The newspaper business

You may have noticed that I’m taking a bit of a break. Well, it is Christmas, you know. It started yesterday. All that stuff that went on the several weeks before, with all the hubbub? That was Advent, not that you would be able to tell, going by the dictionary definition.

Yesterday, driving home from my parents’ house with the wife and a couple of our kids, the radio started telling me about the presidential election, noting that while most folks were taking a holiday, the campaigns were not, that in fact… at which point I changed the station. Like I wanted to hear about that. I wondered who they thought did want to hear the same rehash of an ongoing story at that moment.

Anyway, I will be somewhat disengaged for several more days. Next week, however, I expect to be going at double or triple speed, so if you go away, be sure to come back for the home stretch of the aforementioned story in which I am currently uninterested. I think it will be worth your while.

It’s not just the holidays that will be occupying me between now and then. My oldest daughter is expecting twins, and the medicos have decreed that they are to be born tomorrow — the 27th. I doubt that I will be thinking about the blog with such excitement as that going on.

Anyway, I wish an excellent time between now and the New Year to you and yours.

Oh, yes — the reason I started this post was to share something with you. I noticed that Gordon and Karen were discussing the newspaper business back on this post. As it happens, The Wall Street Journal had as its most prominent front-page headline this morning (not technically its lead story, although a layman might be forgiven for mistaking it for that) a story about the company that owns my newspaper. Here’s a link, and here’s an excerpt:

Despite Woes, McClatchy
Banks on Newspapers

Family-Controlled Chain
Faces Internet Challenge;

Mr. Pruitt Keeps Faith
December 26, 2007; Page A1

SACRAMENTO — In the beleaguered newspaper industry, one chief executive has long stood out as the golden boy: Gary Pruitt. He skillfully managed the McClatchy Co. chain and last year engineered the $4.6 billion takeover of Knight Ridder Inc., one of the largest in the history of the business.
    But since the beginning of 2006, Mr. Pruitt’s company has lost $1.46 billion and seen its stock price plunge 78%, exceeding the carnage at most newspaper companies. Still, when members of the board and the controlling family privately discussed Mr. Pruitt’s future last month, they unanimously supported the man who brought McClatchy to this juncture.
    "We have the best person in place to get us through some of these turbulent times," says Kevin McClatchy, a descendant of the company’s founder. Board member Larry Jinks says the entire board expects Mr. Pruitt "to be the CEO into the future."…
    Mr. Pruitt is one of the last true believers in the financial power of the press. He says he expects McClatchy to recover from its slump, with the help of a new deal with Yahoo Inc. aimed at driving visitors and ads to his newspapers’ Web sites. He plans to sell off some nonnewspaper operations and to continue a cost-control strategy that has so far spared reporters’ jobs, a McClatchy hallmark….

There were no surprises in the story for me, of course, except one. I did not realize that Larry Jinks — the guy I sent my resume to when I first went to work for a Knight Ridder paper back in 1985 — was now on the board of McClatchy. Shows how little I pay attention to what goes on at corporate. Well, now I know.

69 thoughts on “The newspaper business

  1. Karen McLeod

    I pray that your new arrivals arrive safely! and Congratlations! I don’t know what to make of the rest. Any suggestions?

  2. Gordon Hirsch

    Our prayers go with you for healthy delivery of the twins on this very special day, grandpa. … Glad you reminded me. My sister’s birthday is the 27th, too.

  3. Gordon Hirsch

    Brad, Karen … I’m not sure what to make of this WSJ story about McClatchy either. After reading the entire piece several times, I had mixed reactions. The first was that McClatchy is a heroic company still steered by dedicated members of the founding family, but still ineffective at countering market conditions that are killing the newspaper industry overall. To its credit, McClatchy is fighting the good fight, betting everything on a belief that it can win in the long term — but how that will happen remains unclear even to them. McClatchy has yet to prove it can keep its newspaper base afloat, much less innovate online, in a national economy on the verge of recession.
    Meanwhile, McClatchy is losing its butt, and looking pretty foolish in the process. Everything is down overall — advertising revenues, circulation, market confidence, you name it. Their stock price has fallen a bloody 78% since 2006, which in most companies would result in an outcry from shareholders, accompanied by demands for new management and new board members. I assume McClatchy family members control enough of their own stock to keep that from happening, particularly since a private stock buy-back was mentioned in the WSJ story.
    Since acquisition of Knight-Ridder in 2006, McClatchy has lost $1.46 billion and is in debt another $1.9 billion. Those are big numbers for a company with total market valuation of just $1 billion. In fact, McClatchy’s decision to purchase Knight-Ridder for $4.6 billion was just plain foolish, and not only in hindsight. The newspaper industry was in plenty of trouble in 2006 and has been for decades, so they can’t say they didn’t know what was happening or blame the current economic downturn for their losses. In reality, McClatchy paid too much for KR, a company that was mismanaged and headed for disaster on its own. For McClatchy to think it could sell-off or fix KR properties while growing their own was just plain vanity. It would have been challenge enough for McClatchy to keep its original newspapers in the black.
    McClatchy family loyalty to CEO Pruitt is either admirable or remarkably stupid, or both, depending on how you choose to look at it. Pruitt put them where they are today and presumably has a vision for the future, but that vision has yet to bear significant fruit. In the larger scheme of things, Pruitt’s efforts to increase online advertising have accomplished little so far, and growth in online revenue is the key to McClatchy’s long-term survival. Pruitt either deserves more time, or should be fired asap and replaced with someone who can produce more immediate results. Either decision is risky, but the clock is ticking and time is running out.
    More urgently, McClatchy is bleeding red and cutting costs daily to maintain profitability. That can’t go on forever. Without new revenue sources from online business to counter losses on the print side, the well will run dry eventually. McClatchy, like the rest of the newspaper industry, is way late to the world of Internet commerce, and there’s no reason to believe they’ve figured out how to make money on the web yet. Partnering with companies like Yahoo makes sense, but it’s not the same as online innovation of your own. Google and Microsoft, for example, have learned far more about online advertising than the newspaper industry — 15 years after the web went mainstream. To expect that newspapers, led by McClatchy, will suddenly become online innovators is totally inconsistent with the industry’s historical track record.
    If it were my company (and what do I know), McClatchy’s next CEO would come from a company like Google — tomorrow. McClatchy has plenty of people who know how to manage newspapers. What they need is someone who knows how to innovate online.
    As for journalism and what all this means to people like Brad, the WSJ story indicated that maintaining newsroom personnel is still a priority with McClatchy. That’s good news, but it conflicts with McClatchy’s previous statements to analysts, who were told that employees who left were not being replaced. Maybe an exception is in place for newsroom personnel, and they are being replaced. I don’t know.
    Either way, it’s still a maintenance position for McClatchy. With the sharks circling, increasing newsroom personnnel or investing in more in-depth coverage of news is difficult if not impossible to justify.

