A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

From our media watch beat…

Doug Pardue just wrote the first line of his obituary, and I mean that in a good way. The Post and Courier just won the holy of holies among journalism prizes, the Pulitzer Public Service gold medal, for their “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which told “tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.” Not only only did the paper address a critical, urgent issue that has long brought shame upon their state, but the series was followed by serious action in the Legislature.

The series was written by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff. But I mention Doug in particular because I know him — he used to be in charge of investigative reporting at The State, a couple of decades back.

So way to go, Doug! And the rest of y’all, too.

As that news was spreading yesterday, my friends and colleagues at The State received another kind of news — more staff reductions are coming. The process will begin with voluntary buyouts. My sources say staffers will have the opportunity to volunteer to leave in exchange for a severance package. There’s no stated goal in terms of number of people who will lose their jobs, but there is apparently a monetary goal in mind.

What happens if the total salaries of those volunteering don’t add up to the goal? That apparently has not been stated. But we know what has happened in the past. I was laid off in one of several waves over the last few years.

I’m very sorry to hear this on a number of levels. I care not only because The State continues to be my newspaper, but because South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper. Here’s hoping the reductions will be minimal.

(I learned of this when a respected colleague called me this morning. And no, that source probably isn’t one of the first ones you would guess, so there’s no point in guessing.)

56 thoughts on “A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    How in the world can The State lose any more people and still put out a newspaper?

    1. Juan Caruso

      The question is excellent, KF. Unlike socialism and communism (, etc.) , captitalism will provide what people actually want. In your case and mine, that is, what people capable of critical thinking are willing to price into their budgets.

      The “Sage of Omaha” (democrat philanthropist and straight-talker Warren Buffet():

      “Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.

      Berkshire’s cash earnings from its papers will almost certainly trend downward over time. Even a sensible Internet strategy will not be able to prevent modest erosion. At our cost, however, I believe these papers will meet or exceed our economic test for acquisitions. Results to date support that belief.

      More… (be a capitalist, you will have infinite choices; be anything else and someone will limit those choices to the bare minimum!).

      Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-buying-newspapers-2013-3#ixzz3Xzr2VuL8

  2. M.Prince

    Oh, and The State also downgraded the online “Opinion” section. It used to have a tab all to itself at the top of the page. But now it’s one of many under the “News” tab — with “GoGamecocks” taking over its old place of honor.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Huh. That’s new. Just the other day, I went to the Opinion stuff via a tab at the top. But I see it’s not there now…

      That’s going to confuse people. Especially since in the paper, editorial is located NOT in the news sections, but inside the features section. Another innovation.

      As a reader, I would not look for opinion under “news.” Of course, I’d be even less likely to look for it under features…

  3. Karen Pearson

    You mean the all-sports-nothing-but-sports-and-by-sports-we-mean-Gamecock-sports newspaper?
    I’m a Gamecock fan myself, but The State newspaper now offers little news or anything else (except sports).

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Yup. I gave up complaining to the editor when half or more of the front page was sports stories, when Sports is the only section in every paper as it is.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    All this news happened on a day when I woke up, way too early, from a bad dream set at a newspaper. I was tired all day after that. I had intended to get up at 6 (WAY early for me), but I woke from this at 5, and couldn’t get back to sleep.

    It was similar to dreams I’ve had before, but this had new details, and was more anxiety-producing.

    I was back working at a newspaper. So that’s good, right? Of course, it wasn’t in my old job. I was working as a reporter (something I only did a couple of years; most of my career was as an editor) at some paper I’d never seen. Sometimes the newsrooms are familiar in these dreams; sometimes not.

    My desk was in a sort of cubicle wedged in with another reporter. He, at least, was familiar — it was Charlie Pope. I was his editor back in the late 80s. Anyway, my tiny workspace was situated so that Charlie had to get up to let me either in or out. And I kept getting up, meaning I got on Charlie’s nerves, as he was on deadline.

    I had this list of stories I was supposed to be doing. Not news stories, not opinion pieces. They were enterprise stories of a sort of featurey, trend type. They were all similar. They were all depressing. The only one I can remember specifically from its budget line was about some new trend in funerals in America. Really.

    But I had agreed to do these stories, and senior management — the publisher, some senior editor, possibly others — kept asking me how it was coming. It was kind of like Peter’s situation at the start of “Office Space,” when he has eight bosses all pestering him about PTS reports. Hey, I’d gladly have done his TPS reports if he’d have done these bummer stories for me. These were things I would never, EVER want to read, much less write. (This was more stressful because most of my career, I was the guy making the assignments, not the guy stuck with someone else’s idea of what made a story. So it was an unfamiliar situation.)

