Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More bloodletting at Houston's alleged leading information source

We've received more information regarding the 5 percent personnel cutbacks at the Houston Chronicle, the only daily newspaper in the country's fourth largest city.

In addition to the names we posted yesterday, the additional buyouts/layoffs include:

Andrew Guy (features), Judy Minshew (editorial), Valarie White (business secretary)..... and Patty Reinert in Washington, we're told.

Good luck to all.

There's been a lot of chatter amongst the newsroom serfs that an "age discrimination" lawsuit might be filed, but so far as we know, that hasn't happened.
Still, according to sources, a good number of the layoffees are on the wrong side o' 50, if you know what we mean.

We'll say again, it's a damn shame that a paper that's among the USA's top 10 in circulation and which holds a monopoly in a city the size of Houston takes such drastic measures to protect its profit margin, which we suspect remains quite healthy in comparison with other non-media private sector endeavors.

In case you missed it, Perry Dorrell (aka P.Diddie) explained it all in reaction to one of our earlier posts.

Here's what he said:

You worked in the bizness, Banjo, so you know why this happens. I used to work for a handful of Hearst newspapers, on the ad side, between 1981 and 1992.

The profit margin of an urban daily like the Chronic probably still averages something around 20-25%. As circulation and subsequently advertising continue to erode, expenses have to be reduced in order to sustain that margin. Newspapers don't cut staff to stay in business; they cut staff to maintain the highest profit margins for any business you can think of. Smaller "community" newspapers run higher margins; the Plainview Daily Herald ran 30% in 1987 and Hearst budgeted 33% in 1988. When the Beaumont Enterprise was sold to Hearst in 1984, the publisher at the time -- who was also the president of Jefferson-Pilot Publications, the seller -- bragged to the Hearst guys that he was running that newspaper at a 40% profit margin.

"A position-elimination program" is the only way left to Sweeney and his brethren at newspapers large and small, all across the nation, to preserve their bonuses and ultimately their own jobs.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the printed newspaper as we all know it will be read only in a museum by the next generation. As a kid, I grew up sitting on my dad's lap reading the funnies with him. When I was a teenager he would announce, as I ambled into the kitchen in the morning: "the Astros won last night". That just doesn't happen any more. Kids get what little news they care about anyplace except from the newspaper. They're too busy texting to get ink on their fingers.

And I have no idea who's willing or capable of absorbing the cost of gathering news in the future. Those profit margins provided all the staffers to work city hall, the courthouse, the football games and so on. Newspapers have been paying that freight -- to go out and get the news and then get it to us -- for well over a hundred years. But they don't want to do it any more.

That's where the breakdown will be -- make that, 'is'. The one between the truth and the spin. If nobody wants to pay to collect the news, and everybody just prints or posts the press release, and something like net neutrality stifles the blogosphere ...

We can all whine about bias and lack of coverage and cutbacks, but when the newspaper business finally quits or goes under, there's precious little in terms of infrastructure in the news business to fill the void.

UPDATE, Halloween afternoon ....

Connelly of the Houston Press reports this:
UPDATE: The names continue to roll in: Gregory Katz of the European bureau, Polly Ross Hughes of the Austin bureau, art critic Patricia Johnson, and almost 30-year-vet photographer Carlos Antonio Rios.

[link (bottom of column)]


Anonymous said...

After being a subscriber of The Houston Chronicle for over 30 years, I ended that several years ago. The newspaper does have a monopoly in Houston and promotes an open border agenda at every turn, ignoring national news often and replacing it with "editorials" and articles that appear to be written by high school journalism students promoting their agenda. The Chronicle is a more of a "rag" and less of a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed at the Houston Chronicle about three years ago and got an in-depth look at the organization over two days.

What a mess. I do not know how on Earth they make a profit as it is -- given the OVERSTAFFING they have already.

There were managers, reporting to managers reporting to managers. It made the government look efficient.

And, no, they did not offer me a job. But, I look at that as a good thing and an example of their stupidity.

I've since gone on to make twice as much yearly as I was interviewing for there -- and have a real executive job (not some made up crap that they were advertising for).

If everyone there worked on a daily basis there wouldnt be too many problems.. But, idle hands....

They need to get rid of the "thinkers" in their place and keep those who do real work... or they are doomed...

Scarlett O. said...

That's awesome how Nostradamus (previous comment) who spends two days interviewing at the Chronicle can have such insight into a large, complex organization.

Good idea to get rid of the "thinkers." That will make for quality journalism.

