Friday, October 17, 2008

October it's kind of like August except with dead leaves

If you are actually reading this after two months have passed without a single post, I provide you with answers to your FAQ (frequently asked questions):

1) Why haven't there been any updates?
In August, I started my sophomore year at college and have been pretty wrapped up in that since. 

But, I also began to feel that my posts were becoming rather redundant. The blog was definitely started to speak out about changes and cover ups going on at the Orlando Sentinel (as well as its parent company, the Tribune) but I'm not so sure it was effective in that purpose. After a while the comment section turned from analyzing the situation and suggesting actions to be taken to just badmouthing people. And like I've said from day one, this blog is not about bashing the Sentinel or its employees, it is about speaking out about and fight back against the crisis affecting the paper and its employees. I feel like we got pretty far from that idea.

It seems that everyone (including me) has offered way more criticisms than solutions. Sam Zell maybe not care about you and your boss might be mean to you, but I don't think anybody (sane) is hoping for the collapse of this or any other Tribune paper. 

So, to return to the original purpose of the blog, I am not posting anything unless it is: a) some sort of plausible plan or suggestion for dealing with the crisis at the Sentinel (and within the Tribune); b) a personal account of your experiences with Sentinel management during this rough time; c) news about some sort of dire issue concerning Sentinel/Tribune employees.
*And honestly, I will still probably take a bit to post it because there is much to tend to at school.

2) There must be something newsworthy going on at the Sentinel/Tribune, why haven't you posted any of it?
If this newsworthy item fit into one of the categories above I was probably not aware of it. I am no longer in Orlando, so my sole source of information on the Sentinel is what you pass on to me.

When this blog started I asked for volunteers for co-posters- that offer still stands.


3) Is____ blog gone?
At least 80% of the time I am asked this I do not know or do not know well the author of this other blog. Therefore, you should probably e-mail that blog and find out from the most accurate source.

4) Why do I keep coming to this blog, no
 updates since mid-August?
Magic? Subconscious yearning to see the dramatic layout? I have no idea.


Things you didn't ask me or already have the answers to: 
  • The Columbia Journalism Review will have a story concerning labor reactions towards the crisis in the newspaper in their upcoming (Nov/Dec ) issue.
  • The Eagles of "Hotel California" fame played at Sam Zell's sweet 67th b-day party.


  • The Tell Zell blog has been on hiatus and people are convinced an extraordinary rendition is underway.
  •  On November 6, 2008, the Orlando Area FPRA (Florida Public Relations Association) is holding an event called "Crossing the Great Divide", and it is specifically for former journalists.  Tips for making a transition to public relations as a career will be shared and discussed at the event. "Crossing the Great Divide" is to be held on Nov. 6 at the Citrus Restaurant (821 N. Orange Ave) in the bar area from 6pm-8pm. 
          For more information contact:
          Jamie Floer, APR: 407-244-3685 
           jfloer@wraggcasas.com

The mysterious magical world of retirement plans

* Too important not to post.

A Tribune retirement plan investigation (as shared with me by former Sentinel employee, Larry Guest):
The Tribune's Hewitt Retirement Center has admitted that Zell is raiding our pension fund, but gave up that info only after I hounded them for three months and filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept of Labor because Hewitt tried to stonewall my request for information.

The notice via "secure mail" in my Hewitt retirement account reads as follows:
"Currently the pension plan is overfunded. The Severence (sic) plan is being paid out from the pension plan because it is overfunded."
When I first heard rumors in early August that Zell was raiding the pension fund, I contacted Tribune human resources and was shuffled off to Hewitt (which handles pension payments). I wanted to know if the rumors were true and also if the pension fund is insured by PBGC, the federal corporation that guarentees most large corporate pension funds. Each call produced different answers. At first, yes Zell is taking money from the pension fund because it is overfunded. Then, no he's not. No one could tell me for sure if it is insured by PBGC, but they had "been told" it was. I asked for documentation and one Hewitt rep said that was not possible within their policy, but I might call PBGC.

I called PBGC and the rep I reached could not find evidence that any Tribune Company pension was insured by them. They suggested I call the Labor Dept, which I did and was told Tribune/Hewitt was required by law to answer my questions and send me a copy of the Summary Plan Description within 30 days. The Plan would confirm whether the fund is insured through PBGC. The Labor Dept rep advised me to put my inquiry and request for the Summary Plan Description in a certified to Hewitt. I did that on August 7.

By mid-September, I had received only an unsigned form letter acknowledging receipt of my certified letter but "because the information is confidential" the request could not be processed through the mail. For a week, I called almost daily and was given the runaround by reps who would not give their last name and said they couldn't talk to me unless I gave them my Hewitt password. I explained I didn't know I had a Hewitt password and the lady said she would have to assign me a password which I would receive in the mail "within 30 days." (There was no mention of a decoder ring.) After I used strong language, I was told an executive named "Andy" (no last name, of course) was working on sending me the Plan. I finally had the extreme good fortune to speak to Andy No Last Name on one occasion in September and he said the Plan would be sent to me in a few days. Ten days later, 9/16, Stacy No Last Name informed me that Andy No Last Name was on the case and would send me a copy of the Plan within 5 days.

TWENTY-TWO days later, I called and was told Andy was not available. I asked to leave a message with him and the lady rep said she couldn't do that because Hewitt didn't have voice mail. I asked if Hewitt was technologically advanced enough that she would write it on a piece of paper with lipstick or an old bullet and put it on Andy's desk. After a pregnant pause, she said she could. I told her to tell Andy No Last Name if I hadn't heard from him by noon the next day, I would be filing a complaint with the Labor Department.

At noon the next day, Oct 9, I called the Labor Department and was helped by a friendly lady who gave me both her first and last name and asked me to fax a copy of my Aug 7 certified letter, the receipt signature card and any other correspondence or phone notes to her, along with contact numbers to reach Tribune Company and Hewitt Retirement Center.

Funny thing happened the next day, Oct 10. I got a message from Hewitt that the Summary Plan Description was being put in the mail to me, though I haven't received it as of this writing on Oct. 13.

PS -- Because the first rep I reached at the Labor Department said PBGC phone reps were notorious about not knowing who is or isn't insured by them, I called PBGC again and reached an executive named Mike McMahan. He was able to confirm that, indeed, the Tribune pension plan is covered. So if Zell drains all the money from our pension fund, at least there is hope that PBGC will take over and keep us retirees out of the soup lines. If and when I receive this grand and glorious secret Plan from the Hewitt No Last Names, I will pass along any pertinent revelations.

Mr. Larry Guest has been retired from the Orlando Sentinel since July, 2000.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who's repping for you?

The question above is one that all current Orlando Sentinel staffers already know the answer to and that answer is: no one. During the recent cutbacks the people who compose Orlando's only daily paper have been trying to dodge bullets left and right. Nobody has made any negotiations on their behalf, suggesting that maybe cutting out this or that will be severely detrimental to the staff. 

For the former Sentinels this is a problem of the past, but the people still there are reeling with the feeling that their days are numbered and there's nothing they can do about it. I imagine this feeling does not help workplace morale. But more importantly, when the interests of the current Sentinel staffers are disregarded there exists no chance that they may salvage components of the paper that readers appreciate. So, staffers without representation among company decision makers is a problem for both the reader and the worker.

But, how does this problem become resolved? The first step is showing that there is a large demand for representation. The petition over at Tell Zell is a good start, but it doesn't really work for Sentinel staffers fearing the repercussions of adding their signatures. There is an anonymous option, but I've heard there have been threats from management to start tracking what sites employees are visiting. Even those who are no longer Sentinel staffers sometimes cannot contribute to petitions because of problems it might cause for their future or current employers. All these factors make it a little difficult for a large demand to be shown by petition.

So, this idea was suggested to me by a Sentinel staffer: make a poll with no strings attached (no names, no IDs, no IP's)... asking people if Sentinel staffers deserve a say in how their paper is run. Hopefully, a such a poll would be able to show about how many people would love to (but aren't able to) cosign on the Tell Zell petition. 

That poll is now open to the right of this post. Add your vote, if you cannot add your name.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hello again: A montage

I've been a little missing in action lately, so I've decided to provide an assorted bag of Sentinel/ Tribune related articles. Here goes:

1. An insightful post was laid down yesterday by my fellow blogger, Maria Padilla, on the subject of the Tribune's massive financial loss in the second quarter of their fiscal year. If you haven't already heard about it already the Tribune (Sentinel mothership) lost 4.53 billion dollars. Interestingly, most of the lost stemmed from a giant accounting charge.
 
2. This is from July (so, you may have come across it before) but the interviews contains what are most likely the only answers we'll receive from Bonita Burton on the re-design. It's not the answers to all our burning questions but the highlights (things that amused me) include:
-The alleging that there are provocative things in the Sentinel.
-The alleging  that most people don't notice editorials.
-The alleging that the redesign deposited juicy content in the paper.

