Trouble in Second City

The owner of the Chicago Sun-Times has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

CNN reports: “At least 120 newspapers in the United States have shut down since January 2008, according to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry. More than 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have vaporized in that time, according to the site.”

A posthumous missive

The late John Walter, former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a founding editor of USATODAY (They insist on all-caps), wrote a piece shortly  before his own death about the impending death of newspapers, blaming three particular folks who hastened the demise of the ol’ fish wrapper. It was published by Poynter with his widow’s permission

It could just as well have been the fault of an indifferent customer service representative who didn’t grovel sufficiently enough for the disgruntled subscribe who had just called for the fifth time this month to complain about having to fetch the paper out of the hedge in two feet of snow.

It could have been the sports columnist who had the audacity to opine that the local pro sport franchise needed a new coach, or worse, that the coach wasn’t the problem.

It could have been that what thumped on the front porch (for those of us lucky enough to have a front porch) at 6 this morning presented yesterday’s news and was soggy to boot.

I don’t know why, but whenever the State of Journalism becomes the question du jour, which is a lot these days, all eyes seem to turn to Poynter. As if it has the answers.

Hot off the press … down the highway

The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C., my old haunt, began a new era today, outsourcing its printing to a newspaper company in Charleston, roughly 90 miles down U.S. 17.

Our “inside” source reports the paper was a little late in arriving at doorsteps this morning.

Here’s a memo from publisher Pamela Browning posted earlier in March announcing the changes, as quoted in a McClatchy blog:

“From: Browning, P.J
Sent: Wed 3/4/2009 9:01 AM
To: Tsn All Sun News Users
Subject: Outsourcing update”

“All – as you know we have been working toward a contract to outsource our printing and packaging. Today, I am pleased to announce that we have entered into a contractual relationship with the Evening Post Publishing Co. in Charleston, SC to begin printing on Monday, March 30.”

As routine as these developments have become – outsourcing print operations is among many moves newspapers have tried across the nation – what’s disheartening about the news in Myrtle Beach is that at least while I was there from 1988 to 1996, Myrtle Beach and The Sun News were booming. Circulation grew, market penetration was among the best in the industry (at least if you believed the reports), newsroom staffing grew to meet higher expectations for what had been a sleepy small-town rag.

The paper made its share of clumsy missteps, and no doubt has made some since I left more than a decade ago, but it seemed to be one of the few markets that would remain relatively strong. But jeez, when even a town like Myrtle Beach can’t sustain a daily newspaper, you know this is an industry in deep doo-doo.

The Georgetown Times, situated roughly halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, is also published by the Charleston printer.


The newest model from Detroit

Take the newest model out of Detroit for a test run next week. It’s a sleek, energy-efficient number that Detroit executives hope will save the industry – the newspaper industry, that is.  That’s a lot to lay on two newspapers in a town that’s already in a mighty economic struggle.

A former colleague of mine at the Beacon Journal, David Hertz, writes about the upcoming experiment in Detroit, in which both the Free Press and The Detroit News are going to stop home delivery of their respective papers Monday-Wednesday.

Rather than try to stick with the print-come-hell-or-high-water approach or abandoning print altogether, the Detroit papers will try to find success in a hybrid version of a leaner, more efficient print edition and an online publication.

Hertz directs us to a Poynter Institute interview with Freep publisher Dave Hunke, who lays out what he believes the jointly operating papers must achieve to stay alive.

They are among a growing group of publications seeking that magical formula of providing information and making a buck in the process. We’ll all be watching.

A squirrel’s (missing) tail

It’s one of those little moments.

With this magic keyboard at my fingertips, I spotted something in the corner of my eye, outside a streaky sunlit window, bobbing around. It was a squirrel – nothing unusual about that, but its movement was a tad off. Ah, no tail. Looking rather rabbitlike, it hopped around as maimed squirrels do, making do without its bushy tail. How did it happen, I wondered. Close encounter with a minivan? Prowling neighorhood cat? A more-powerful rival man-squirrel? An unfortunate smelting accident?

And I wondered a little more.

What are the social implications for a squirrel that has lost its tail? Will it suffer the slings and arrows of Hamlet’s lonely soliloquy? Will it die cold and lonely, homeless in a leafless tree? Or will it find a meaningful existence, gathering, storing and digging up walnuts and flower bulbs to the aggravation of gardeners everywhere?

And then I saw a telling moment. Hopping across a driveway apron across the street, the squirrel – let’s call him Henry – encountered a sparrow. And it was taunting him. I swear, it hopped around, just out of reach as Henry lunged at it to assert his squirrel authority, taunting him. (We should note that we have no evidence that Henry is a he — he could just as easily be Henrietta.) It didn’t even resort to flying. It just hopped. Who knew sparrows could be so cruel?

And I took to wondering some more.

Taunting sparrows aside, Henry seemed to be managing OK. He could hop. He could climb a tree. But I wondered if he missed his tail. For squirrels, and I am injecting some conjecture here, their tails seem to be an important part of their identity. That twitchy tail is a large part of what makes a squirrel, well, squirrelly. And so we arrive at this question: Is there something we can do to help?

I know, I know, in this crazy mixed-up world of collapsing securitized debt instruments and jobless circus clowns the trouble of one squirrel doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but someday, maybe soon, we’ll regret this moment if we do nothing. But what?

I resort to conjecture again, but I’m guessing that squirrel prosthetic tail technology is not what it could be. We need to pursue other remedies. Perhaps some job training, or the motivational speaker circuit. All he needs is a helping, uh, hand, paw, whatever, to get started.

Stay tuned.

Fun with Jimmy and John

160px-james_traficant225px-john-boehnerOhio seems to have a knack for producing colorful congressmen. James Traficant is wrapping up a stretch in federal prison after a career in Congress in which he was best-known for his “hairhat” toupee and a penchant for declaring on the floor after a lengthy speech, “Beam me up!” The Youngstown-area Democrat is due for release this year.

Also fun to watch is John Boehner (pronunciation guide: BAY-ner), a Republican from Southwest Ohio, Cincinnati-Dayton area. The House minority leader is renowned for his “Perma-tan” and well-controlled coif.

160px-dennis_kucinichWhat got me started on this kick was a report about Dennis “The Menace” Kucinich (also sporting a, um, unique hairstyle) suing his (apparently “former”) publisher because the publisher was, well, a deadbeat. His suit claims that the publisher’s failure to properly launch his autobiography, The Courage to Survive, damaged his 2008 presidential hopes. Between stifled snickers, FishBowlDC dutifully reported these allegations as filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and yours truly repeated (the reports, not the snickers) at DelMio.com.

See more on this exciting scoop


Dan Aykroyd as Boehner in the officially sanctioned video link below: