beat yourself to the draw.” Men squirmed. Female classmates laughed. Burress is lucky to be alive and, The New York Times suggests, still in possession of his manhood. The Times said Burress’ pistol was the popular .40 caliber Glock, a powerful weapon that could have destroyed a lot of muscle and left him pumping blood on to the Latin Quarter carpet from his femoral artery.

• Plaxico Burress’ Glock (above) has three safety mechanisms meant to make it impossible to discharge without pulling the trigger; pulling the trigger disconnects the safety mechanisms. Conviction of illegal handgun possession in New York City brings a mandatory prison term, according to The Times. Maybe he can plead to a lesser offense and do public service feeding Michael Vick’s pitbulls.

• Will Plaxico Burress’ attorney invoke the media version of the Twinkie Defense: post-Superbowl news media adulation earlier this year made Burress so crazy that he couldn't operate by rules meant for lesser beings (like don’t carry an unlicensed, loaded handgun in New York City). We’ve seen Burress do the “perp walk” and a Gotham news media standby, and now we’ll see how celebrity status affects his defense and its coverage.

The Christian Science Monitor, which had one of nation’s finest corps of foreign correspondents, finds another way to save money. It will exchange copy from New Delhi and Mexico City reporters with stories from McClatchy reporters in Nairobi and Caracas for a three-month trial. The Monitor already is going online only for its daily edition.

• Pulse, successor to the free weekly Downtowner, used its final print edition to announce its conversion to online only: CinciPulse.com. Eliminating printing and distribution costs could help it survive.

• As we deep six "on the ground" among other oft-used cliches, let’s bury "take out" in the sense of killing someone. Say shot, bombed, stabbed, garroted, impaled or whatever. Death shouldn’t be euphemized or disguised. And here are more cliches that need a wooden stake driven through their hearts:

* To the fullest extent of the law. Prosecutors and elected officials always talk about throwing the book at some defendant, but when the TV cameras leave they begin negotiations to reduce charges to whatever the perp will accept, guilty or not.

* Bullet proof. Usually it isn’t, as many unwilling or unsuspecting wearers learn. How about “body armor.” That has the virtue — still valued by some journalists — of substituting dull accuracy for vivid error and it’s not intellectually challenging.

* Pseudo-intellectual. That updates archaic “pointy-head intellectuals” and “egg heads.” Some people really are intellectuals. Adding “pseudo” weakens an attack on their views. Why not accept that American Enterprise Institute or Brookings Institution scholars also can be intellectuals ... and wrong. Using a label to denigrate them is anti-intellectual.

* Elitist. That’s GOP-speak for someone who went to better school or value education, intellectual challenge and ideas. Some people are elite. Take Plaxico Burress. He’s an elite wide receiver. Take Mike Brown. His dealings with public officials, fans and tax payers embed him among Cincinnati business elite. Take Michelle Obama. She was graduated from elite schools, succeeded as a lawyer and, if my supermarket reading is to be trusted, will be the hottest woman in Washington, D.C. since Jackie donned a pillbox hat.    

* Big Three. Reserve this for the United States, Great Britain and USSR during World War II.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



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