3. A petition has been started to ask Sam Zell to award seats on the board of Directors to Tribune workers and Tribune readers. If this sounds good to you, if you'd like to put some heat on Zell or if it has always been your life dream to be appointed to board... sign it here.

4. The People Power Hour, a local radio show that "isn't afraid to hold those in power to task", is doing a show on the "new and improved" Orlando Sentinel. The show will be this Saturday on WAMT 1190 AM at 11 AM. And I encourage anybody who has a few choice words (beware of the FCC) about the redesign or the reductions of the Orlando Sentinel to call in and be heard at 407-273-1190 or 888-300-3776.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Got water?

 It's definitely bad when your local weekly newspaper is able to do 7 page story about your paper's problems but it's worse when you're sending memo like this out :

From: Marcum, Kim
Sent: Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Subject: Water update

Next week, you'll need to BYOB -- of water, that is. Beginning next week, the bottled water service will be discontinued at the Kissimmee and Orange City bureaus.Just so you know.....

Thanks,
Kim

Yikes! Or to quote one staffer: "Unbelievable!" What's next BYOB copier paper, one square of toilet paper per person, share your pens. Does anybody have a tourniquet? 

Seriously, though I hear everyone who's saying "I never even had  that luxury where I work", apparently they did... and now they don't. So, while this is clearly not the end of the world, it's just one more thing stacked on the big wall of cutbacks and cutoffs. In other words, it's certainly not a good sign for those bureaus or the Orlando Sentinel in general.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We (kinda, sorta) want you (in a cold shoulder-like way)

(I cannot make these things up, I really can't.)

This past Friday, nestled in the back of the Calender section was a column that practically begged readers not to drop their subscriptions. The column, attributed to a Commander Coconut, said the following:

"There's a lot of talk about canceling subscriptions, which, in my opinion, will make things worse. My dad had a couple of daily subscriptions when I was a kid, plus the Chicago Sunday papers, so I could no more live without a daily fix than I could live without breathing -- even if the Sentinel is whittled down to eight pages total, which it may be if too many people cancel. This is when we need your support. We're struggling for our lives and our livelihoods. No papers? Who would be the government watchdog? Who would compile the obits? How would you keep up with the arts?

I'm hoping gas prices have hit their high, and I'm hoping that newspapers have hit their low."

What? Okay, the last time I checked the Orlando Sentinel was a business (especially after it was privatized) and the readers were consumers. Consumers demand, businesses supply. Not the other way around. When a business offers less (or a lesser quality) of its product at a proportionally higher price (or any price), people demand less of this product. Therefore, if you are a newspaper who is dwindling in size or content, you cannot expect consumers to continue to purchase your product.

Now, obviously a city newspaper is useful to the city, but that same city is useful to that same paper. It's a symbiotic relationship. The city owes the paper no great debt, but if the Orlando Sentinel wants great support from city then it does owe something.

Note: I've heard that Commander Coconut is not a current member of the paper's staff (he just has his own column), but the Orlando Sentinel ran this column and it was in their paper- so it's theirs.

Another thing that belongs to the Orlando Sentinel is the non-truth that Dana Eagles, Staff Development and Investigations Editor, told me last Friday. I haven't mentioned it until now, but I paid the Orlando Sentinel a visit last Friday (although I didn't make it any farther the lobby) and had a nice phone chat with Mr. Eagles. In this conversation, Mr. Eagles blatantly told me that he was not the person (and never was the person) to speak to if one must speak with someone about the changes at the Sentinel. Yet, a few weeks earlier a memo explicitly stated this:

"Below you will find a Q&A we have created for your use in dealing with readers/subscribers who may call or write about the redesigned Sentinel...Dana Eagles will be the point person for a complainer who MUST speak with someone else."

He tried to shove me off to the human resources and marketing spokesperson, I clearly wanted to speak with other than her (i.e.: someone else). He didn't want to speak with me, seemingly because I had questions. Yeah, he sounded like he was from a newspaper that needs my support.

Not long, after this visit (more on that later) I found out I'd pretty much been blacklisted from the paper. Apparently, when Charlotte Hall decides you are a speck, unworthy of speaking to her, the whole paper follows suite. But, the paper does still need my support... right?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Civility

Hey everyone,

I've found all the different conversations and questions that have been shared here really interesting. We've had some of the Sentinel's management visit the blog, we've had direct responses from them. I think that the sharing of these different viewpoints has been healthy. Despite, there being people out there who would like nothing more than to put a gag on our not-so-sweet opinions about the current state of the Orlando Sentinel... we are being heard.

But, I do want to stress that we make sure the words that are being heard from us are not slander. In the past few days, some people have simply gotten down and dirty, not just harsh but vulgar with their words. We've had people name calling, bickering and making personal attacks on people who aren't even in charge. When, some people on here do things like this it makes everyone look bad, it makes us all look like vengeful, venom spitting people. It makes us look no better the people than the people who've been pulling politics at the Orlando Sentinel. It gives people a reason to write the opinions here off as just a bitter minority.

And the worst thing about just being plain nasty to each other is that it in no way contributes to the goal of the blog. The idea is that we want to have good newspaper in Orlando and we do not feel that the current product of the Orlando Sentinel is giving us that. We are supposed to talking about our frustration with the current product Orlando Sentinel, expressing what we want from the paper, and calling out the Sentinel's management (and parent company) on poor choices made for the paper.

That said we want you to express your opinions on the current product of Orlando Sentinel, but let's try to keep things on topic and most of all- civil.

Thanks,
Kai

Now for your own personal amusement (or sorrow) a few "interesting" words from Lee Abrams:

AUGUST 04, 2008
THINK PIECE: THOUGHTS ON THE REINVENTION AND WHY WE WILL PREVAIL
THINK PIECE: THOUGHTS ON THE REINVENTION AND WHY WE WILL PREVAIL

Activity is continuing on the newspaper reinvent front, and some interesting creative developments on the TV side. A few thoughts:

LOLLAPALLOZA IN CHICAGO: The Chicago Tribune did a spectacular job with the Lollapalooza festival over the weekend in Chicago. Highlights included:

*Great PRE-SELL. Instead of an after the fact report, they were all over it BEFORE it happened so readers could have a full overview beforehand so it's actual usable information instead of a backwards looking "review".

*Visibility. It wasn't hidden. It hit you like a 2x4.

With that said, it posed a few questions/thoughts;

*No doubt the Tribune had to cover an event of this magnitude, but I think papers need to have the same PRE-EVENT attitude toward the other mainstream musical events. Lollapalooza is a bit young skewing in light of our "natural" target that is more 40+.

--Never before has there been a more powerful 40+ music consumer. In fact, that’s where the money is. Check the top grossing concerts on 2007.

TOP CONCERTS
1. Hannah Montana
2. The Police
3. Céline Dion
4. Kenny Chesney
5. Van Halen
6. Bruce Springsteen
7. Jimmy Buffett
8. Bon Jovi
9. Faith Hill & Tim McGraw
10. Dave Matthews Band

...almost exclusively older skewing. Hannah Montana isn't, but the average attendee was 9 so you could say that parents were a pretty key factor here.

My point is that newspapers need to get as excited about Kenney Chesney or Van Halen as they do about the interesting alternative bands...or opera. It's that un-sexy, non adventurous middle ground that NEEDS newspapers to make decisions and learn BEFORE the event. As powerful as the web is, newspapers are still the medium of choice for A LOT of these huge artists and it's in our best interest to give the readers the information, as newspapers do best, BEFORE the fact. And, historically, the music people embrace during their "musically formative years" of 16-20 is what they like for life. Sure, there are musically sophisticated people who continue to grow, but MOST people live for the music from these years...and you aren't going to change them. Take a 90 year old---you can bet that his Hip Hop was Big Band...That's a reason Hip Hop will never die---it's establishing itself to 16-20 year olds...and it will be their music for life. If we are targeting 40+, embrace THEIR musical generation which is still VERY active!

Prior to joining Tribune, I talked to 8 or 9 major artist managers and newspapers are pretty much off their radar. We need to put it back on. Not hard to do.

SPEAKING OF BEFORE THE FACT: A lot of discussion about News Forecasts. A vehicle to be more than yesterday’s news. For example--On Monday (or every day) giving readers a five day forecast. Accuweather and the Weather Channel don’t have an exclusive on this. We can be MORE than yesterday. We can be NOW and tomorrow IF we pull out the 2x4 and give some high visibility to what is COMING.Many papers say they do that already, and they do, but it's SO subtle, it’s an afterthought instead of a "trademark" that is SO visible; it becomes a noticeable and reliable feature.