Funny how the Internet turns every blowhard into a prophet.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, I am the idiot for having seen how ineffiecient they are.

I'll tell you what. You go working at a big newspaper to a TV station (one of the largest in the country) and tell me how ineffienct a newspaper is.

Until you've done that, you don't know squat.

And, thanks to the Chronicle's infinite wisdom in turning me down for a job, that is exactly what I was able to do.

Now who is working as a high-level executive making decisions about how ineffiencent newspapers are?

Certainly not the dumbs---s who passed me over for a job.

Perspective is everything -- and the people who have worked for newspapers all their life don't have it. Period.

Scarlett O. said...

Not necessarily an idiot -- but definitely a gasbag.

I'm not interested in defending the Chronicle's middle management. And I'm not interested in your "high-level executive" job. What executive has time for this crap, or even goes around discussing his high-level executive job?

I'm sick of hearing the day-after vultures like you chiming in with their "insight" into a place they've never worked.

Because you sure do sound bitter, and from this perspective, it sure as hell sounds like you're piling it on.

Jackstraw from Wichita said...

Every media economist will tell you that newspapers produce far more content than TV stations. Hence, more staff.

What's with this guy?

Anonymous said...

Oh Jack Straw and Scarlett....

This does not take much time to reply to. In fact, since I work so much more efficiently than any newspaper employee it's pretty darn easy...

And, yes, it goes without saying newspapers have more content.. but not per employee and certainly not per dollar earned or dollar invested or hour of employee time worked.

Newspapers are typically a place full of gasbags (good word Scarlett) most of who/whom (whatever) "think" all day.

Those who do the least work actually are deemed the smartest -- see those who do the 65 inch "think pieces" are actually proving how smart they are. (Who else could be so smart to write such a long and deep and involved story with so many sources and such "authority")?

And, those are also the people who have time to play office politics and begin (but never finish) initiatives for which they never have to invest their own resources or follow through to conclusion...

The fact that "open minded" Journalists (who are of course attacking me) are having this kind of reaction tell me I am on to something...

"What is with this guy?" from Jack Straw... The truth... that's it.

Learn to live with it because newspapers can't hide their "smartness" behind boring stories that are written by boring, lazy people...

In fact, the thing the newspaper people hate (some secretly and some not so secretyly) the most about the web is that everything can be measured -- and then they are shown and proven to be as useless as people like me have known all along.

Oh, by the way, Scarlett, I'm not a vulture because that implies I'm here to feast on something that is dead. I am certainly not here to eat or feast or profit on things such as this, just more confirmation that I am correct. I've been saying this stuff for years -- but of course not on this blog or to you.

And, bitter? Not at all. The people who got laid off were probably not the actual problem. It is middle to high level management at the Chronicle that is the problem.

I think we actually agree more about the root of the trouble than you would realize... unless you are some editor at the Chronicle (or the Chron -- whatever they call it).

Good luck.

And, just because I am anonymous, who said I was a man? You refer to me as "his" and "him" and "guy" -- I might not be.... and I don't mean that in the "wimp" way (which is certainly the quick-witted, cool way you will respond, but in the actual gender way...)

Things that make you go "Hmmmmmm"

Anonymous said...

No print publication is "as efficent" as any tv news operation.

But the fact is no tv station i've ever worked at - including my major market station now - has the resources to actually do consistent watchdog beat reporting.

My station's one of the largest and most successful in California and we have one reporter who follows state government. Part time.

I couldn't tell you what the capitol bureau staffing is for Cali papers. But when I worked in a (much smaller) state capitol, one of the state's major metro newspaper had a bureau staffed by four full-time reporters.

I don't trust my state government to act in my interests. I don't have the time to watchdog them myself. Our guy is a GREAT reporter. But in the largest and most complex state in the U.S., I don't think that one person, working three days a week, can keep the entire aparatus of state government honest.

The same goes for the city, county, and federal levels.

You want the latest on a nasty pile up blocking your commute? A super-cell thunderstorm? A hostage situation? Flip on the tube. I'm in the business, I'm damn good at making sure you get it, and I'm proud of the work we do. A lot of it is quality public service journalism.

Even at our worst at least you get decent televison and the forecast.

But you want beat reporting to make sure you're not wrongly jailed by your own government? Or robbed to line the pockets of some politician's buddies? Then pray newspapers survive, and quit whining about how much content they put out per dollar. Content's cheap. Reporting's expensive.

(of course, I don't fault anyone for wishing doom on an organization that just dissed you for a job. Just don't generalize it to the whole industry.)

Rant over. Hope the new gigs working out for you