  4. Karen McLeod

    The trouble is, Gordon, the only thing the newspaper has to offer is more in-depth coverage of news. Let’s face it, if I want the current latest on the rich white trash I should check out Headline News on TV. There I can get breathless updates every 30 minutes (oh joy). Or I can watch “Entertainment Tonight” and get ‘in depth’ info about whichever-total-idiot-is-in (more joy). The newspaper is just about the only daily source that can provide some depth to its coverage. In addition, in a newspaper I can read what I want, when I want to, and don’t have to wait for that segment about whomsoever to get over with. In addition, I can put it down and think about it, then pick it up again. I can even argue with the editor if I wish. If we lose a free and prosperous press, we’re in deep poo. We’ll be like a herd of lemmings, rushing from one ‘top story’ to the next, until we end up rushing right off the cliff.

  5. Gordon Hirsch

    That’s exactly the point I’ve been trying to get across. Newspapers originate more local daily news in more detail and with greater accuracy and more freedom than any other form of media. If they stop doing that, or if they become as shallow as cable TV, we all lose — in more ways than we can count.
    Unfortunately, the newspaper business today is run by bean-counters who’ve done a lousy job of keeping up with technology, the Internet in particular. I don’t think they can ever be convinced that improving news quality will revive the news business, regardless of whether news is printed on paper or published online.
    Instead, they are totally focused on satisfying advertisers — not readers. The idea that more-better news will attract more readers and, therefore, more advertisers, is just too big a leap, too abstract. Even though it has been proven time and again that people want and appreciate quality, are drawn to it, and are willing to pay extra for it in many cases.
    And so management focus remains small-minded and profit oriented. For example, the Yahoo partnership with McClatchy cited by WSJ makes perfect business sense, but not journalistic sense. … You read a restaurant review online, and Yahoo ads for nearby restaurants show up alongside the story. Great. It’s called affinity marketing. It’s targeted. It’s what advertisers want. It’s a good “fit” for everyone. The reader is already interested in what you are selling. It doesn’t get any better than that.
    But what about the investigative story on DSS or DHEC or corruption in the governor’s office? Whose ads will “fit” those readers? What if advertisers say they don’t want their ads alongside those stories?
    I can tell you, from experience, what will happen. Commitment to publishing investigative stories will decline — even more than it has already — because they lack advertiser support or, God forbid, alienate advertisers.
    Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself: What happened to the consumer reports stories of our parents’ generation, where newspapers reviewed or road-tested products? What happened to the “Action Line” columns that appeared in just about ever American newspaper, where consumers complained publicly about being ripped off or poorly treated by businesses?
    Answer: They went away because advertisers objected. … for that matter, when was the last time you saw a restaurant review?

  6. Karen McLeod

    I also read the Free Times, so I checked out a restaurant review last week. If people are so adverse to in depth news, how did 60 Minutes remain a top rated show for so long. If there’s a political investigation, the other party might really want space there. Seriously, I don’t know all the answers, but the newspaper business needs to realize that I read the newspaper for news, and if I don’t get that, I’m not going to even glance at the ads. If I get good news (as in appropriate, well researched news about local as well as national and international affairs), I’ll probably be looking at those ads, if only while trying to find ‘continued on page…’

  7. Gordon Hirsch

    You’re right. The news biz really should be that simple. Sorry, this is my version of “save the whales,” and I do tend to get worked up over it.
    I think people loved 60 Minutes because it showed the power of what TV can do when it devotes more than 30 seconds to a story. It also took a team of researchers to produce every segment, not just Mike Wallace or Morley Safer. But the network embarrassment and legal expense of getting even the occasional story wrong (in part) was enough to put it under.

  8. weldon VII

    Here in the age of video, cemetery occupants can’t buy newspapers, and the average age of those who subscribe is older than ever, so old that advertising doesn’t get results with most readers.
    With respect to McClatchy, I’ve liked The State less and less since Knight-Ridder sold out.
    Apparently, McClatchy is losing money hand over fist. But is The State?

  9. Eric

    You are incorrect in your assumption about older people and money spent. Seniors have more disposable money than any other group of people. They are not liked by the Coke/candy bar sellers…and that is where that myth started. But the market has changed and I would argue that the State ignores this core group at their own peril.

  10. Gordon Hirsch

    Eric’s right here, Weldon. The Boomer generation is loaded and spending like no other. Newspaper readers also happen to have higher levels of education and, therefore, higher average incomes. That makes them a premium audience for advertisers. You know all this stuff. You were in the news biz, too. … But Eric, I wasn’t aware that newspapers are ignoring seniors, or The State in particular. If anything, I would think that more true of TV, with it’s emphasis on youth (with the exception of cable channels that target older audiences).