REPORTERS OR PERSONAITIES: TV has anchors...The internet has bloggers...radio has morning shows. Maybe newspapers need more personalities too. I think it’s in our best interest to SELL our reporters are personalities. If we don’t--no one will do it for us. Personalities are critical in today’s media puzzle. We NEED more than names...we need characters and ...personalities.

THE SACRED NEWSPAPER LOGO: Debate at a few papers about the sacred logo. I wonder why Coke or Google can maintain their logo but get inventive with its treatment, but newspapers are afraid to touch it with interesting treatments. I'm not saying goof around with it, but if Derek Jeter can use a pink bat to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d think a newspaper can get off the tired "sacred" thing and think along those same lines.

MORE ON WEB BRANDING: Some amazing reinvents going on (I call it reinvent because redesign is something that papers seem to do periodically, and this is MUCH bigger than that), but often the Website remains "For more go to....").

The problem is that we are SO generic in a very specific and competitive space. "For More Go to paper.com" kind of approach. Whereas, our site is:

*An AMAZING collection on information...video, audio, stats, maps, what to eat, what NOT to eat (health inspections), movies, music, hell---EVERYTHING!

*Probably perceived as a "newspaper website" (yawn).

In fact, it's a dynamic and exciting experience that is A KEY PART of the NEW perception we want to create about the newspapers' BRAND!

So, as a place holder/thought starter, there's "THE WORLD AT YOUR FINGERTIPS"---...but the point is that whatever we use, it should be something that is a powerful, positive, non cheesy statement that DEFINES what to expect when you click to ct.com.

Things like "Breaking News and More" or 'Go to' are WAY WAY too generic to push people to our site and equally important--to enhance our image as a very exciting and modern BRAND.

Q&A: Got asked a bunch of questions about newspapers and the future. Thought I'd shares some thoughts:

1. What specifically are the traditions/habits of newspapers that you think need to change and why? (I’ve got most of what I think you think on this in general. Assumptions, compartmentalization, competitiveness, etc.) But . . . A few more specifics would be helpful. . .

IT’S REALLY ALL ABOUT THE ABILITY TO LIBERATE YOURSELF FROM THE PAST. RESPECT IT, BUT THINK TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY IN TERMS OF NOW. IT'S A HARD THING TO DO...BUT CRITICALLY IMPORTANT. IT DOESN’T MEAN THROWING OUT THE PAST...IT'S JUST A WAY OF THINKING. CALL IT CULTURE OR WHATEVER, IT’S THE ABILITY AND WILL TO WITH GREAT FOCUS, CONCERTRATE ON WHAT IT TAKES TO ENGAGE READERS ...NOW….AND TO THINK COMPETITIVELY. REALLY COMPETITIVELY. TAKE OUR STRENGTHS…AND DELIVER THEM BETTER THAN WE EVER HAVE, IN A WAY THAT CUTS THROUGH, IS NOTICABLE, AND BRINGS THINGS THAT NEWSPAPERS DO BEST TO THE FOREGROUND.What is at the heart of it? Is it that papers shouldn’t try to do everything? Do less but do those things better in terms of coverage and resources? With space and personnel cutbacks, hard choices will have to be made. Where do we go?

YES, UNLIKE THE PAST, THERE ARE MANY, MANY MORE OPTIONS FOR PEOPLE TO GET THEIR NEWS AND WE HAVE TO FOCUS ON OUR STRENGTHS TO RECLAIM GROUND. IT DOES MEAN DOING FEWER THINGS UNQUESTONABLY BETTER. NEWSPAPERS OFTEN SUFFER FROM BEING VERY GENERIC IN A SPECIFICITY DRIVEN MEDIA ENVIRONMENT. ONE OF THE REASONS IM SO FOCUSED ON THE GRAPHIC ELEMENT AND THE INTELLECT. NEWSPAPERS OWN THOSE, WE NEED TO PUSH THESE ATTRIBUTES OUT BETTER.
2. Would you close foreign bureaus or fight to keep them open?

IT'S NOT MY CALL BUT I THINK A GLOBAL PRESENCE IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF OUR FUTURE. LOCAL IS KING BUT WE NEEDED TO BE "COMPLETE".
3. Do any of the changes you want most and first touch on the journalism at the Trib papers? Do you see a lot of stuff in the papers that doesn’t belong?

I THINK THE JOURNALISM IS GENERALLY OUTSTANDING, THOUGH I THINK DOING MORE WITH MORE IMPORTANT STORIES AT THE EXPENSE OF MARGINALLY INTERESTING ONES IS A REALITY. LIKE TV, WHERE THERE'S LIMITED TIME AND YOU NEED TO HIT HOT BUTTONS STORY AFTER STORY, THE NEW REALITY OF NEWSPAPERS IS LIMITED SPACE SO THE SAME PRINCIPALS APPLY
4. What do you think the societal value is of newspapers? You told me you’re a big fan of newspapers. What are you a fan of? When we spoke you said to my question about the role of newspapers “the same as it always was,” but could you please jot down a sentence or two about that. Newspapers have traditionally functioned as way of keeping citizens informed about their government and their world. They entertain. They sometimes take an active role in politics, as in Watergate. The constitution guarantees the right of a free press. It’s important, right? Could you give me a couple of lines on this?

TO ME THE NEWSPAPER IS PART OF THE LIFE EXPERIENCE. AN INTELLIGENT LOOK AT THE COMMUNITY AND WORLD THAT YOU CAN ABSORB AT YOUR OWN PACE AS WELL AS A PLACE TO FIND INFORMATION THAT APPEALS TO YOU. IM A BASEBALL FAN AND NOT ONLY SEING THE STATS, BUT GETTING THE INSIDE INFORMATION FROM REPORTERS THAT COVER MY TEAMS IS PRETTY IMPORTANT TO MY DAY. INVSTIGATIVE REPORTING HAS NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT AS THE WORLD IS OFTEN A GREEDY, CORRUPT AND DANGEROUS PLACE. WE'RE NOT ALONE AS BLOGGERS, TV AND OTHER MEDIA ARE ALSO INVESTIGATING, BUT HISTORICALLY PAPERS HAVE DONE THE BEST AND MOST CREDIBLE JOB AND I THINK CONTINUING TO DO SO IS KEY TO THE FUTURE.
5. Last one: The cutbacks and shrinking ambitions of the Trib papers must be having a direct impact on the quality ofthe product you are trying to repackage and sell to readers. How do you deal with that? How does it figure into what he is doing?

QUALITY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER. WE CAN’T LET THE QUALITY SLIP...IT NEEDS TO GROW. IT'S TRICKY BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMIC REALITIES, BUT I AM CONFIDENT THAT AS PAINFUL AS IT IS TO DOWNSIZE, WE WILL INCREASE THE QUALITY OF THE PAPERS. WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THAT AND WE WILL. IT REMINDS ME OF XM WHERE WE COULD ONLY AFFORD TO STAFF A CHANNEL THAT NORMALLY WOULD HAVE TEN OR MORE EMPLOYEES WITH ONE OR TWO. IT TOOK SOME RADICAL RETHINKING AND DESPITE A LOT OF NAYSAYERS, WE DID IT. THE QUALITY WAS SUPERIOR TO THE LARGE STAFF STATIONS BY ISOLATING THE BEST POSSBLE PEOPLE, RE-THINKING HOW A STATION IS OPERATED, AND THROWING OUT THE OLD OPERATIONAL PLAYBOOK AND BUILDING A NEW ONE THAT TOOK THE ECONOMICS OF OUR BUSINESS INTO PLAY. NEWSPAPERS ARE QUITE DIFFERENT FROM XM OF COURSE, BUT THERE ARE SCORES OF OTHER EXAMPLES WHERE DOWNSIZING DOESN’T NEGATIVELY AFFECT QUALITY. IF YOUR JOB IS AT RISK, THAT IS NOT A CONVINCING ARGUMENT, BUT EMOTIONS ASIDE, IT IS DOABLE.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THINKING DIFFERENTLY: If you think Newspapers are in a difficult state, try the record Industry. You know there's a problem when it's still called the "record" industry but records hardly exist. Along comes Steve Jobs with the I-pod thing. If you think WE are getting nuked by the pundits, this guy was getting it World War Three style from the "what does this geek know about OUR business." I don't think he cared too much about what THEY thought.
Posted by Lee at 08:08 AM

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fix The Sentinel

My 18 year old daughter started this blog because she has deep respect for the institution and mission of the Orlando Sentinel.

