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!
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. 

(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


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:

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 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)


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.


*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)


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 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?


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.


Steven Doyle 

Associate Managing Editor/Content Development 

Orlando Sentinel and 

Redesign Q&A for telephone personnel:

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.”

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 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, 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 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.


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.