By paulgillin | March 26, 2009 - 8:30 am - Posted in Facebook, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

houston_chronicleThe Houston Chronicle joins the long string of newspapers that assert their commitment to “strong watchdog journalism” while covering news of their own troubles with e.e. cummings-like simplicity. The newspaper devotes just 208 words to news that it is laying off 12% of its staff, or nearly 200 people. That’s about one word per victim. In fact, the Chronicle doesn’t even mention a body count. You have to read The Wall Street Journal account to find that number. Even the AP devotes more space to the story than the Chronicle.

We have to wonder if this is some kind of Enron hangover. Are Houston media so tired of covering bad news that they just pass along the press release without comment or question? To be fair, the Chronicle does invite reader comments on a blog and posts a single response to the many questions people submit about who exactly was let go. Still, one response from one ombudsman to news of the loss of 90 newsroom employees hardly satisfies the public’s right to know. Nor will that information be passed along to the paper’s 448,271 print readers. How do we know there are 448,271 print readers? We read the AP story. That information wasn’t in the Chronicle.

We don’t know what went on inside the walls of the newspaper yesterday, but an entry on Houston Press Blogs makes it sound positively eerie. Without citing sources, Steve Olafson reports that no upper managers were laid off but the only two women on the editorial board were. So going forward, the editorial charter of the leading newspaper serving the great and diverse city of Houston will be directed by five white guys. The paper now has practically no suburban news coverage and it laid off the reporter who’s covered NASA since the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Olafson’s most damning anecdote: “Chronicle Vice-President and Editor Jeff Cohen never came out of his office to address the staff during the day-long process of buttonholing employees to deliver the bad news. Instead, he issued a memo.”

Boston Globe Battles Rival Herald for Irrelevance

How long will the Boston Globe be around? Bloomberg says layoffs will be needed to meet the goal of a 12% newsroom staff reduction. But it’s more than that. The Globe has become an anchor around the neck of New York Times Co., which paid $1.1 billion for it and its Worcester, Mass. sister paper in 1993. Circulation and revenue losses at the Globe have far outstripped those of the Times and the only bright spot in the business is the website. Barclay’s recently valued the Globe at just $20 million, or more than 98% less than what the Times paid for it. And it’s clear that resistance to change is a powerful force in the newsroom. We attended a meeting of the Social Media Club in Cambridge, Mass. this week at which a young Globe reporter talked about the news staff’s focus on scooping the rival Boston Herald, a newspaper that has fallen so far that a lot of people outside of downtown Boston don’t even know it’s still around. The Globe‘s issues aren’t beating the Herald, but rather staying relevant to readers who could care less about either of them.

Publisher Fights Back at Newspaper Critics

randy_siegelRemember Time magazine’s list of the 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America from earlier this month?  It’s a load of hooey, says Randy Siegel, president of Parade Publications in a biting commentary in Editor & Publisher. Siegel assumes that most people didn’t notice the byline on the list, which was not a Time reporter but rather Douglas McIntyre. He’s an editor at 24/7 Wall St., a website whose parent also runs a site called Volume Spike Investor, which recommends stocks that are undergoing extreme short-term volume fluctuations. “It’s a sad day when Time magazine…runs an unsubstantiated article on its website, without a single disclaimer, from Wall Street speculators who make their living peddling tips to…day-traders,” writes Siegel, who is co-founder of the Newspaper Project, a booster site for mainstream media.

Siegel doesn’t stop there when naming names.  His next target is Jeff Jarvis, the ubiquitous blogger who has long been a vocal critic of the conventional media.  Siegel credits Jarvis for being smart, but wishes the NYU professor and consultant would disclose more openly his advisory activities on behalf of companies that benefit from the destruction of the institutions he criticizes. Siegel also has some harsh words for, which he says has covered the newspaper industry’s troubles with surprising zeal. CNN “probably would like nothing better than to see newspapers and newspaper websites fail, so their biggest competitors for audience and ad revenue would go by the wayside,” he speculates.


The Christian Science Monitor wraps up its 100-year run as a daily newspaper this weekend. Going forward, the thoughtful but lightly circulated journal will focus its efforts online, choosing to rely on journalism rather than video and infographics, according to editor John Yemma. He tells Media News International that the Monitor “intends to increase its page view five-fold by 2013, end its reliance on a Christian Science Church subsidy that now provides 40 percent to 50 percent of its revenues, and achieve financial sustainability by 2015.”The monitor was the first major newspaper to largely abandon the print market in favor of the Web and we wish it well.