Please note what she wrote in one of her earliest posts:
"Despite how it may seem this blog is not a Sentinel slam party. We are not calling for the Sentinel to cease its existence, but rather to cease its existence as a shoddy paper. The things that are said in this blog are said in hopes of sharing frustration, calling out for change, and calling out the Orlando Sentinel (and its owners) on its current product in hopes that they will take a little notice of the city.
That said, all people posting here want very much to have a local paper and think it would a travesty for the city to be without one. But, we don't want just any scraps of newsprint to call itself our paper. The authors of this blog want a paper that cares about the community enough to investigate, cares about journalism enough to report real news and cares about the residents enough not to insult our intelligence with a tabloid-esque newspaper."

Having spent 22 years on the Sentinel staff I'm very passionate about the institution. So what I'm about to write is intended to help, not hurt.

During the past three years The Sentinel has lost many talented staffers, but it still has the ingredients to put out a good strong newspaper. That is not what they're giving readers today. They're feeding us crap and expecting us (the readers) to say it tastes delicious. It's not. It's crap!

But here is what the Sentinel leadership can do:

1. Lose the front-page ads, stickers and fold overs. They're cheesy and remind me of a really bad pennysaver. I assume those front page ads make money, but there are some things you don't do for money, such as make your daughter wear a micro mini and send her out to trick on The Trail.

2. Dial back on the celebrity gossip in the A section. I respect the financial need to reduce the newshole. So please don't waste that valuable real estate on celebrity news. If I want the latest on Tom and Katie I'll look at the Star while waiting in the checkout line at Publix.

3. Tone down the graphics. Please don't read that as me dissing Bonita (I've never worked directly with Bonita so I'm not qualified to criticize her). Good graphics and design certainly help tell an important story. But a story is about the reporting and the writing.

4. The Sentinel still has many great reporters who know this town. Get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Turn them loose, back them up and encourage them.

5. Make the Sentinel essential. Make it so smart people would not consider leaving the house in the morning until they have read The Sentinel.

6. Focus on the Sentinel's strong suit -- local news. I can find out about Iraq and Washington on MSNBC.com or CNN. Only the Sentinel is in a position to let me know what's happening at city hall or in Pine Castle.

For 24 years I counted on the Sentinel to help me learn about local candidates running for office. No other institution in Central Florida has the capacity to do that.

I'm depending on the Sentinel leadership to produce a newspaper that this community deserves. And we don't deserve crap.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Flip Side

Earlier today, Mr. Jim Leusner chose to leave a goodbye note in the comment section. It was void of bitterness and condemnation toward the "new" paper, but still (to me at least) spoke of the responsibility of the paper. It seems when the paper fulfilled its responsibility it was a good deal for employees and the community. So, in the spirit of those times, I re-post Mr. Leusner's sentiments.

*If all this makes you wanna gag, because you believe the paper is dying because it has become a liberal publication... then I share this with you simply because Mr. Leusner was regarded one of the best investigative reporters at the paper. So, even if we do not completely agree with his views they should be respected enough to be fully heard.

From Mr. Leusner:

Friends and colleagues:
As you know, today (7/31) is my last day after nearly 30 years at the Orlando Sentinel. I want to thank all of you for being my professional family during that time. What a great run it’s been during the golden era of journalism, the post-Watergate period.

After I was hired here as a 23-year-old in early 1979, I was lucky to meet up with several incredible journalists who helped teach me the ropes. Paul Jenkins, Malcolm Williams, Jim Toner and Jim Squires all shared their vast knowledge or reporting techniques with me, which I have tried to share on stories and special projects or at my Sentinel Newsroom University classes over the years.

I was fortunate to work on so many great stories involving all kinds of subjects: mobsters, bikers, bad cops, serial killers, spies, militias, space shuttle disasters, defense contractors, terrorism/homeland security, corrupt politicians, greedy developers and the pioneers of International Drive. I learned something new every day and got to do interviews at the White House, CIA headquarters, aboard radar planes flying around the Caribbean or on Death Row.

Working with so many other talented Sentinel reporters also taught me a lot. They included: Roger Roy, Dan Tracy, Chris Quinn, Debbie Salamone, Mike Griffin, Sean Holton, Hank Curtis, Pedro Ruz, Tammy Lytle, Anthony Colarossi, Kevin Spear and many others, including the current members of the Breaking News Team.

I was blessed to have worked under the BEST line editors in the company -- Jenkins, Toner, Holton, Gary Gorman, Sal Recchi, Ann Hellmuth, Bob Shaw, Greg Miller and Michelle Guido. So many folks on the copy desk also made my stories better. The graphics folks, page designers and photographers helped illustrate those stories so well. I am grateful to all of them.

To be clear, leaving is my choice. I narrowly missed a buyout last year, but jumped at the chance for a severance package this year so I could go into business for myself after more than 31 years as a reporter.

Despite the rough waters our industry is navigating, you guys need to remember that the work you do is so vital to the democracy -- and history. It's made a difference to many people like my late dad, who educated himself reading the paper -- after dropping out of grade school -- to help his family during the Great Depression.

I wish all of you the best. My thoughts will be with you.
And if this note is too long, at least I was consistent during my Sentinel career!
Regards,
Jim Leusner

Monday, July 28, 2008

Goodbye Talent and Experience

Charlotte says she's sorry (sort of ) in this internal memo, but can apologies really make up for 153 people worth of bloodletting?

From: Hall, Charlotte H
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 4:04 PM
To: OSC DL Editorial
Subject: To the Staff

To All:
Today we completed the process of notifying employees whose jobs are being eliminated. They are talented journalists and represent decades of service to Sentinel readers. We are sorry to see them go, and we wish them well.

As we told you earlier, about 20 percent of newsroom positions were going to be eliminated this month. Eight of those positions were vacant. The open positions and people who asked for the severance package make up just over two-thirds of the job cuts. Altogether, 52 editorial positions have been eliminated, three of them part-time. Earlier in the year, four open positions were eliminated.

In all departments of the newspaper, the Sentinel has cut 153 positions since Jan. 1, slightly more than a third of them in the newsroom.

We want to thank you for your professionalism and patience in recent weeks. Even during a very painful month, you have produced terrific journalism in the paper and online. Though the newsroom will be smaller, it will be filled with skilled and dedicated journalists. We have much work ahead of us. Tomorrow at 5 p.m. we will hold a staff meeting to talk about moving forward and to announce some organizational changes in the editing staff.

Charlotte and Russ

What's funny about the memo is that I'm sure it was never really meant to reach the people Charlotte should really be apologizing to- the public and the most recent of the layoffs/ buyouts/otherwise volunteering to escape Sentinel wrath:
Judy Alderman
Joy Allen (Copy Editor)
Fran Coker
Lydia Enriquez (Photo/ Design)
Lee Fiedler (Photo Editor)
Julie Fletcher (Photographer)
Jennifer Greenhill Taylor (Orange/Seminole Editor)
Autumn Heep (Photo/ Design)
Anita Hardin (News asst. from Lake County)
Kamuri Kelley (Osceola)
Jim Leusner (Investigative reporter)
Edgardo Martinez (Copy Editor)
April Medina (Copy Editor)
Katherine Norris (News asst. from Downtown Orlando)
Barbara Perez (photographer)
Robert Sargent
Wes Smith
Valerie Turner
Dennis Wall (Photographer)
Tammie Wersinger

*If you see some names missing or notice some have disappeared from the list, please realize that some of the recently departed do not wish to be named.

** I hope that this time around the Sentinel did a more dignified job of notifying people than the nice little "hey you have no job" call at home. Best Wishes to all 153.

Friday, July 25, 2008

One Month Old

A little over a month ago, the Orlando Sentinel debuted its "new and improved" paper. So, in celebration of the new paper's one month birthday, I've decided to see how people like it. 

video
(For a bigger view, click here)

Now, I'm not the kind of person that makes fun of newborns, but the reactions to this one were somewhere between apathy and annoyance. Some feelings toward the new paper that declined to appear on screen were: "I cancelled my subscription!" (accompanied by a thumbs down) and "It's hard to find anything in the paper, things that used to be on the front page are now all over the place."

Better luck next month, baby Sentinel!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

M.I.A.

The week after some serious cuts were made at the Orlando Sentinel and the paper came under fire for not disclosing them, Editor Charlotte Hall is nowhere to be found. Well, she's at least not found in Orlando or the Sentinel building. The current word on her whereabouts is that she's attending a conference and will not be back until next Monday.

Now, maybe her attendance at this conference was planned and arranged many months prior, but would it be completely unheard of to cancel a cameo because your paper's having crisis?Especially, when whatever conference you would be attending is likely full of talk about the newspaper business or at least journalism, both of which are best practiced actively rather than in theory. 

Yet, even in theory--in a hypothetical situation, it does seem like Ms. Charlotte Hall should be (A)  at the Sentinel, instead of (B) at some conference. By definition, an editor is responsible for guiding their staff and the paper through dicey situations. The national coverage of cutbacks at the paper and the management's covering up of those cutbacks seems like a dicey situation. So, it seems like she should be present right now.