    Meanwhile, I’m having trouble logging in and getting my computer to work. I say “computer,” although sometimes it was a dumb terminal connected to a mainframe, circa 1980. I was trying various workarounds, trying to remember how to use some system I had used decades ago, and not feeling like I could ask anybody for help.

    Speaking of help… there was one other familiar person in the dream: Jennifer Graham, who was The State’s religion writer when I was her editor back in the early 90s. I knew that Jennifer had all the sources and contacts that I needed to get the first of these stories done, and without her I was up the creek. But her desk was over next to where the publisher was — one of the people pestering me about the story — so I couldn’t go over and ask her out loud. It would have been like, in one of those college dreams, admitting that I’d never been to the class and didn’t know where it was.

    So I really needed to figure out the front-end system so I could ask her via text. But while I could get all kinds of stuff to come up on my screen, it was never what I wanted…

    It was really stressful, and left me tired all day…

    1. swampbubbles

      Dreams are kinda unnerving. I remember one I had — something about a cat in a rocking chair situated in a well-stocked home library — engrossed in and sharing tales from a glossy-covered (full-color) big book entitled, “American History.” I think it was pre-Obama (2008).

  5. Lynn Teague

    I was really annoyed when I saw that Opinion was gone from the tabs at the top, to make way for both “sports” and “Go Gamecocks.” I grew up on The State, and it is very sad to see it decline into irrelevance. It didn’t have to happen. I’m sure the national decline of newspapers is a big factor, but really rotten corporate management has been another.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You’re talking about my kinfolk now. I’m distantly related to the Hearsts. They passed through SC before heading west.

        Someone in the family who was really into genealogy told my Dad that he was Patty Hearst’s fifth cousin. I don’t know what that makes me, in relation to William Randolph…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Just glanced at the family tree online — my great-great-great grandmother was a Hearst. Mary Hearst, 1798-1871. Born and died in Abbeville. William Randolph was, I think, descended either from her father Joseph or his father John…

  6. Doug Ross

    “South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper.”

    Not if by “newspaper” you mean a printed version of yesterday’s news delivered manually by
    trucks and cars. That horse is dead and no beatings will revive it.

    South Carolina desperately needs MANY vital, vibrant, dynamic information distributors.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      When I say “newspaper,” I don’t care how it’s delivered. In fact, I’ve always PREFERRED direct, electronic delivery. (Even since before there was an Internet. From the moment we ditched typewriters and started processing news digitally, I longed for the day when we could just press the button and have content go straight to readers, bypassing that 19th-century production and distribution system.)

      I’m talking about the news-gathering and -publishing institution, with a healthy opinion component.

      I think of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal as newspapers, even though I never read them on dead trees… My preferred way of reading all newspapers is via iPad.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        But don’t fool yourself — if The State stopped doing a print product tomorrow, it would immediately be replaced by some low-cost operator going after the money it was leaving on the table….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          At least, this was true several years back. I don’t know about now.

          When I left, there was still a lot of profit per ad in the print product, just a lot fewer ads. That dynamic could have changed.

          But that’s what was so bad for newspapers when they went online. They couldn’t charge nearly as much for an online ad as for a print one…

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Ads for male enhancement products, “Amish” fireplaces (with tiered call-in times), and endless chiropractor ads. I do like the photo ads for houses in the main paper, though.

        2. Doug Ross

          “But don’t fool yourself — if The State stopped doing a print product tomorrow, it would immediately be replaced by some low-cost operator going after the money it was leaving on the table….”

          That has been happening for years now as the Free Times and localized weekly papers have filled the gaps that The State has been unwilling or unable to fill.

          What I would do if I had control of The State:

          -Stop all daily delivery of newspapers except on Sunday.
          -Publish a weekly Gamecock/local sports free paper to compete with The Free Times.
          -Focus all reporting resources on the state of South Carolina and nothing else.
          -Dedicate more reporters to the political scene, especially in investigative reporting.
          – Hire opinion writers who bring a different perspective than the current “can’t we all get along?”/”any tax is a good tax” duo.
          – Require all content creators to be active on Twitter daily, produce podcasts and videos on a weekly basis

    2. Barry

      I hate for anyone to lose their job and hopefully they will find other work quickly.

      As for The State itself, It’s irrelevant now.

    3. Mark Stewart

      Look! Doug the forward-looking optimist!

      I wondered, too, about the editorial downgrade. That doesn’t bode well. Hard to imagine anyone voluntarily abdicating a hard earned bully-pulpit. Newspapers – the industry – are starting to feel like the American car industry circa 1982.