  11. Doug Ross

    Couple points from a non-newspaper person:
    1) Putting new stories on the internet under is a completely different animal than publishing a daily newspaper. Personally, I find the front page of The State’s website to be a jumble of incoherent pieces thrown together. There’s got to be a cleaner format that is more user friendly.
    Check out for the Boston Globe’s approach. They have always had a leading presence in the sports journalism world and have made a very successful transition to the internet age. Most of the main stories on the Sports page include video clips at the top of the page. Don’t you think USC fans would love the same thing?
    2) I mentioned this to Brad before, but whoever is running the distribution of The State to the newspaper vending boxes needs to get a real clue. I can’t tell you how many times I go out at lunchtime and find The State newspaper boxes empty. I went out for breakfast the day after Christmas and got the last copy of the paper out of the box at 10:15 a.m. There’s got to be some software available to help predict optimum newpapers quantities.
    3) I personally believe people will support a paper if it does two things: a) be the voice of the people when it comes to exposing corruption in the government and
    b) have a local feel – restaurant reviews, movie reviews, etc. Show the things that we can’t get on the internet. Unfortunately, The State has become merely a means to deliver the Sunday ads and the Gamecock/Clemson news. If The State is becoming less relevant, it’s not because the public is changing.

  12. Gordon Hirsch

    Good points, Doug. While I obviously can’t respond for The State, here is some general info in regard to your observations …
    — The front page of a newspaper is so much larger than the average computer display that it allows for cleaner presentation of information and direction to readers. Stories of greatest “importance” are supposed to be recognizable as such by virtue of location, headline size, accompanying photos, etc. It’s much more difficult to accomplish that on a computer monitor, where one 72-point headline would gobble up half the screen. As a result, information appears more condensed, jumbled and harder to navigate on-screen. The Globe site is well organized, as you say, but to me it’s still way too much crammed into too little space. … Was also interesting to me that the Globe has very few ads on its home page in comparison with The State. Newspapers have always resisted ads on their front pages as a way of demonstating editorial independence from advertisers, but the web is changing that swiftly. … Whenever you mix ads and news on a page, advertisers will exert influence. For example, we had standing orders not to put food poisoning stories on the same page as grocery ads, or plane crash stories on travel pages. It was, of course, just good “common sense.”
    — Most newspaper racks are serviced by independent contractors, who resell papers from locations they maintain. Because many work regular daytime jobs, it’s always been a challenge to get them to buy enough papers to start with, much less keep racks full during the day. Most would rather run out of papers than deal with next-day returns of unsold inventory.
    — If newspapers are becoming less relevant, it’s because they invest too little in news staff and expect them to cover too much ground. Under those circumstances, superficial reporting will always be the norm. As for sports, celebs, gossip, etc., it sells papers. Dear Abby had higher readership than any other space in the paper, back in my day. May still so far as I know. Also, readership surveys often show that people are fed up with “bad news.” This just reinforces the advertiser-friendly trend of generating more soft news about shopping, cooking, lifestyles, etc.

  13. weldon VII

    OK, I stand corrected. Seniors have money and do spend it.
    I could ask whether newspaper advertising persuades such seasoned veterans of capitalistic chicanery to buy anything, or whether they, like me, pay newspaper and TV advertising no attention whatsoever.
    But I won’t travel that road, because I don’t want to tell the story about the retailer who wanted her money back if the ad she bought didn’t get results, that when she designed the miserable thing herself.
    No, I don’t want to discuss the advertising effectiveness paradigm, else I’ll drift off into the great Geico mystery.
    What I want to know is whether The State is outperforming the rest of McClatchy. I want to know whether the changes I’ve seen the past year or two are working financially, because The State seems to be retreating toward becoming the resurrection of The Columbia Record.

  14. Gordon Hirsch

    McClatchy quarterly reports of the past year don’t even mention The State. I can tell you that, in 1987, when KR bought The State, it was very profitable – even before they closed the Record, tripled ad rates, and doubled rack prices.
    And just for you Weldon, a trivia bonus: The Myrtle Beach Sun News was for decades the No.1 most profitable (per capita) paper in KR and may still be among the highest-producing dailies in McClatchy stables.
    Myrtle just has so many well-to-do retirees, from so many diehard newspaper towns like NY, Boston, Philly, DC, Baltimore, etc., and such an explosive rate of incoming carpetbuggers, that it bucks all the national trends. … Too bad the paper isn’t big enough make a difference to anybody’s bottom line.

  15. Doug Ross

    Something I’ve been wondering about for awhile – was Lee Bandy’s “retirement” part of a cost cutting move? Because as far as I can tell, he’s still writing for the paper.

  16. weldon VII

    Thanks, Gordon. I’ve long suspected the Sun News had built itself quite a castle in the sand. It’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and local, with an eye to the rest of the world, too, a suitable mix to attract the quarters (dollars) of visitors and year-rounders.

  17. Gordon Hirsch

    Don’t know. I left before Lee retired. My guess is he will always find a way to write and stay involved because he loved it.

  18. Brad Warthen

    Not to get into personnel issues that are none of my business (since Lee worked in the newsroom), his retirement is definitely for real.
    Also real is what Gordon referred to — Lee’s love of the job. I’m guessing he’ll write that column as long as he has the strength to do so, and the newsroom gives him the space.
    Now for a personal note — thanks for the good wishes on the twins. But they didn’t come yesterday! Apparently, a combination of too few nurses on duty and the full moon having occurred this week (that latter part is my own highly scientific theory) led to too many deliveries for the hospital to do any that weren’t immediately necessary. Now, they could come as late as next week!

  19. Karen McLeod

    I know that your daughter has to be more than ready to deliver those twins. I hope for her sake it’s soon. And yes, we (or at least I) want birth stats and names when they get here.

  20. Doug Ross

    Let’s take a look at the current front page for
    On the right, we have breaking news about
    Benazir Bhutto. Right underneath it is, amazingly, a boxscore for the Clemson basketball game. To the left and right
    of the screen are bright orange boxes, both
    for – with one of the boxes containing a scrolling list of available jobs that 99.9% of the people who come to the home page would have no interest in.
    A small image of the front page is buried down on the lower left corner after scrolling down. To me, that should be up on the top left — you want to get people subscribing to the digital version of the paper, correct?
    There’s what seems like a random collection of little boxes of information scattered all over the screen. And the four column view is far too much detail in too small a space.
    To me, the layout should be no more than two columns. Left side for quick links to content, right side for news. Across the top have tabs for each of the sections of the paper:
    SC News/Metro/World/Opinion/Sports/Life/Finance/Classified
    Why not give away the digital version of the paper? The incremental cost is zero for each copy, right? And, done right, you could build links into the digital version to advertiser content. The digital version of The State could be a portal into a whole new way of reading the paper.