But, she's gone and I don't foresee anyone commanding her to return immediately. Therefore, she will remain gone until next week, when she's hopefully helping guide that long awaited "Sentinel cutbacks" report.

Still is it really fair that Ms.Hall can brandish a "get out of jail free" card, while everyone else remains in fear behind bars?

Monday, July 21, 2008

What If?

What if we didn't feel like waiting until the Sentinel decides to publish what will probably be a very sterile report on their "cutbacks"? What if we wanted the report this week? 

What if we didn't have to accept the polished spin they'll likely put on the story as "their word" on the changes? What if we wanted to hear "the report" straight from the mouths of the Orlando Sentinel's management?

What if we could have a dialogue with them rather than a monologue from them?

What if you could ask the Sentinel's management anything about the cutbacks, the changes and the clandestine way they've gone about them?

What would you ask? 

Share your question(s) in the comments or here: shrinkingsentinel@yahoo.com

Editors in study say shrinking newsrooms damages quality of journalism


Editors in study say shrinking newsrooms damages quality of journalism.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Coming Clean Pt.1: Admitting Heavy Vacations

As previously mentioned the Sentinel management is taking "baby steps" toward honesty. This memo that was to their staff is their first shot at it:
Winefordner moves to Ed Board 7/17/2008

Terri Winefordner is moving from her role as Assistant Features News Editor to the Editorial Board, where she will be in charge of Op-ed content and Letters to the Editor. Terri already has begun training and will assume her new role on Monday. Senior Reporter Mary Shanklin also is helping out with the Editorial Board during a period of heavy vacations. Mary previously worked on the Ed Board.

What are heavy vacations?

Are "heavy vacations" what happens when the size of your editorial board goes from 12 people to 4 people? Because if so, I had no idea that leaving the newspaper forever was considered a vacation.

News to me!

Sentinel management comes clean?

There's nothing like being called out by a leading trade magazine's website, or at least apparently there's nothing quite like that to the Orlando Sentinel management. Just one article in Editor & Publisher (that heavyily cited blogs "leaking" what shouldn't have needed to be leaked) and they seem to have change their tune.

In less than 24 hours the revised statements below were issued to Editor & Publisher :
an update from Editor and Publisher:'

Orlando Sentinel' Publisher Acknowledges Newsroom Cuts
By Joe Strupp
Published: July 18, 2008 1:00 PM ET

NEW YORK Orlando Sentinel Publisher Howard Greenberg acknowledged that the newspaper is cutting 20% of the newsroom, contradicting a newspaper spokesperson's earlier comment that no cuts were planned.

"We have announced a reduction in force to our newsroom staff in Orlando," Greenberg told E&P Friday. Employees, he added, "have been told about the reduction in force."

Greenberg's comments followed E&P's report Thursday that 20% of the 250-plus newsroom would lose jobs by the end of July, with about 20 being informed this week of the cuts. The reduction includes both layoffs and voluntary departures and a severance package of two weeks' pay for each year of service.

On Thursday, Editor Charlotte Hall declined to comment about the cuts, refering calls to Lisa Jacobsen, a human resources and marketing spokesperson. She told E&P that no cuts were planned "at this time."

Greenberg said that there was a miscommunication and that E&P should have been told that no cuts beyond the 20% in the newsroom were planned. He said the staff had been told about the cutbacks, but not each individual.

"We are in the middle of the process," said Greenberg, who is also publisher of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. He added that not all employees who are being terminated have been notified. "What Lisa should have said is that we have no further reductions planned beyond that."

Numerous staffers had objected to the paper's lack of public disclosure about the cuts.

Asked why the Sentinel, a Tribune Co. paper, had not publicly revealed the job cut plans to readers prior to making them, as most papers do, Greenberg said: "We chose to do it the way we did. Unfortunately, there was a mistake."

The publisher said that the paper would publicly report the cutbacks at the end of July when they are completed. He also said that cuts in other departments would occur, but had no specifics.

Also, included in the new Editor & Publisher article was part of the memo below:
From: Hall, Charlotte H
Sent: Friday, July 18, 2008 12:17 PM
To: OSC DL Editorial
Subject: Update

To All:
This has been a tough week for all of us. We have lost valued colleagues and talented journalists. We want to update you on the terminations.

As we told you two weeks ago, about 20 percent of positions in the newsroom would be eliminated. Seven of those positions are currently vacant. The open positions and people who asked for the severance package will make up about 70 percent of the job eliminations. Sixteen staff members were terminated this week, with 10 of them seeking the package.

As you know, we have another round of cuts coming at the end of the month, and numbers can change up to the last minute. At that time, we will do a news story when the process is complete.

We do not release the names of those leaving the Sentinel. That has been our longstanding company policy and is grounded in respect for the privacy of those terminated employees.

Unfortunately, Lisa Jacobsen's comments to E&P were taken out of context and, therefore, did not reflect the situation accurately.

Thanks for your commitment to producing compelling journalism. If you have any questions, please ask one of us.

Charlotte and Russ

Isn't that heartwarming?

Now, about three weeks after news of buyouts/layoffs broke, Sentinel management has finally decided to acknowledge the changes. They've finally decided to air out their own laundry, even though we (you, me and everyone we know) have already taken long whiffs of their stench. The memo to the staff even had the nerve to claim to "want to update you on the terminations". Who was updated by that? Who thinks they even cared that anyone was updated?

But efficiently updating staff isn't what's important, right?

What's important is that the Sentinel management claims they'll publicly disclose "the cutbacks". What they won't disclose are any future "cutbacks" (that seem like they are on the horizon). They'll probably skip the parts about penny pinching on employee expenses. The fact some positions were completely eliminated will probably be glossed over. And they'll probably in no way address any of the sentiments about the redesign, which is doing nearly as much damage to the paper as the layoffs. But, I'm sure the "next" report in about 2011 will include all that too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sentinel PR plan: Delusion

I have recently realized the error of my views about the current Sentinel and will now atone for the nonsense that I've had the misfortune of posting.

False Alarm, everybody! All is well at the Orlando Sentinel.

In a story from Editor & Publisher, Lisa Jacobsen, a human resources and communications consultant at the Sentinel, insisted that "no cutbacks are planned at this time". "Nothing is happening, and nothing is planned," she assured everyone who it could possibly concern. Jacobsen would also like everyone to know that when dealing with any other source of information about the Sentinel: "There is a lot of misinformation out there."

I, personally, would like to thank Lisa Jacobsen for her honesty, relevance and for setting the record straight. These traits seem so common among people who are spokespersons for the Orlando Sentinel.

In fact, today I went to a Public Relations event where actual Sentinel staff were so kind as to grace the room with their presence. In particular, Recruitment & Staff Development Editor, Dana Eagles gave invaluable advice. When asked how to connect with reporters in the midst of newsroom changes, he recalled that if one is in PR "they should already know that reporter."

He also quelled any irrational concerns I had about the paper's consolidation of sections by noting that the Local & State is not attached to the entertainment section. In fact, there is no entertainment section! That's just a comics page stuck on the back of Local & State on Monday. Mr. Eagles assured me that the Friday Calendar section is where the entertainment news belongs. That's good because I was worried having to see celebrities on the front page everyday.

Business columnist, Beth Kassab, was a bit more of a downer, admitting that Volusia and Polk counties may not be left with anymore business reporters. But, she was more than sure that the business section would still be left with enough reporters to adequately cover local companies. As far as the layout, Kassab was a cheerleader for changes and rightfully so, because according to her, all the business section lost was some stock listings. The good news, according to Kassab, is the business section gained a blog. Now, Kassab can report any good PR stories that for some unknown reason could not fit in the paper.

So, it seems that despite all we've heard, it's just another day in paradise at the Sentinel. Sorry for all the misinformation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A closer look at Sentinel's numbers

Yesterday was a big day of loss at the Orlando Sentinel, but only one of many previous days. Whether the Sentinel's management wants you to know it or not the newspaper (newsroom, editorial board and all) has been shrinking for a while now. 

To put things in perspective: When the newspaper first moved into its current location at 633 N. Orange Ave, they had 1,200 employees. About 4-5 years ago, the paper had a staff of 1,300 people. Currently, the Orlando Sentinel as an entire paper has less than 1000 employees and a staff of less 250 people in its newsroom.

Along with loss of employees, most people would think its fair to say the Sentinel's circulation has shrunk as well. Yet, on the front page the paper boasts "reaching 1.2 million weekly in print and online". While, it can be noted that the same subscript used to say 1.3 million (so it reflects some change), the numbers are still questionable. 

