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?


Anonymous said...

Arrogance doesn't die easily. But it must be difficult to be haughty in a virtually empty room.
Let's hear it for Mr. Eagles, lord of the barren newsroom.
(Good luck with that recruiting thing.)

Anonymous said...

Me thinks the "Grave Dancer" is about to fall in the grave for the first time.

Honorary shovelers will be all the "involuntarily separated" and "buyout" Tribune employees.

Enjoy pushing up the weeds Sammy

Anonymous said...

Perhaps other sources will fill the void the Sentinel has itself created. It's called competition.

I feel for the employees still there and struggling for their livelihood. But having taken a "voluntary" buyout, I'm struggling now, too.

Anonymous said...

back in the day, Dana was known as "The Tube," because, unlike other editors, who would stand up for the interests of reporters, he'd just let things zip right through like a laxative. Lafferty was known as Mini-me, for his sycophantic tendency to emulate Dana ... right down to the way they dressed. (Lafferty used to tell his reporters "I'm behind you." Now we know he was using them as human shields)

Anonymous said...

I thought everyone knew by now that Commander Coconut is Dean Johnson...

Nancy Imperiale said...

Kai: I'm so sorry they were rude to you and wouldn't answer your questions.

They act that way a lot to visitors. I had a friend who tried to visit the ed board -- at the ed board's request! -- and the ed board leader at the time was so rude and condescending my friend will never go back.

Now you have a little inkling of how much worse they treat their own employees. Which is why some of us are so cah-razy!

A little background on Commander Coconut: His name is Dean Johnson and he is the loveliest man in the world and he has been fighting the good fight against management arrogance since before you were born. Truly!

The Commander's only weapons are irony and smarts, so don't be misled by his sarcasm. He's trying to get the word out to readers too, in his own Commander way.

They have been trying to muzzle his column for decades. They'll probably now tell him he can't write about the size of the paper.

He has retired from the paper but I would be sad to see his column go, because to me, Dean Johnson IS the Orlando Sentinel. What it used to be, anyhow.

Bravo for the Commander! May his voice ring forever!

And you too, Kai. You're a brave and civil person. If Charlotte were smart, she'd sit down and do a Q&A for your blog.

But see, that's why the paper and its entire management system has failed. Because it doesn't even have that little INKLING of a clue.

Anybody who speaks the truth is blogging now, Kai. That's the new reality. And no more messy newsprint.

I wish you the best. You would make a helluva good reporter!

Itch2scratch said...

i would caution using full proper names here. you could say Laff or Dana or whomever and make the same point. life is long. search is forever and it gets better every year. some of these people will need loans, jobs, donated organs etc. in the future and don't need a diss from the past looming up.
speak candidly, speak freely but lose the full name. we all know who russ is etc.

Anonymous said...

Your right, the Sentinel is a business and needs to listen to both categories of customers and advertisers. If one or both figures out that the Sentinel is not an "essential part of your day", turn out the lights the party is over. Do you really think the talk about subscribers leaving is new? The arrogance talk is kinda hypocritical because for years the paper has been (and still does)telling the community what it wants instead of listening to the people and giving them what they desire. The Sentinel does what's easiest for them to produce and make money on, in place of deliving things the public actually wants to read.

Stan said...

2 things:

- I moved to Winter Park from Long Island in 1965 at age 10 & started reading the paper when I was 13. There were columns in the O'do Evening Star with Dean Johnson's photo in which He wore Buddy Holly-style glasses. The way I knew Dean is Coconut: the writing is just as pedestrian as it was 40 yrs ago.

- My friend told Me that He simply stopped paying His subscription bill & that He did so nearly a year ago. Ever since then, His carrier has continued to deliver the paper to His home each morning.

[3rd thing]: Nancy Imperiale should stop apologizing to people for the actions of a giant media corporation.

Anonymous said...

In answer to Stan, I received the paper for a long while after I left the Sentinel. I had stopped paying for it too. I always wondered whether it was common. Seems like it may be. What does that say about real circulation numbers?

Anonymous said...

After 9 years, I finally cancelled my subscription to the Orlando Sentinel- Shopper right after Scott Joseph left. It was time to send another check, and I couldn't really see a reason to do it anymore, in spite of getting 4 free papers nearly every week.
Someone from circulation called and offered me a 1/2 price Sunday only deal, so I'm back.
What can I say, I needed newspaper for cleaning windows, painting walls, etc. And the crossword puzzle is nice.
Read it? Read what?

Nancy Imperiale said...

Stan! How dare you, man? Apologize for the Sentinel? Me??

P.S. I prefer to think of the Commander as luminescent. You must not know him like I do.

cindy said...

we had almost the same experience as anon. After Scott Joseph left, our subscription came up for renewal. we hate the new look and the lack of substantive news so had made decision to stop the paper.

Only thing, the paper kept coming. So my husband called to find out why we were still getting it as we wanted to cancel. The rep asked why we wanted to cancel to which my husband replied, "we are very displeased with the new look of the paper"

The rep immediately offered to renew for half the price....well, ok, I guess we'll try that for a while.

I don't see how this is helping the sentinel with its budget issues.

the sentinel has lost a lot of talent in the last year.

we miss those of you who've left.

Anonymous said...

Commander Coconut is Dean Johnson who used to write his own column in the Sentinel.

Anonymous said...

I am a former Orlando Sentinel reporter (1973-77) and know many of the people referenced in this thread, including Dana E., who was a barely twenty-something intern when I was there. I hate to see anyone demonized in this way, though naturally I have no idea of what transpired between the poster and his/her contacts at the Sentinel. People do what they have to do to keep their jobs. It's a sad fact, but true.

The Sentinel was never a beacon of journalistic integrity, though there were some fine writers and reporters on the staff when I was there and probably in the years after. The newspaper's publisher and senior editors always pushed for positive spin on stories related to the corporate giants, specifically Disney, who were re-making the Orlando/Orange-Seminole-Osceola economy. I was once part of a team assigned to cover the food offerings at the then "new" airport (the one that preceded the behemoth that is there now) and our story was rejected for not being positive and upbeat enough, and our city editor went to the airport and reported on the lackluster food offerings with all the panache of a Guide Michelin entry.

And it's not only the Sentinel which has declined in journalistic tenacity and ethics. Many, if not most papers are now part of corporate conglomerates interested only in the bottom line, and at the same time, they have had their heads in the sand for most of the digital revolution. The entire media landscape has changed and continues to morph at an implacable pace.

The decline of the Orlando "Slantinel," as it was jokingly called, is regrettable, but a little objectivity in the analysis of its demise would make your commentary more credible.