Tuesday, June 17, 2008

At the Raleigh N&O – pablum, anger, silence

Yesterday with long-rumored job cuts at McClatchy’s Raleigh News & Observer imminent, former N&O columnist G. D. Gearino posted: What’s up at the N&O? Don’t dare ask.

Gearino's post began:

It is one of the more appalling hypocrisies of the journalism business that the people who report on others typically cannot abide being the focus of reporting themselves.

This is not universally true, of course. Many news people are happy to talk to other reporters who call them.

But as a rule, the higher a journalist is in the hierarchy, the less inclined he or she is to cooperate with anyone who is so bold as to believe that news operations ought to be held to the same level of scrutiny as any other high-profile, important institution.

Consider the treatment Raleigh television station WRAL got when it dared to ask about pending staff cuts at the News & Observer:
Asked about layoffs, Felicia Gressette, vice president of marketing for the N&O who spoke on behalf of publisher Orage Quarles III, said, “We’re just not going to comment.”

When asked about other cost-cutting moves, Gressette noted: “Any changes will be announced in the N&O, not WRAL.com.”
Let me note that Gressette is a long-time journalist who a few years ago moved to the business side. Her contempt, not to mention the discourtesy to a fellow professional, is unmistakable in that exchange.

It also pulls back the curtain on a mindset that is precisely at odds with two of the fundamental principles of the business.

The first is the belief by journalists that theirs is a business which exists for the good of, and as a stand-in for, the public. They believe their work is a vital cog in the workings of a democratic society. If that’s true, then the converse is likewise true: A community has a stake in its newspaper that is greater than the stake it might have in any other local business. …

The second principle is the news industry’s belief in the importance of a free flow of information. Journalists spend their careers doing battle with powerful people who think news is a commodity which can be controlled, and the public should only know things when they decide to tell them.

Now we’ve reached that moment when the N&O baldly becomes one of those controllers of information. It’ll decide what you get to know, and when you get to know it. …
Gearino concluded:
The much-anticipated layoffs at the N&O, expected last week but delayed reportedly until this week, will be an opportunity for the paper’s management to treat readers as stakeholders, rather than sheep to be fed pablum.

Sadly, you should expect pablum.
Informed readers who’ve followed the N&O’s grossly biased, sometimes deliberately fraudulent and racially inflammatory Duke lacrosse coverage in Spring 2006 and its ongoing cover-up of the mistakes it made then are not surprised the N&O would serve pablum and much worse.

And how are things today at the N&O following yesterday's announcement of 70 job cuts?

I’m hearing from journalists friends there are mostly angry employees at the N&O with much of the anger based on employees' beliefs they're victims of mismanagement by senior editors and publisher Orage Quarles and have also been lied to.

Here from Gearino’s post thread are parts of two comments which state those beliefs:
Over a week ago I was sent a copy of what I was told was an email from [McClatchy sister paper] Charlotte Observer publisher Ann Caulkins which clearly hinted at impending job cuts.

I emailed Observer editor Rick Thames asking for confirmation of such an email from Caulkins. I never heard back.

Super management. What is really sad is all the good reporters who will take the fall for really poor performance from the masthead for several years now.
And this:
Orage has blatantly lied to the community newspapers for years.

“We’re cutting back expenses in Raleigh, just like you.”

Yeah right. While reporters on the fringe are having to use “comp time,” Raleigh blithely sends its features reporters to California and France to cover the important stories.
Those comments won’t surprise many of us who’ve been treated the same way by top N&O editors and Quarles.

I’m in a rush now, but this evening I’ll repost some of the N&O Arrogance series as well as Quarles' brush-off response to posts I provided him which contained extensive, documented data concerning the N&O’s use of Mike Nifong as an anonymous source for Ruth Sheehan’s Mar. 27, 2006 “Team’s silence is sickening” column.

Further along Gearino’s thread Walter Abbott asks:
We at LieStoppers need to know specifically who in the NandO newsroom lost their jobs.
Abbott's comment was followed by this one:
IAW Walter - let’s see the N&O publish a list. Who’s staying and who is gone?
At 5 PM ET I checked newsobverver.com and the N&O's Editors' Blog at which time there was only silence concerning who'd been axed and nothing about the separation packages they'd been offered.

Pablum anyone?

Gearino's entire post is here; the entire WRAL story's here.


Anonymous said...

And the MSM wonders why people are no longer interested in their so-called news reporting?

L.A. Times, Same day reporting:

Gay Marriage Opposed by a [Very Narrow] [19-Point] Margin

Obama’s [big win] in Oregon by a [16-point] margin

Anonymous said...

From Sportsjournalist.com, a Nando memo. Note Linda Williams' new roles:

From: John Drescher [drescher@newsobserver.com]
To: [Bloggers note: I redacted this.]
Subject: Newsroom news

As part of our cost cutting, the equivalent of 13 full-time jobs in the newsroom will be eliminated. Some of the jobs are held by part-timers. All told, 16 people employed in The N&O newsroom will be leaving. Their last day will be Friday, June 27. Each of these staffers has been notified, except for two part-timers who we are trying to reach.

The elimination of these jobs comes after six staff members accepted voluntary buyouts; the closing of our Greenville bureau and the elimination of the reporting job there; and the recent departures of several staff members whose jobs will go unfilled.