In the newspaper business, the numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) are pretty much the only ones that matter. Those are basically the numbers that matter to advertisers and basically the only definite numbers of a paper's readership. It can be assumed that more than one person read each copy of the newspaper, but nobody has any proof. In the Sentinel's case the only proven number of readers- its circulation- were recorded by the ABC as follows:
Monday- Friday: 227,593
Saturday: 225,275
Sunday: 332,030

No matter which way you use the averages of those numbers, you do not get anything near to 1.2 million people definitely reading the paper.

Yet, the Sentinel is most likely boasting its readership (an indefinite number). The paper admittedly includes people (reading, randomly clicking) online in its readership, which could work if those people read the online version as a newspaper. But how can anyone tell? How does the OrlandoSentinel.com know whether these people are actual readers? Are they counting computer cookies? If so, then aren't one time vistors and people checking backlinks being included in readership? How many stories does a visitors have to read to be counted as readership? Do they even make sure those people read any stories? 

I would love to know how their boasted readership is calculated. Because if they are being at all loose with numbers, then that's a big fat mislead on the top of the newspaper.

So, who are these 1.2 million?


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Under Rug Swept

The axe is officially swinging at the Orlando Sentinel. Unfortunately, this is only the first of two (known) swipes it will take. 

Today was a scary day for the government team, the business team, and the 'How We Live' team, as they prayed to avoid the blade. But whether they perished or survived will never be officially confirmed through any special memo. In a few staff meetings, Editor Charlotte Hall acknowledged that around 20 percent of the 250 employee newsroom will be scrapped in the near future. But anyone not in one of those particular meetings at those particular times will likely never get anything close to an admission from her or any of the Sentinel management. Yet, Charlotte Hall is also the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors- a group that is steadfast about making sure nobody (government, businesses, journalists) hides anything.

Does that seem a little odd?

Apparently, at the Orlando Sentinel the ASNE's ethos don't apply.

According to sources these are the Sentinel's secret casualties:
Maya Bell
Christopher Boyd
Dee Gugel
Mary Ann Horne
Scott Joseph
John Kennedy
Tammy Lytle
Babita Persaud
Mark Pinsky
Tim Povtak
Lyndsay Sutton
Harry Wessel
Claudia Zequeria

*Allegedly, in a couple of weeks the breaking news team and the communities team (among others) will know their fates as well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Observe, I will turn your editorial page into a cartoon

*From a post by Lee Abrams, on the internal Tribune blog

(Lee Abrams, victim of verbal diarrhea and Chief Officer of Innovation for the Tribune Company)

EDITORIAL PAGES:

I wonder if you need them in their current form. They take up a lot of space and they tend to be cumbersome in an era where there's so much of it on TV and the Web. But let’s assume that they do serve a purpose. Some thoughts;

There are no examples that a REALLY dead on the money. Even Overseas, they are either non existent or more of the same.

Suggestions:

*Re-brand it as "OBSERVATIONS" instead of "editorials". A wider spanning forum for opinion.

*Turn the format over to design team for a re-think on the look.

*Here's how I’d envision the page;

--A photo that capsulate the topic at hand to draw people in. Could be a cartoon. But front and center. Big.

--Then in very eye friendly manner, headings: ((Jackson Obama as example)

THE ISSUE: JESSIE JACKSON vs.. OBAMA

POINT: A "Jessie is Right" opinion

COUNTERPOINT: A Jessie is nuts" opinion

THE LOCAL OPINION: A web based survey ILLUSTRATING what YOUR community thinks. GRAPHICS!!!

THE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: Headlines from newspapers around the globe, nation or region.

WHAT WE THINK: A SHORT overview of the newspapers' opinion.

If you do this EVERY DAY, you’ll see far greater interest in the page...an easy to read, but smart page, a page that is truly a centerpiece of opinion from all corners...a more compelling read that includes ALL key viewpoints that will alleviate your "bias" perception

....and of course a blatantly obvious drive to the web for more discussion.

...and keeping everything in that zone between eletist and in your face. If Newspapers were radio you'd want to be in a smart place between CSPAN/NPR (Smart but very limited) and some Goofy Top 40 station that is annoying to anyone over 13. If it were music, a place between a hard core classical piece and a fleeting junk culture hit. This "intellectual positioning can keep you MASS APPEAL...but also smart.

Lie and shut up those complainers

* This is a memo sent by Steve Doyle to Orlando Sentinel editors and other staffers who are receiving calls from readers. How's this for customer service?

Everyone,

Below you will find a Q&A we have created for your use in dealing with readers/subscribers who may call or write about the redesigned Sentinel.
This document deals only with the changes that will occur on June 22.
Subsequent changes in the newspaper will call for a revised version, which we shall develop and circulate, too.
Dana Eagles will be the point person for a complainer who MUST speak with someone else.We also are developing a special e-mail box. That address will be forthcoming.
If you field and process complaints, please compile them into a tally and send it to Dana and me.
So please look this over, and if you have any questions, let me know.You should also feel free to share this with any coworker you think needs to see it.

Thanks,
Steve

Steven Doyle 

Associate Managing Editor/Content Development 

Orlando Sentinel and OrlandoSentinel.com 
407.420.5396


Redesign Q&A for telephone personnel:

Sunday
Where’ s the Good Living section?
Good Living no longer exists as a weekly section. Some parts of it – the entertainment parts, such as the restaurant review and the Books page, and Dear Abby – have moved inwith the Travel content in a new section for leisure activities called “Travel & Arts.”

Monday
Where are Doonesbury and Mallard Filmore (comics on the Other Views page)?

We have redesigned that page and moved the comics into the daily Features package. They appear in The Law & You today (Monday) and will be in Health & Fitness, Cooking & Eating, Style & Trends and Home Fix-Up through the week. On Saturday they will be published inside Local News.

All days
Why did you change the name of (pick one) Local & State, Sports, Central Florida Business?
We altered the names to reflect more clearly the content of each of those sections.

Why are there so many short stories in the paper?
Readers have told us they want our help in presenting some news stories – not all of them – in forms that will help them find information more quickly. You’ll see a variety of these approaches, some of them more visual than others.

Why are you “dumbing down” the paper?
We aren’t “dumbing down” the paper. In fact, we are trying to make it smarter – and make you smarter in the process. We are including more information in easier-to-digest formats that help readers. Something may be more visual or shorter, but it may be smarter to handle the information that way.

Your paper is nothing but photos and graphics and soft stuff.
Our goal was to make the paper more visually appealing, help readers find quickly they information they want and to create energy and easier-to-sort information.

Why did you do this?
Readers are busy and get their news in lots of formats. We want to explain the straightforward stories in simpler terms. We also want to showcase a grater variety of voices.

Why are you putting columnists on Page A1?
That’s part of introducing new voices. Readers like columns, and when one of our writers has an issue that we think is of high interest, we’ll either reference that column from the front page or even start the column itself out there. Mike Thomas, Scott Maxwell, Beth Kassab, Mike Bianchi and David Whitley are only a few of the writers whose work might appear there.

Are you abandoning running in-depth stories?
Not at all. Exclusive, investigative and watchdog journalism – serving readers by informing them about our communities – are still the hallmarks of the newspaper. You will likely see more of that; not less.

Why are there so many local stories on your front page?
World and national news belongs there.Page A1 is for the best stories of the day, and local news is the newspaper’s franchise.Readers tell us that local news is the No. 1 reason they read the paper, and Page A1 should represent the most important and the most interesting of the local news report each day. National and world stories will appear there, but they also sometimes will be there with a local perspective on them.

Why are the Editorial and Opinion pages different?
Some of the change there was just to offer a freshened presentation of opinion. But more readers’ letters and comments are being added to broaden the voices represented.

Why are you putting blogs in the paper?
I thought they were for the Internet.You’re right that blogs are a key part of today’s news distribution on the Web, and the Sentinel staff provides /// blogs every day on OrlandoSentinel.com. Much of that material has not found its way into the paper, so by publishing blog excerpts and comments daily, readers get to see new material they might have missed.

Do you really think this is going to help declining circulation and readership?
The Sentinel’s circulation is rising, and it serves its largest audience ever. In fact, combined with OrlandoSentinel.com, the Sentinel reaches 1.3 million Central Floridians each week, more than any other newspaper in the state.

How can I comment to the editors?
We have asset up an e-mail box to receive your questions and comments. You can write in at newsentinel@orlandosentinel.com. An editor will review what you have to say and respond as necessary.

Why Did Sentinel Run Demings' Critique of Orlando Weekly article?

Today's Orlando Sentinel (July 13) ran a My Word column by Orlando Police Chief Val Demings: "OPD chief: We're not perfect, but ..." 

It's not unusual for the Sentinel to run columns by local officials. (My suspicion has always been that these columns are ghostwritten by press flacks.) 