  21. Gordon Hirsch

    I’d have to agree with Doug that is a non-sensical mess, at least in terms of traditional print design concepts. I also really like his idea of putting tabs up top for easy section organization and access.
    (The bright orange ad is easy to explain, Doug: McClatchy owns a stake in the company, and they probably earn cash for every click.)
    As for giving away the digital version of The State, Doug’s put his finger on confusion the entire newspaper industry is feeling about what it SHOULD be doing online.
    If the digital version were free, what incentive would people have to pay for or subscribe to the printed version. Do we really need a printed version and, if so, for how much longer? Should newspapers just give up on charging subscriptions altogether? By making the paper free, would readership increase, thereby allowing increases in advertising rates, thereby saving the day? Or, would giving it away decrease perceived value of “the product,” thereby undermining its credibility?
    Should ads be just links or complete messages? (Are newspapers still selling physical space in a world of unlimited virtual space?) If you had to click on ads to get the complete message would you?
    The entire industry is wrestling with these questions, and more, about how to publish on the Internet. Some papers give it away, but after a week you have to pay to access archives of older news. Some newspapers view the web as a tease, where people should have to subscribe to get the complete story or full day’s report. Some, like The State, are creating virtual representations of the printed paper, which seems like an abandoment of the cluttered web-page design Doug decries, but definitely looks prettier, even if I do have to scroll around a lot …
    What’s the right answer? Newspapers have to figure this out, or start planning their own Going Out of Business Sale.
    What do you think they should do??? (And, yes, they do want to know what you think.)

  22. Karen McLeod

    The advantage of a printed paper is that I can take it with me if I need to leave early in the morning, and read it when I have a chance. Online tends to limit me a bit there. Also, if I’m having a lazy morning (what? when?) I don’t have to have a major panic if I spill some coffee or dribble a few crumbs on it. It is advantageous to be able to go on line and check archival info. Online might also be a good place to do stories in real depth. As for ads; well, I’m not going to attend to them anywhere/anytime unless I’m looking for something specific; that is, unless the ad is so irritating that I resolve to shop the competition if at all possible, should I need whatever.

  23. Gordon Hirsch

    You forgot bird-cage bottom or fish-wrapper … The portability and durability issues are evolving as we speak. Already my phone functions as a laptop, although in a less convenient size for viewing. Polymer computing is perhaps the next wave, or flexible flat-panels so thin you could roll or fold them like a sheet of paper. Advances such as these, or others, are not so far off. In the meantime, newspapers have to be planning ahead, gaining experience from existing technologies like the web.
    … I shop the same way, viewing ads mostly when I’m ready to buy or price.

  24. Lee Muller

    Karen and Gordon both point out the major things to which all the full-time journalists and editors seem to be blind: newspapers seem to be oblivious to their inherent strengths and weaknesses.
    Newspapers today are where Newsweek and Time were 50 years ago. That they have to offer is more in-depth analysis and an anthology of the time snapshot of news. But, instead of hiring the very skilled people necessary to provide that coverage, they use the unqualified but socially promoted cub reporters who began in minor news and worked their way up the corporate ladder. The public isn’t buying it, when they can read on the internet free analysis from volunteers who actually are experts in subject matter.

  25. Gordon Hirsch

    Lee touches on another difficult challenge for newspapers — whether they should be “papers of record,” laying down accounts of daily events for posterity, or a source of analysis that helps us make sense of a world with too much information. Or both.
    Most daily papers try to do both, but without the time or resources needed to do either as well as they would like, or as well as we seem to expect. … The newsroom churns out daily stories of little depth by necessity, from experienced and inexperienced reporters alike. The Editorial Department, where Brad works, tries to put news in some larger context, but still must produce daily pages. Columnists (at least some) offer expert views of news and events, but still work under deadline pressures like everyone else, leaving larger intellectual analysis to periodicals or academics. And wire services aggregate it all, disseminating the collective mass of daily news worldwide.
    We depend on this very sophisticated information network to write history and keep us informed daily, without appreciating that it starts with our local newspaper. If the local paper goes away, the network collapses at its foundation.
    Our major “national” newspapers such as the NY Times and Washington Post, upon which smaller local papers are modeled, have addressed these rather large reader expectations through departmental and seniority systems that reward more experienced reporters with the extra time required to produce larger stories. Some even employed “Sunday Staff,” whose sole job was to step back from the daily scene and put out a weekly paper of some perspective. But economics of the industry are weakening that system, and it has never really worked well at the local level anyway. To compare The State with the New York Times, without regard for the disparity of resources or experience involved, is neither fair or reasonable. But we do it anyway.
    Newspapers can’t stop recording daily events without disappointing readers or abandoning their role as our daily scribes. Even if you argue that newspapers are a shallow means of recording daily history, they still are our only significant source of daily events put down in writing.
    To expect that they should also analyze history as it is being written is a pretty large expectation, especially as staff decline and experienced journalists depart the business.
    Maybe we should look at the web-based experts Lee cites as complements to our local news, rather than comparing the two. There certainly is a need for both.

  26. Karen McLeod

    The trouble with the internet, Lee, is that unless I happen to know that someone is qualified in a particular area (for example, for medical info, I’d probably check out ‘Mayo’ first), I don’t know if I’m getting solid info, or a very slanted, hare-brained way of looking at the world. This is particularly true of world affairs. Right now, I’d probably start with NPR and look for links from there, but it’s often a challenge to find what you are looking for there. It’s one thing to discuss matters on the web, but it presumes that everyone involved at least has some basics down. When people aren’t interested the conversation tends to fall apart. If someone’s not interested, we don’t see posts from him/her, obviously. But interest, does not guarantee wealth of knowledge. Each of us has interests, but I don’t think anyone here is master, say of international relations. When I read the paper I expect to find basic facts. Even when I read opinion, I expect them to back those up with facts. Some have more info that others, but few of us have all the pieces. If we lose papers (as we seem to be doing) then we lose one of the few opportunities we have to get news, rather than just sound bites, snippets of disembodied information, if you will, often presented without context.