Also, to save money we will make major changes in our production schedules. We will have two editions – a state and a final. Our deadlines will be significantly earlier. Re-plating within an hour will enable us to catch two-thirds to three-fourths of the final edition. Nonetheless, we’ll have to develop new strategies to send our readers to newsobserver.com for late-breaking news and sports. One of the benefits of the new production schedule is that Life, etc., will be a live section for the Monday-through-Thursday papers. Friday’s Life will be printed in advance.

This new production schedule will cause us to shift our workdays ahead by an hour or two. Many daily newsroom meetings will be moved up accordingly. The department heads and senior editors will change the times of these meetings. We will go to this new production schedule on Saturday, June 28, for the next day’s paper. Without the savings from this new production schedule, we would have had to cut more jobs across the company and in the newsroom.

Also, we will have a far closer working relationship with The Charlotte Observer.
Several newsroom departments will merge under the leadership of one editor in either Raleigh or Charlotte. Please see the memo below from Observer Editor Rick Thames and me.

As announced previously, we will tighten the paper by merging the City & State and Business sections Tuesday through Saturday. On Mondays, we will add a page of business news that sets the agenda for the week ahead. These changes will start with the paper of Monday, June 30. On that day, we also will launch the new Monday front page. The Sunday Work & Money section will continue as it is.

This is a traumatic day. We are losing some good colleagues and it is painful to do so. I’ve also announced other changes that will fundamentally change the way we operate. I will answer questions in the newsroom at 5:30 pm today. Publisher Orage Quarles III is scheduled to answer questions in the newsroom at 5 pm Tuesday. (Orage is holding open meetings in the Disco today but they will be crowded. I urge you to attend Tuesday’s meeting in the newsroom instead.)

This process took too long. In recent weeks, under difficult circumstances, you have done remarkably well in focusing on the journalism and giving our readers strong reports in print and online. The difficulty will continue. We will be saying goodbye to some colleagues, then embarking upon more change than we’ve ever seen before. If we pull together, which I know we will, we can continue to gain readership and serve this community and state with the kind of public service journalism we have done for more than 100 years.

To: Employees, the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh
From: John Drescher; Rick Thames
Subj: New areas of collaboration
Date: June 16, 2008

The newsrooms of the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer have worked well together during the two years since the Observer became part of the McClatchy Company. That collaboration clearly has benefited readers of both newspapers.
As we realign resources for the future, we will now link the two newsrooms more tightly in four areas in which we clearly have much in common. By doing this, we expect both newspapers to do a better job for our communities than either could have done on its own. This added collaboration will also enable each newspaper to train more resources on content that is unique to its area.
Here are the areas of expanded cooperation:

∗ A new McClatchy capital bureau will serve both newspapers with coverage of state
government and other topics of statewide concern. Initially, this bureau will be comprised of five reporters from the N&O and two reporters from the Observer, all of whom now cover state government. Other reporters with beats that have statewide focus could join this team later. The bureau will be headed by Bill Krueger, who is now the N&O’s government editor. Krueger will report jointly to N&O Senior Editor Linda Williams and Observer Deputy Managing Editor Glenn Burkins.

This bureau will be based in the N&O’s building, but will operate separately from its newsroom.

∗ The two newspapers’ sports departments will merge into one department that will serve both papers. This department will be headed by Gary Schwab, a former Observer sports editor who is now that paper’s projects editor. Gary will report jointly to Observer Managing Editor Cheryl Carpenter and N&O Senior Editor Linda Williams. Schwab will be based in Charlotte, but will also spend time in Raleigh. Editors in both newsrooms
will continue directing sports coverage that is unique to their respective newspaper. With this new configuration, we expect to simultaneously eliminate duplication in coverage and maximize our ability to do sports enterprise.

∗ Our news research departments will merge to serve both newsrooms. This new department will be headed by Teresa Leonard, who now heads the N&O’s department. Leonard will report to Charlotte Newsroom Systems Editor Neil Mara and N&O Senior Editor Dan Barkin. The Observer’s Marion Paynter becomes the research
manager based in Charlotte. The N&O’s Denise Jones continues as research manager in Raleigh. Leonard will also be based in Raleigh. With this merger, both newsrooms will benefit from Raleigh’s capacity to provide research assistance seven days a week, as well as Charlotte’s deep expertise on background research and issues specific to South Carolina.

∗ The newsrooms’ features departments will work to develop several jointly produced sections that work equally well for both papers. These sections would strive to reduce duplication and, at the same time, retain the local flavor of each region. We believe that both readers and staff could benefit from this collaboration. You will hear more about these efforts in coming weeks.

These are bold moves for two outstanding newspapers. We believe that they will help ensure that these papers continue to set the standard for excellence in journalism across North Carolina for many years to come.

We also have many details yet to work out. For that, we’ll need your full support, talent, patience and problem-solving skills. So, please join in and help us now build on these ideas and make them a success.

In an era of stretched resources, our newspapers are very fortunate that we have this opportunity. There are few places in the United States where sister newspapers are as naturally aligned in terms of journalistic values and geography. We want to take full advantage of it for the benefit of all of our readers.