This is the first time, however, that I can recall the Sentinel running a My Word RESPONDING TO AN ARTICLE THAT RAN IN ANOTHER PUBLICATION!  Yes, that's right, the Sentinel gave Demings (or her "ghost") several inches of precious column space to critique an article that ran in the Orlando Weekly's July 10 issue. That piece, "Might Makes Right" by staff writer Jeff Billman was a well-reported and well-written exposé of abuse --involving the use of excessive force and Tasers--of citizens by Orlando police officers and the department's abysmal failure to properly investigate complaints to its Internal Affairs Section about this abuse and OPD's unconscionable failure to discipline its officers when they are found to have behaved inappropriately. (Of course, this would require that the department properly investigate these cases to begin with rather than whitewashing them. It usually takes media coverage and lawsuits before OPD even begins to take allegations against its officers half-seriously and sanctions them in any way, even if it is just suspending them with pay while the investigation is happening.)

Naturally, Demings and other higher-ups in the department took umbrage at this article. It certainly is embarrassing for the department (but is well deserved in my opinion). Of course they want to do what they can cosmetically to repair the damage, but why did the Sentinel allow them to do this on its opinion page? 

Bob Whitby, the editor of the Weekly, is a friend of mine, and i consider him to be a fair-minded journalist. I am sure he would have been glad to run a letter from Demings or to run a column by her in response to the article. 

Ironically, Demings' article only serves to bring more attention to the allegations (at least indirectly by highlighting the 98 complaints of excessive force the OPD has received over 5 years, but without mentioning any of the disturbing details that the Weekly uncovered; let's just say that your chances of being assaulted in downtown Orlando on a Friday or Saturday night by an OPD officer appear to be at least as great as  your chances of being victimized by a non-police officer). The Sentinel has a far louder voice and reach than the Weekly. The Sentinel's Sunday circulation in 2007 was 335,689 (it's probably lower now) vs. the Weekly's circulation of around 50,000. So possibly 7 times as many people now know that the OPD has some sort of problem policing its ranks as learned this from the Weekly article. (Of course, some copies of the Weekly are read by more than one person, but I don't have the figures for the "pass-along" rate.)  

Interestingly, Deming's piece didn't mention the Weekly by name; instead she referred to it twice as a "weekly publication," so some readers undoubtedly were left scratching their heads as to the source of the article she was attempting to rebut (not successfully, in my opinion). Maybe Demings was scared that if she mentioned the name of the "weekly publication" that citizens might seek out the article so they could decide for themselves whether OPD's Internal Affairs investigators and the chief do indeed take abuse allegations "very, very, [sic] seriously" as she claimed. This was cowardly on the part of Demings and the Sentinel's editors. If you're going to criticize someone shouldn't you have the decency to mention them by name? Doesn't your audience deserve to know their name?

Not once did Demings claim that any of the information in the Weekly's article was inaccurate. Rather, she sought to contextualize the article by stating that the 98 claims of excessive force came from the "2,018,344 contacts with citizens" that OPD had between Jan. 1, 2003 and June 30, 2008. (I would like to know how OPD defines a "contact.") This ignores the possibility that for any of several valid reasons more than 98 citizens may have felt that they had suffered abuse at the hands of Orlando police but chose not to seek redress.

So why did the Sentinel, which once billed itself as "Florida's best newspaper," stoop this low? My guess is that it couldn't resist taking a shot at the Weekly, which in its Happytown column has been unsparing in its reporting and critiquing of the Sentinel's on-going lay-offs, its redesign and its news judgment.  The Sentinel doesn't look good here, considering that it allowed a surrogate to criticize the Weekly for reporting news that the Sentinel should be reporting in the first place. The Sentinel, to those who can connect the dots, looks childish and petty in this case.

Speaking of news that the Sentinel should be reporting, but isn't (at least so far): My understanding is that since January three videographers from Channel 9 (WFTV) have been arrested by OPD while at accidents or crime scenes, allegedly for "interfering" with the police while they performed their duties. Why hasn't this been reported by the Sentinel? Doesn't it need the First Amendment to be respected as much as Channel 9?

Ben Markeson is a local radical activist, a member of Orlando Food Not Bombs and Orlando CopWatch and "Orlando's favorite anarchist," according to the Weekly.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sentinel editors betray Central Florida

While you can't tell it from the Sentinel front page on most days, this is an election year.

Important offices from the Sheriff to the President will be on the ballot. The Sentinel's ability to cover these races in a meaningful way will demonstrate whether the paper can retain its credibility.

As a Sentinel alum I can tell you that in years gone by we took political coverage seriously. Every election cycle the editorial board interviewed hundreds of candidates for endorsements. Reporters wrote profiles on all candidates and really covered the hot races. While our coverage and endorsements were far from perfect, they did provide a service to voters who wanted to make responsible choices on their ballot.

After the Sentinel gets done with its cuts and buyouts in July, will it have the capacity -- in terms of staff and institutional knowledge -- to cover the elections?

I spent 18 years on the editorial board and I probably know more than most average people about government and issues, yet I'm hard pressed to find out much about the candidates whose names will be on the ballot. I count on the newspaper to keep me informed. Yet on most days the Sentinel averages six bylined stories in the local section. If the Sentinel's coverage area was the size of Key West, perhaps that would be OK. But the Sentinel covers a sprawling, diverse metropolitan area. Instead of news most days they give us celebrity gossip that's best left to Entertainment Tonight.

I feel awful for my friends who trudge to 633 N. Orange Ave. wondering if they will still have a job at the end of the day. I feel worse for my community. We really do count on the Sentinel to keep us informed and to keep heat on the politicians. Yet we've been kicked in the butt by Sam Zell and betrayed by his management stooges who call themselves editors.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Death spiral memo

Sent: Friday, July 11, 2008 4:40 PM
To: OSC DL Management Update
Subject: A Message from Chief Financial Officer Robyn Motley

Management Team,

As you know, advertising revenue has declined significantly year over year. In addition, substantially higher newsprint prices and fuel costs have negatively impacted our operating cash flow.

Teams across the company have responded by implementing both revenue and cost containment initiatives and we applaud their efforts, which have helped stem the tide. However, the advertising outlook for the balance of the year remains challenging, and we don’t see newsprint or fuel prices reversing any time soon. Therefore, effective immediately, we are calling on each of you to significantly reduce, and eliminate where possible, all discretionary spending, defined as that which does not generate revenue or impact our ability to publish or deliver our products.

The list of discretionary expenses outlined below is by no means all-inclusive. Please review all expenses and use your best judgment about which line items, in addition to these, can be reduced or eliminated. While you may consider some of these reductions to be relatively insignificant, collectively they will add up to substantial savings. It is also essential everyone uses the same good judgment. So, we would ask managers and supervisors to communicate the same expectation to their staff, especially those who hold PCards and AMEX cards.

While these more stringent cost containment efforts are to begin immediately, over the next few weeks, each Director will work with his/her staff and budget analyst to project potential savings for the balance of the year.

Cost Containment Initiatives:

· Reduce total labor expense, defined as the total of regular pay, overtime, temp help, freelance and contractor expense.
· Significantly reduce or eliminate employee/employee entertainment. Reduce or eliminate all other entertainment except customer entertainment.
· Reduce business travel and mileage expense except for customer visits and editorial coverage.
· Reduce conference fees and the related travel expense by sending fewer people.
· Eliminate business gifts except for those pre-approved by division VP.
· Eliminate company events, except employee recognition meetings/events.
· Significantly reduce or eliminate food and beverage at employee-only meetings.
· Reduce dues and subscriptions.
· Flower arrangements should not be budgeted, but absorbed in the budget, if warranted.
· Reduce outside training, opting instead for in-house training or training the trainer.
· All company memberships must be approved by the CFO before renewal.
· Review cell phone/PDA expense to ensure that charges are correct and that company issued devices are still warranted for all employees listed.
· Consolidate and reduce office supplies proportionate to recent FTE reductions.
· Any expense that is eligible must be capitalized, and all capital must be approved by the CEO.
· Above all, challenge the status quo by assessing the business benefit of all expenditures. Spend only what is necessary, not necessarily what’s in your budget.

Our management team has a long history of quickly responding to challenges such as the one we currently face, and I have every confidence that we will again meet this challenge. Thank you in advance for your help and please do not hesitate to contact Doug Vance or me if you have any questions or require additional clarification

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Big Idea






Despite how it may seem this blog is not a Sentinel slam party. We are not calling for the Sentinel to cease its existence, but rather to cease its existence as a shoddy paper. The things that are said in this blog are said in hopes of sharing frustration, calling out for change, and calling out the Orlando Sentinel (and its owners) on its current product in hopes that they will take a little notice of the city. 