  27. Richard L. Wolfe

    The problem with the State is the same as most newspapers. They are lazy and arrogant.
    Instead of doing objective reporting they read wire reports and pass them on to the readers as though they were true. They fail to seperate the news from the opinion in these reports. Whenever a movement gains enough momenteum like global warming or anti-smoking, they join the crusade and spout the propaganda like a parrot on steroids. They will occasionaly print a letter in opposition just to claim they are fair and balanced.
    These blogs and the online publications is the only life support the newspaper business has. I don’t weep for them. They did it to themselves. This from a person who has been reading newspapers since I was seven years old.

  28. Lee Muller

    A newspaper the size of The State should have a science editor to check all the stories about technology. These days, most of what is reported is so ignorant that scientists, engineers, doctors and all well-educated people have doubts about the veracity of all the other stories, as well.

  29. Gordon Hirsch

    The way things are going, newspapers will be lucky to keep the editors they have, much less add more.
    As for Richard’s vitriol, I won’t argue that newspapers aren’t responsible for their present troubles, or even their future demise. I will argue that the fault lies more with management than the newsroom, no matter how lazy or arrogant you may perceive journalists to be. … In my experience, they were hard-working and occasionally arrogrant, but rarely moreso than readers.

  30. Gordon Hirsch

    Just ran across this AP story — which about sums up the future of McClatchy’s commitment to communities it serves and the people who work for them … I take back anything good I may have said about these profit-mongers, which hopefully was not much. (Copy editors, btw, are the fact-checkers and proof-readers who are supposed to know the most about local people, places and things. They design the pages and write headlines, as well)
    December 28, 2007
    MIAMI (AP) – The Miami Herald is outsourcing copyediting of a weekly community news section and some advertising production work to India, a newspaper editor said Friday.
    Starting in January, copyediting and design in a weekly section of Broward County community news and other special advertising sections will be outsourced to Mindworks, based in New Delhi.
    The project remains in the testing phase, so it was unclear if or how jobs in South Florida will be affected, Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal said.
    Mindworks will also monitor reader comments posted to online stories, he said.
    Earlier this month, The Sacramento Bee, also owned by the McClatchy Co., said it would outsource some of its advertising production work to India.

  31. Karen McLeod

    Uh, and how would someone in India be able to fact check information, especially community information in Broward County? And proof names? This could make for some really interesting stories, but I don’t think the locals would find it funny.

  32. Richard L. Wolfe

    Gordon, My vitriol ? Akin it to being locked out of your own house and when you tried to get in everyone looked at you like you were crazy. Maybe, you are a mattoid, but I don’t think so. I think you are on the inside of the house trying to get out. There is no James Joyce here just a good dose of John Paul Jones.
    Nonsense aside, just what in your opinion is the purpose of a newspaper? After you answer then tell me which newspapers are following that purpose so I can read them.

  33. Gordon Hirsch

    Richard … I actually think we are saying much the same thing, but from different perspectives, all nonsense aside.
    I blame newspaper ownership-management for the tragic decline in quality of news and public service journalism. I took your post regarding the “laziness” and “arrogance” of journalists as angrily putting the blame on them, without fair consideration of what readers expect versus what management provides. … We could argue our positions indefinitely, because all parties are responsible in their own ways.
    Now to your questions: “What is the purpose of a newspaper?” and “Which newspapers are following that purpose so I can read them?”
    My answer: Under current ownership, the overriding purpose of newspapers is to make as much profit as possible for shareholders, with as little investment in journalism as the industry can get away with (and we’ve let them get away with far too much already.) Fear and greed, not public service or journalistic purpose, are the primary motivations that drive top management. Journalists and journalism, like readers and communities, are their victims.
    The interests of shareholders are in direct opposition to the interests of journalists and readers. The problem is irreconcilable, based on the goals of capitalism. The profit motive of shareholders will always win out. Journalism will always lose. My argument is hardly original, and is well supported now by decades of experience, as expressed by the growing dissatisfaction of readers like you – and me.
    In other words, public ownership of newspapers has been a disaster that is killing everything we once believed good about “the power of the press” or its ability to help and serve people.
    What newspapers should you read? Under these circumstances, any paper you can find that is actually increasing (or even maintaining over time) its investment in journalism. I can’t think of any.
    All the rest are just using us and the good people who work for them, under the guise of journalistic commitment.
    If that makes me a mattoid, so be it. Personally, I wish none of the above had any basis in fact — but it does, and I’m sick of being bullsh***ed by the very people we used to respect for being truthful.

  34. Richard L. Wolfe

    Good and well thought out answer Gordon! I contend we are writing the answer right now. Real people unencumbered exchaning ideas in an open forum like this is the best hope for the future of journalistic communication. The trick is to force the powers that be to understand, respect and enact the suggestions we are making.

  35. weldon VII

    All things considered, after much reflection and also after having read every post on this thread at least once, I’m still wondering whether The State is making a profit.
    Surely someone who posts on this blog often knows.

  36. Gordon Hirsch

    Weldon … My bet is they still are, whether by cost-cutting like McClatchy overall, or by virtue of the relative health of our regional economy, at least compared to other parts of the country. … The problem is, no matter how much of a profit any newspaper makes, it’s not enough to satisfy Wall Street, and the money will never flow back to South Carolina. It’s a one-way pipeline sucking the life out of our future.

  37. Gordon Hirsch

    Richard … Amen. Hopefully what we say here will be heard and acted upon. But unless we own stock in McClatchy, we technically have no voice in the process. As an industry, newspapers aren’t even trying to satisfy our complaints about lack of investment in journalism or our communities — they’re just trying to figure out how to make money from the fact that we’re abandoning printed publications and moving to the Internet. If they figure that out, they can return to record profitability — unless we start shunning what they offer and demanding a commitment to quality, service-minded journalism.