      1. Doug Ross

        “Look! Doug the forward-looking optimist!”

        That’s me every day, Mark. People who know me know that.

  7. Kathleen

    The decline of the fourth estate in general and the State in particular should concern everyone. Years ago state employees began reading the Greenville paper for news that should have been in the State. Investigative journalism now seems to reside mainly in Charleston. Institutions that foster a sense of community and shared experiences across political, religious, income, and educational divisions seem to have declined in effectiveness. See Phillip’s comment on American Pie.
    Doug, maybe you should consider revitalizing one of those small local papers I have access to, while you are in forward-looking mode.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      FWIW, the Aiken Standard is now eating The State’s lunch in terms of writing stories nobody else is. It’s often thicker. I never thought I’d see the day.

      1. Kathleen

        Thanks. I see it’s an Evening Post paper, a list that includes several “I never thought I’d see the day” papers .

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And I don’t think I had them back when I was actually WORKING at newspapers. At least, not with this frequency.

      It’s weird. In my waking life, I have this strong regret that I’m no longer doing what I was good at, and serving my community as I should. But these dreams seem to be trying to persuade me that working at a newspaper can be pretty miserable — which is NOT the way I remember working at newspapers. Oh, yeah, there were a couple of periods that were far from pleasant. But on the whole, in my conscious life, I much prefer doing what I did at newspapers to anything else I’ve experienced.

      Why don’t I ever have GOOD dreams that leave me wistful about the good stuff about newspaper work? Is the part of my brain that governs dreams trying to make me feel reconciled to my exile, by making journalism seem so dreary?

      Confusing, Dr. Freud…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I generally found my journalism career rewarding and fulfilling. And I miss it.

        But in my dreams, journalism is about as rewarding as Winston Smith’s job in 1984. In fact, that’s an excellent analogy, as the general miasma of despair that permeates that book is very much like the mood in these dreams…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          The newspapers I work at in these dreams are never MY newspaper, the way The State was, and The Jackson Sun in Tennessee was long before that. I don’t wear them like a comfortable garment. They bear the imprints of strangers, rather than my own.

          The dream newsrooms feel alien, indifferent, unresponsive. Not quite hostile, perhaps, but just not a good fit…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              For a second there, I was thinking there was an episode in which Dr. Melfi actually said, “It’s costing you.”

              But then I realized that I was remembering what she, Lorraine Bracco, said in “Goodfellas:”

              “I’ll think about it. But it’ll cost you, Hill. A lot.”

  8. Brad Warthen

    Folks, I now have 10 names of people leaving the newsroom, but only one on the record. Neil White wrote this on Facebook:

    Friends, I’d like to pass along that I’m leaving The State at the end of May. I’ve been lucky enough to experience 28 fun-filled years of covering so many amazing events and interesting people — players, coaches, politicians, and a whole lot of very cool regular folks — while working with incredibly talented colleagues along the way. I’m looking forward to starting a new adventure and would ask you to be on the lookout for me. My primary skills: (1) writer, (2) baseball fan, (3) sort of funny sometimes, (4) slightly below-average dancer. If you know of any business in need of this unique combination, give me a shout. You can find me sitting in the Carolina Stadium press box the rest of the weekend.

    1. Doug Ross

      He is a very good writer and his columns were one of the reasons I read The State back in the old days when we got a real paper.

      McClatchy stock is at a 52 week low of $1.32 with a market cap of just $115 million. A billion dollars of long term debt. It has lost 97% of its value in ten years. The stock chart isn’t pretty unless you like downhill ski racing.

      Anyone who is there and has marketable skills should be looking for other career options.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That was before the buyouts. My understanding is that her last day was the week before the buyouts were announced. But I haven’t spoken with her about it, so I can’t say for sure…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      His “As the City Turns” columns were classic. Fiona Till went on to be a city council person, and W.E. Itsallaboutme went on to be a jailbird.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Now, since he told me yesterday that he doesn’t mind if I tell people, I can tell you that Warren Bolton’s last day at the paper is tomorrow.

    This is particularly a blow for me, of course. I brought Warren up from the newsroom to editorial in 1997, and have always been happy I did.

    And now, at least for the moment, Cindi will be alone. A decade ago, there were 9 of us in editorial, counting one part-timer. When Robert and I left, that put it down to three. Then two. Now this.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Holey Moley! Who is left? I mean, maybe, maybe young reporters can be as good as seasoned ones, but the real guts of a newspaper in this internet age is the editorial. Cindi’s great for the state-wide stuff, but I guess The State is ceding local to The Free Times!