That said, all people posting here want very much to have a local paper and think it would a travesty for the city to be without one. But, we don't want just any scraps of newsprint to call itself our paper. The authors of this blog want a paper that cares about the community enough to investigate, cares about journalism enough to report real news and cares about the residents enough not to insult our intelligence with a tabloid-esque newspaper. We want a real newspaper, one that doesn't place a headline about stiletto heels above its title. (See today's paper)

So, if you share these sentiments and would like to share them in writing here, you are more than welcome to do so. Whether you are a journalist, a former journalist, a subscriber, an ex- subscriber, or anyone who has a few choice words to say about our paper, you are welcome to post here. Simply leave your e-mail address so I can add you to the contributors and then say your piece.

Thanks,
Kai


The Slogan Says It All?

(Ben Markeson)

Not too many years ago, the Orlando Sentinel proudly carried the slogan "The Best Newspaper in Florida" upon its masthead. The Sentinel-no offense intended to anyone who worked there-probably never was the best newspaper in Florida (that honor belongs to the St. Petersburg Times). However, that slogan bespoke an aspiration, maybe even a commitment, to become the best newspaper in Florida. It also signaled that the paper believed in trying to do the best possible journalism it could, in giving something of value and worth to the community (rather than just seeing it as a profit center) because that community-not limited solely to its paying readers-deserved a non-partisan institution that would report on important happenings in the community fully and fairly and would always strive through its editorial voice to uphold what it considered the best interests of the community (not that its was always right ; the most egregious case in recent memory being its fervent support for the obscenely expensive and unnecessary new venues).

Fast forward to today's new, redesigned Sentinel. What slogan now adorns its new shrunken masthead? "Reaching 1.2 million people weekly in print and online." So now a public commitment to journalism has been replaced with bragging about the shrinking newspaper's market share. And the claim about the size of that has already shrunk. In the initial days of the redesign it was 1.3 million people, but that was soon changed to 1.2 million. (How many of them are cancellations of subscribers who feel cheated by the new Sentinel is anyone's guess.) This new slogan begs the question of why should a Sentinel reader care about how many others do the same? Is that how the quality of something is supposed to be measured, by how many people consume it? This is pathetic, but it baldly reflects the new money-grubbing, penny-pinching corporate mentality of Sam Zell and his hirelings. And it shows how their takeover of an important community institution has impoverished our community.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Political field day

Orlando area politicians are set to have a field day because there is no way that the Sentinel editorial board will be able interview candidates for endorsements.

I know this because I sat on the edit board for 18 years. While there were several endorsements that I didn't personally agree with, I can tell you that many truly bad people -- stupid, corrupt, etc. did not get the endorsement and did not get elected.

I personally had a role in stopping a few candidates who were downright dangerous.

Beyond the edit pages, does anyone really expect whatever remains of the Sentinel staff to give the public any useful information on the candidates.

Crooked politicians are dancing in the streets!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Once upon a time

(David Porter, a former Sentinel columnist)


There was a time when The Orlando Sentinel was a great newspaper.


Item: Back in 1984 when I came to work at the Sentinel Reporter Lou Trager uncovered a case of business fraud that sent one of Orlando's most prominent families to federal prison. The Champ Williams family controlled all food sold at the airport. Under their concession agreement with the city, which owns the airport, Champ was supposed to give the city a percentage of the airport sales. Instead they simply never rang up some sales and pocketed the extra money.

Actually they didn't pocket the money they converted it to gold coins in buried them in the backyard. As you might guess, they didn't count these`ill gotten gains as income. When Trager exposed the fraud the family ended up in the pokey.

Lou Trager and his editors didn't worry about byline counts, or blogs or writing the story in 10 inches. All they worried about was great journalism.

Item: A team of Sentinel reporters exposed a dirty secret in the local home building industry. Many of the newly built homes were poorly constructed and local building inspectors were doing a piss poor job of ensuring that the building code was followed.

Tens of thousands of Central Floridians were affected by problems with their newly built homes. Many home builders were so infuriated by being exposed by their stories that they canceled their advertising in the paper.

Sam Zell's gang has already proven that they care too much about advertising to allow crusading journalism get into the newspaper again.

Item: One of the proudest chapters of my career is when I got to work with Seminole County reporter Gary Taylor, who at this writing is still at the paper, when we exposed gross mismanagement and probable fraud at the Sanford Housing Authority.

Gary is an old time beat reporter who knows his city like the back of his hand.

The Sanford projects were just about falling down, the board overseeing the projects completely ignored the conditions. Gary wrote stories and I wrote editorials and columns about the horrible conditions in the projects. One day I accompanied a tenant on a tour of the projects. I brought a camera and photographed the horrible conditions that people were living in. We forced the federal government to come in, take over the projects and make badly needed repairs -- something that the federal government has done only a half dozen times in the past 20 years.

Through our actions we improved the living conditions for more than 1,000 tenants of Sanford public housing.

Sam Zell's crew shut down the Seminole County news bureaus so its impossible to do that kind of reporting in the future.

Too bad The Orlando Sentinel that I worked for no longer exist. It's not just bad for my friends who still work there. It's bad for this community.

Orlando Sentinel - R.I.P.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

So True

I found this post while trying to look for other blogs mentioning the Sentinel's ugly new mug. The entry by Howard Owens basically says that the people who really even consider reading the newspaper are the people who like to read the newspaper. These 'newspaper people' don't read for an edition of the CNN news ticker style on paper. They read because they enjoy the general format of a newspaper: important in-depth stories, sections with real focus on their categories. Along the way, Owen's post pretty much puts to shame the views of the Sentinel's management (according The Wall Street Journal) which range from:

Sentinel Editor, Charlotte Hall proclaiming "our community is very fast moving, very modern it's changing. We need to have a paper like that too."

To Tribune owner, Sam Zell believing the paper is not catching enough of  "readers used to the pizzazz and immediacy of the Web."

So, although the post is a few days old, I advise you to check it out and the Tribune to take notes.

Monday, June 30, 2008

You may be wondering what this is...




Allegedly, this is the front page of the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper's title says it is the Orlando Sentinel. It arrived at the time and place of the Sentinel. It's even owned by the company as the Sentinel. But this paper is not the Sentinel.

The Orlando Sentinel doesn't chop the Local & State section out of its Monday paper- which is arguably the most important issue. The paper I grew up reading doesn't have its sections color coded as if its entire readership is a gang of five year olds. The paper my family subscribed to valued its veteran journalists and didn't dismantle its editorial board. So, I have no idea what publication was delivered to my house and do not know who subscribed to it.

I know my family would never subscribe to the publication we received this morning, I know this because we are a newspaper family. 

For 22 years, my father wrote for the Orlando Sentinel, for 22 years he could not imagine working in any other field. My father never won any journalism awards nor did he apply for any, but he helped call attention to some issues. He maybe even helped get a few laws changed. His columns never ceased to be thought provoking, whether it provoked clear thinking or death threats. My father left the newspaper business a few years ago. About 2 years ago, he could tell that things were going to turn  rotten. At the time, most of the family thought he was leaving because he didn't like his boss, but within months we found he narrowly escaped unemployment. The Orlando Sentinel was downsizing.

Apparently, in newspaper speak (or even better their parent company : Tribune Speak) downsizing meant plucking apart the Editorial Board (as well as the newsroom). Quickly laid off were numerous family friends, quickly descending was the quality of the paper. 

My thoughts regarding the quality of the paper could be seen as bitter, if not for the fact reader subscriptions were in fact dropping. For some readers the columns that disappeared might have been their reason for reading or maybe even the sign that the Orlando Sentinel still cared about breaking news. I've always had the principle instilled in me: that journalism existed to watch out for the people. My father believes a city without a local paper is a crooked politician or businessman's dream. My mother tells me journalism is essential to democracy. In fact, the definition of a sentinel is a lookout, a person employed to keep watch for some anticipated event. 

I find it hard to believe that a local newspaper that has ads on its front page and replaced 'Local and State' with 'The Law and You' is looking out for anything. And with more of the Orlando Sentinel's knowledgeable veterans being shown the door, I doubt anyone will get a chance to watch anything more than their own back. 

Still, I believe something can be done about the quality of the paper, I believe that something can wake up the management and the owner (Sam Zell, by way of the Tribune). That last line of defense is the reader. As readers we are being fed small blurbs of news/ psuedo-news  instead of a newspaper and for the same price as actual journalism. If you enjoy being treated like a child (or perhaps illiterate) by your city's paper, continue reading the Orlando Sentinel. If you feel that local politics and Molly Ringwald hold virtually the same importance, please continue reading the Sentinel. But if you find the Orlando Sentinel unreadable, trite and a downright mess, I urge you to pull your subscription.

Money is what the management at the Orlando Sentinel can hear.

Go ahead, call up that number to unsubscribe and let them know you've had enough.