  38. Richard L. Wolfe

    I have a stupid question that will revel my lack of knowledge about the newspaper business. Why does a small city like Columbia new a corporate newspaper?

  39. Gordon Hirsch

    Richard … We never needed them. We were used.
    Like all newspapers in our country, The State and The Columbia Record once were owned by the families who founded them. In Columbia, it was the Hampton and Gonzales families.
    Newspapers have always been a very profitable business, even when managed loosely. On their worst days, newspapers made more money than most businesses dreamed of making on their best days. There was plenty of wealth for owners, and plenty left over to invest in journalistic service, such as keeping an eye on government.
    As generations passed and heirs to those family fortunes multiplied, profits had to be shared with larger numbers of family members, few of whom were still involved in the business. Eventually, families such as the Knights, Ridders, Hearsts, McClatchy’s and others began merging and buying out other families, creating corporate “chains” of newspapers.
    With the help of Wall Street managers, the chains quickly figured out that newspapers could be even more profitable if modernized and streamlined, especially by reducing costly newsroom staff.
    Papers that once made local families wealthy with 10 percent profit margins suddenly were producing profits of 30 percent or more. This attracted stockholders intent on making a quick buck, without regard for consequence to newspapers’ traditions of community service. These stockholders expect continued growth in earnings, even if cost-cutting was the only way to make it happen.
    Obviously, that can’t go on forever, especially with advertisers flocking to TV, cable, and the Internet. So now, with the newspaper gravy-train drying up, Wall Street is abandoning ship.
    We never asked for corporate ownership of newspapers. We were sold out. It was a bad idea, driven by personal greed of owners, managers and shareholders. And now everyone is paying the price.

  40. Richard L. Wolfe

    Gordon, Thanks for the short history lesson. I have recieved more information from a few blogs than all the media combined. This begs the question if you can get me that much information in a few minutes, what is the media’s excuse?

  41. Gordon Hirsch

    Richard … To some extent, I think media people are in denial about the future of their own industry. Perhaps more importantly, they are not free to comment on the companies they work for. Ironic, isn’t it, from a business that clamors for full disclosure and “transparency” from government and others.

  42. Gordon Hirsch

    In an effort to wrap up this thread before Brad returns from a well-deserved rest, I thought I’d try to offer a constructive suggestion for change that anyone can act on. Following is my best attempt at a draft communication to the company that owns most of the major newspapers in the Carolinas. Feel free to disagree, or to craft your own message …
    December 31, 2007
    Gary Pruitt
    President, Chief Executive Officer and
    Chairman of the Board
    McClatchy Co.
    2100 Q Street
    Sacramento, CA 95816
    Dear Mr. Pruitt:
    We read with interest the Dec. 26, 2007, Wall Street Journal account of McClatchy Co. and challenges it faces. As longtime readers of newspapers you operate, we are respectful of the dramatic change taking place in the news industry and actions you are considering to ensure continued service to our communities.
    Of particular note in the WSJ report was reference to the possibility of McClatchy Co. buying back its stock and taking the company private again. We believe this is a proper course of action with important potential benefit to the public and your business, based on the following observations:
    — With 80 percent of company stock already in control of McClatchy family members, you are uniquely positioned to accomplish a buyback of outstanding shares — perhaps moreso than any other major media company in America today.
    — Market capitalization of McClatchy Co. is at an all-time low, and shareholder confidence continues to wane. This represents increasing opportunity to gain maximum value from a buyback. At current market prices, according to the WSJ, McClatchy could make itself private again for less than $200 million, a bargain price for freedom from the tyranny of Wall Street and its culture of greed.
    — From a reader and community service perspective, public ownership of America’s newspapers has been a dismal debacle of failed expectations resulting in decline and degradation of a once great and service-minded industry. Specifically, the overriding profit motive of Wall Street is in direct conflict with the public interest. By discouraging investment in journalistic excellence and service to communities, the stock market’s short-sighted emphasis on increasing profitability uber alles degrades our national heritage of a free press acting as a Fourth Estate “more important than them all.”
    — By taking the company private again, McClatchy would be positioned to alter the course of history, preserving the important role of newspapers in our culture (whether in print or electronic form) and investing in their survival for future generations. As the second-largest newspaper publisher in America today, McClatchy’s rejection of Wall Street values (or lack thereof) could signal the end of a failed socio-economic experiment in public ownership of the press, restore our trust in publishers, and encourage a return to investment in the higher journalistic principles upon which newspapers were founded.
    As Americans, we appreciate public service and commitment to quality. We firmly believe that a return to these core values is not only essential to the public good, but good business as well. McClatchy Co. has the right and resources to pioneer a new course. We hope you will accept our encouragement to set an example of courage and leadership, restoring balance to the delicate equation of support for service-minded journalism versus the rights of ownership to profit fairly from a business based on trust.
    Your readers and customers

  43. Richard L. Wolfe

    Excellent! Gordon you can add my name to those who back your proposition 100%. I have been trying to understand what’s been going on with the newspaper business for over a year. It seems I was asking the wrong questions or the wrong people or both.
    You have enlightened me in less than a day. You have also helped restore my faith in honest people. I appreciate it and I thank you very, very, much!

  44. Brad Warthen

    Hey, folks — just looked in briefly, and read over recent comments. What Gordon wants to do is similar to my own plan, which I wrote about in a column almost two years ago.

    The difference is that my way of "going private" isn’t for the corporation to buy up its stock, as good as that sounds. When I dream, I dream big. I would want to buy The State personally. I’ll admit that Gordon’s plan is a bit more practical, but mine is more desirable to me, since I don’t much care what course the rest of the corporation takes; my concern is with The State, its readers, and all the people of South Carolina.

  45. Richard L. Wolfe

    Brad, If you owned the paper would you allow alternative facts, like the health benefits of nicotine, even though they clash with the State’s current anti-smoking crusade?