  10. Phillip

    I just glanced back to this thread and saw all the news here about the cutting of staff at the State. What the heck is going to be left over there? It’s really sad, when I moved here in 2004 I thought it was a pretty good paper for a city this size. That’s just a decade ago.

    Look around and see how much the city is growing in all directions, and within the core of the city itself. Now think about the direction the newspaper went in those same years. Some say we have a generation that “gets its news” from other sources—tv, the web. I’m not so sure we don’t have a generation that’s come of age, running (in some sense) our society, that feels a need to consume news in any form.

    So sad for the people leaving the paper and I hope they all (as you certainly seem to have done) land on their feet.

  11. Phillip

    I got twisted around on my negatives in last post, meant to say “I think a generation has come of age that DOESN’T feel the need to consume the news in any form”.

    1. Doug Ross

      Well, the demographic of the typical newspaper reader is probably white adults age 55+… and for Fox News it’s white males 65+ and a bunch of liberals who watch it to get worked up.

      Younger people get their news in small bites from Twitter, Yahoo front page, Buzzfeed, Reddit.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      I think they consume their news on Comedy Central and John Oliver.

      I just read a piece in The Free Times about how SC is doing a better job responding to officer shootings. The opposing viewpoint was given by professional bombthrower Kevin Gray, who discounted all the good stuff, saying it’s just based on what city officials learn by going to meetings only attended by old folks. Setting aside that I believe I am younger than Kevin Gray, if you don’t show up and speak up, you don’t get to complain, in my book.

      1. Doug Ross

        “I think they consume their news on Comedy Central and John Oliver.”

        I have to disagree using the same argument I use for those who think Fox News is so powerful. The Daily Show gets around 1.2 million viewers total on average. The final Stephen Colbert show got about 2 million, tying a re-run of Family Guy.

        On Tuesday, the following shows had higher ratings than The Daily Show:

        Family Guy ADSM
        19 Kids and Counting
        American Dad ADSM
        Big Bang Theory, THE
        American Dad ADSM
        Big Bang Theory, THE
        Robot Chicken ADSM
        Big Bang Theory, THE
        Robot Chicken ADSM
        TOSH.O CMDY
        BOBS Burgers ADSM
        Big Bang Theory, THE
        Cleveland Show, THE AD

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Years back — like before I left the paper — I read stats that showed younger people were reading at least as much news as their parents. So, not just Comedy Central and John Oliver. Can’t remember now where I saw that.

      Of course, they’re reading it online, which is fine — I don’t read the dead-tree versions myself, either. I much prefer the iPad.

      And, as I’ve explained before, that would be AWESOME for newspapers — online is a much cheaper and easier way to deliver your content, and you get it to people so much faster — except that they’ve never been able to replace print advertising revenue with online ad revenue. Lots of ads, but the rate structure that the market will bear just isn’t as profitable as print.

      And that’s what you see happening.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Monopolies hold that kind of pricing power; even localized ones like the old broadsheets.

        It’s too bad the State of SC is in the electric power business; it would be great for the entire state to (partially) disintermediate the utilities with solar power. As one example of future creative destruction. South Carolina shouldn’t have a big box store or distribution warehouse roof that isn’t covered by solar arrays. Except that’s not what SCANA, Duke and Santee Cooper want for “their” protected turf.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          All those red-tiled German roofs covered in solar panels, and they get so much less sun than we do.

  12. Brad Warthen Post author

    Warren and Neil are two of 15 people leaving the newsroom.

    Before all this, and before Dawn Hinshaw left, there were 46 people listed online as working in news and editorial. (A couple of newsroom sources have told me the current count is 52, not 46. I don’t know why the other six aren’t listed.)

    Of those, 16 will be gone.

    At the height, after the Record closed and the staffs were merged in 1988, there were about 150 people in the newsroom.

    1. Doug Ross

      So a one person editorial “staff”? Seriously? Or are they going to do like the local TV news and hire what appear to be recent college graduates? I can see the editorial headlines now:

      OMG! Top 10 Things Nikki Haley Did Wrong This Week!
      You Won’t Believe Lindsey’s Graham’s Secret For Foreign Policy!
      America. Most Greatest Country Ever?
      Who Is John McCain and Why Is He Yelling?

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Well, they kind of have hired recent grads–the two I spoke with in the aftermath of the USC student’s death were quite impressive, knowledgeable about the community (they had worked for the Daily Gamecock). It’s the seasoning that age provides that you need to have at least some of!

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