We haven’t read any criticism of the hare-brained Newspaper Revitalization Act that’s briefer and more biting than that by Tim Windsor on the Nieman blogs. “I am immediately suspicious of any effort that has as its starting point that newspapers are precious things to be preserved, forever, like some kind of ubiquitous, everlasting Williamsburg of media,” he writes. “The worst thing that could happen would be for newspaper companies to find the means to suddenly become comfortable again.” We couldn’t have said it better and have nothing to add.

Allvoices, the community journalism project that we covered here last July, has added a feature to its website to rate the credibility of contributors. The feature is intended to address the widespread criticism that community journalism has weak quality control. The credibility meter evaluates both the content of a report and the reputation of the author on an ongoing basis as stories move through the Allvoices systems. Criteria include community ratings of the author and content, duplication with other stories and level of supporting content in mainstream media.

The Bakersfield Californian cut 12% of its staff and shook up its management ranks. The 26 positions that were eliminated include 14 in the newsroom and come on top of a 10% workforce cut in December. Management cited a 30% drop in year-over-year revenues as the culprit. The Californian, which has won some attention for its efforts to inspire reader contributions, is also establishing a high-level editorial job called vice president/content. Olivia Garcia, publisher of subsidiary Mercado Nuevo, assumes that role with Californian editor Mike Jenner reporting to her.

Gannett is telling employees to take another unpaid week off in the second quarter on top of the one they had to take off in the first quarter. The company is also temporarily cutting salaries of some high-paid employees.

And Finally…

love_satanNineteen-year-old Dutch college student Marco Kuiper has assembled a collection of weird and wild photos from around the web going back to the middle of last year. He calls it “imagedump,” and the selections range from hysterical to disturbing to borderline obscene. They all have one thing in common: They’re fascinating to look at. Is this citizen journalism?  Who cares?  It’s funny as hell.



This entry was posted on Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 8:30 am and is filed under Facebook, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. March 26, 2009 @ 8:04 pm

    in regards to “Publisher Fights Back at Newspaper Critics”

    I agree with him that the daggers are out for newspapers, unfortunately many of our endangered newspapers regularly engage in the same type of sloppy and hidden bias writing. Without thinking too hard I can come up with: the non-critical reporting on the AIG bonus witch hunt, anti-Detroit auto bias, constantly whining about the price of newsprint even when newsprint prices were falling, etc. Sorry to say but what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Posted by Paul
  2. March 27, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    The paper had “No Comment” because the guy who’d write the comment was laid off.

    That’s so obvious.

    Posted by msbpodcast
  3. March 28, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    Thanks for including the Randy Siegel response to the Time article and Jeff Jarvis. I think he has a point, though the conflict of interest that he notes extends beyond the financial, I think. The prevailing narrative on internet journalism sites is that newspapers will die and be replaced by something web-based. Period. It’s a law of nature, survival of the fittest, an evolutionary certainty determined by the mechanisms of communication. Anyone who suggests an alternatives that involve outside influence on this neat scheme are either anti-evolutionary (and therefore, um, not smart) or counter-revolutionary. Which explains the scornful reaction to the Newspaper Revitalization Act on journalism sites. All the Revitalization Act is intended to do is protect a public good. We can debate whether it’s necessary (which possibly internet-based journalists would want to do) or whether we think it would be effective. But if Tim Windsor’s thin rebuttal is the best out there, the neither question has been engaged convincingly.

    The existence of this dominant narrative also explains the scant internet attention to the John Nichols/Robert McChesney essay in the The Nation, which calls for a massive public investment in newspapers, specifically, and journalism in general. Again, its suggestions would overturn the narrative in various ways (primarily by upsetting the “free market” economic model for both newspapers and internet sites), and so I’ve read very little about it on journalism sites (such as this one).

    This is the first time I’ve joined the conversation here, but I’ve visited a lot the past year and appreciate the effort and thinking that goes into it. Thanks!

    Posted by Barry
  4. February 12, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    social influence…

    […]Houston Chronicle Buries Own Layoff Story | Newspaper Death Watch[…]…

    Posted by social influence