  46. Richard L. Wolfe

    Brad, If smoking is too bizzare for you how about exposing the MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX for what it is. The only monopoly in America that can charge anything it wants to government credit card and the only question the media asks is how will we raise the money. Speaking of credit cards, how about exposing the unethical and I feel illegal practices of the Credit card companies. Will you do these kind of stories or will it be more fireman saves kitten type stories?

  47. Gordon Hirsch

    C’mon Brad. Admit it. There’d be no sports section in your paper, no TV listings, no Dear Abby … just acres of politics and government restructuring. The Gamecock faithful would string you up before noon the next Saturay, and we’d all be blogging on FITSNews for lack of inspiration.

  48. Gordon Hirsch

    Richard … Thanks again. Try putting your questions to Managing Editor Tonnya Kennedy Kohn ( She’s in charge of reporters and news editors. And let us know if you get a response.

  49. Karen McLeod

    Gordon, as long as he leaves the comics in, I can deal with it. Richard, health benefits of nicotine?? Well, it is a good insecticide…but that’s stretching it a bit, for a health benefit. It is an antianxiolytic, but we got several varieties of those that don’t poison you at the same time. Besides, the problem with smoking is not so much the nicotine; that’s merely what hooks you. Its the carcinogenics, and the extra work it puts on the heart that are the major factors against smoking.

  50. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, to tell you the truth I have written so much on the cigarette subject that I’m bored with it. I will put forth just one observation that anyone can see. As the smoking rates go down the obesity rates go up. Also, as the smoking rates go down the medical costs still go up. When the last cigarette is crushed, I predict more people will die not less. Believe it or not everything in life is subjective.
    The question is who controls your life ? Do you control it or does the government. Do you own your business or does the government? Do your children belong to you or do they belong to the government? Does your health and body belong to you or does it belong to the government?
    To be free or not to be free that is the question? ” I know not what course others may take, but as for me give liberty or give me death.” The way things are going the time to decide may be coming soon.
    Karen thanks for your comment, I believe it was made in good faith.

  51. Karen McLeod

    Richard, I’m an ex-smoker who smoked 3-4 packs a day for over 20 years. Then cigarettes controlled my life, and since I’d have a full blown anxiety attack if I went more than a couple of hours without one, it was a challenge to quit, and at the time I quit, I could still smoke indoors. Now, I seem to have grown allergic to cigarette smoke. In a smoky bar, my lungs start filling up. I’d enjoy being with my friends, but its not worth a heart attack. I don’t think that the government is going to get around to saying that you can’t smoke in the privacy of your own house any time soon. Have you inquired as to why medical costs continue to go up? Somehow, I suspect this is secondary to Big Med (another Big Biz.) and Big Pharma making sure they have money. And in all honesty, secondary to more complicated, but more effective treatment techniques. Obsesity rates had been going up well before the push to limit cigarette smoking. I can identify very well with your desire to smoke–been there, done that, got the coffee mug and the t-shirt. But your wish not to step out a few moments to smoke, effectively denies me access to the same public area. I don’t think I like smokers controlling my life that way.

  52. Richard L. Wolfe

    Nothing personal Karen but this why I don’t favor women candidates. There are exceptions to every rule. I have an aunt who smokes and she is 94 years old. The point is that you would choose life over freedom. I feel like freedom is life. This country would not exist if the founding fathers were afraid of what might happen.
    You are being imprisoned by your fear and insecurities. The government already owns you.
    Did you know that the first modern day smoking ban was enacted by Adolph Hitler himself? He was also an animal rights, gun ban and confiscater, enviromentalist, etc.
    If he were alive today and we didn’t know who he was, he would be the front runner in the democratic party.
    I know that nothing I say will change your mind. But maybe you will think about this, we will all die one day. Your science and reason will have to accept that fact. So the only question that remains is how will you live the life that you were freely given?

  53. bud

    Rather than post my opinion on the discussion between Richard and Karen I’ll just be a judge. Karen has by far the better argument on the smoking issue. Richard lost it with this claim: “Also, as the smoking rates go down the medical costs still go up”.
    That statement is the least defensible claim every made on the Brad Warthen Blog.

  54. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, I have read your blogs and I know that you are a thoughtful and intelligent person. Please don’t take anything I write personally. It is just that I was born free and intend to die the same way. I am not afraid of anything and I have the gall to say what is on my mind because it is my mind.
    I see a country that is more Communist and Facist than Democratic and Free. This is not what I was taught in school. In law the general rule is who creates it owns it. Government did not create men. Men created government. We own them they do not own us. Likewise, owning and using a legal substance or thing predates the Constitution. The Constitution did not give us rights. Our rights come from our Creator. Even if you do not believe in God, you are smart enough to know the government did not create you.

  55. Richard L. Wolfe

    Bud, I you saying health care costs are not still going up? If you want to be the judge then read the S.C. Clean Indoor Air Act and tell me if these smoking bans are constitutional or not. Even Pollyanna Scoppe, a passionate anti-smoke champion agrees with me on this one.

  56. Richard L. Wolfe

    Bud, The laws that are passed in these times are no more than popularity contests, except when they clash with the desires of the elites. I am under no illusion that I am going to win a smoking debate. I respect honesty. The truth is most people oppose smoking because it is the popular thing to do. The same reason most people started smoking in the first place. The one thing that the smoking issue is not about is health.
    If tobacco is half as dangerous as the media and the health industry says it is then let’s outlaw the growing, manufacturing, selling, posssing and most important the importing of all tobacco products. We can then come back in 5 years and you can post how much the cost of health care has gone down.

  57. Richard L. Wolfe

    What’s the matter Bud, the cat got your tongue? While you are judging does the government own the people or do the people own the government?

  58. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen and Bud, I have no desire for you to have to breathe my smoke. All smokers want is there own space. What is wrong with cities like Columbia or Charleston that have hundreds of restaurants and bars having two or three for smokers only. If, you don’t smoke you can’t work there.
    Don’t tell me it’s some kind of equal employement issue because the courts have already ruled Hooter’s doesn’t have to hire male waiters.

  59. Karen McLeod

    Richard, I’m not about to take your stand on nicotine, or your interpretation of the constitution personally. And please understand, I’m all for freedom, too. For me the problem enters when 2 peoples freedoms start “rubbing together.” For example: I’m enjoy watching animals of all sorts. I also have a very poor sense of smell. I could build a vulture feeding station on my property using road kill I can collect for free off of the roads (do I get extra points for recycling here?). However my neighbor might decide that my right to use my property as I please (bird sanctuary/nature observation area) interferes with his right not to have something very smelly that also attracts other varmints right next to him. Also the vultures just might scare his small children. And just as an aside, a vulture feeding station right next door might just lower one’s property’s value. Whose right trumps whose? This is obviously a very facetious example, the only point of which is to set up an example. And who decides which one of us has a more important ‘right’? The person with the most firepower and a willingness to take ‘pre-emptive’ action? The majority in the neighborhood? If one begins doing it by neighborhood vote, then you’ve got government again. And, I would rather have a situation where I get a say doing this determination, than doing it with gunpowder. Re: smoking. Cigarettes are the only legal product that I know of, that when used exactly as they are supposed to be used, cause major health concerns. You have every right as far as I am concerned, to damage yourself. You do not have the right to damage me. Whose right trumps whose?

  60. Karen McLeod

    Richard, I have no problem with a few ‘smoker’s only’ bars. I’d settle for a number on ‘non-smoker’s’ only bars (that would of, course, allow smokers to go outside, or to smoke on an open deck). What I do object to is an unthinking “live free or die” attitude that fails to understand that there has to be some way to mediate the ‘rights’ of people in such a way that all have at least their basic rights respected (including that most basic, the right to life). I can achieve perfect freedom only by being willing to ignore the rights of others; otherwise, I have to be willing to forgo some of my choices/preferences. By the way, New York has been “smoke free” for a few years now, and the info is in. Seems rates of heart attacks in the general population has declined noticably. The reason people oppose smoking now is that we know more about how dangerous it is, and because people are now aware of how much the cigarette companies have duped the public for years. Even with that, it’s been slow going indeed. We’re not going to see a ban on the growth of tabacco or the sale of the products any time soon. Why not? Because the cigarette industry is just as big as Big Pharma, or even Halliburton. That kind of money finds a way of doing what it wants. As smoking declines in this country what’s Big Tobacco doing. Why selling to 3rd world countries of course, where the life span is so tenuous, and the medical/scientific knowledge so spotty that no one notices. This really speaks well of America.

  61. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, I don’t buy the argument that the cigarette companies have “duped” the public. I am over 50 years old and I have been aware of the dangers of smoking every since I was a young boy. Since safety is so important then you would have no problem with my bill to require everyone to arrive at leave a bar via taxi. That way I would feel safer driving on the roads. Also, I guess excessive drinking doesn’t do any damage to the heart and liver. I also never heard of a man hopped up on nicotine coming home and beating his wife to a bloody mess.

  62. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, Without even knowing you I can tell the source of your anxiety. You have been infected with two of the deadliest diseases ever known to mankind. Worry and fear are far more deadly than cigarettes and alcohol. You have placed your faith in the wrong god. You need to get to know a Master Physician by the name of Jesus Christ. If, he innoculates you there won’t be anything in this world that can touch the real you.
    I am no Bible thumper. I don’t even go to church and I’m a Ron Paul supporter.
    The thing is I seek the truth. I know when I see it, hear it and read it. I have faced real danger too many times to be afraid of imaginary ones. I have had too many real guns pointed at my head and I am alive today by the grace of God.
    I am not trying to convert you. I am just sharing the value of my experience. My experience is in the real world not some scientic journal. I seek the truth and I know when I find it. You will have a better chance convincing about things that I don’t know than changing my mind about things I do.

  63. Karen McLeod

    Richard, if you had read my entries on this blog with any regularity you would realize that I am a Christian. I don’t think that I’m too terribly anxious or fearful. I have in my life, both sky-dived and scuba dived. I recently walked across the top of Spain with a friend (She was 72 at the time; I was 58. We had no other person with us, and we did not speak Spanish. It was a wonderful adventure! I am completely aware of the everywhere-has-the-same-death-rate theory. One person/one death, any way you look at it. I guess it has to do with choice. If I fall off a mountain in Spain, or if my chute doesn’t open, or if a shark turns me into more shark, at least I was engaged in a sensuous, mind stretching adventure each time! What stretches my mind or delights my senses from your cigarette smoke? No one is telling you that you can’t smoke. All I’m saying is that I don’t want your smoke mixed with the air I breathe, and I don’t think others who don’t want it should not have to endure it either. As for the cigarette companies–they’ve promoted “low tar” cigarettes as safer, while upping the nicotine in them; they’ve pedalled their wares to children. And while, as a young man, you may have heard that cigarettes were ‘bad’ for you, the picture you had was ‘the Marlboro Man’. No, you’re an addict, and like any addict you’ll do anything to justify the very substance that’s poisoning you. By, the way, you can prove me wrong very simply; quit.

  64. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, You made a very clever argument but you are not dealing with a child. By your own pen you admmit that you are an addict yourself. I doubt either one of us will quit. I do enjoy the banter. If you will reread the blog you will see that I have no desire to mix my smoke in your air.
    I have been around people all my life who could put Bill Clinton to shame with their bs. I am simply tired of the government’s continued intrusion into every aspect of my life. If I quit smoking will they sign a pledge to stop passing unconstitutional laws. Will the Medical profession stop trying to force me to buy health insurance that I do not want. Will the media stop trying to create global problems that require a global government to solve. Will the liberal judges stop legislating from the bench? Will all other sins and dangers be addressed? Will we all live in one big socialist bee hive with one mind and one thought to serve the queen bee. I think you give my ” addiction ” to much credit and power.

  65. Richard L. Wolfe

    Karen, I have to leave for a few hours so if you post anything directed at me, I will reply later. First let say it has been a real pleasure arguing with you. I would rather argue than eat. Second, let me say with the full conviction of my soul, that I have no intention of giving one single inch to tryanny. This nation is in serious trouble and the solution begins with less government not more. Have a HAPPY AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR.


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