By Mick Gregory
After the spring break/Easter holiday retail promotions, newspapers have a long, low period of advertising drop off, followed closely by subscription and single-copy sales declines. That’s when the next big wave of head-count cuts usually hits. It’s as predictable as a 2-hour commute in So Cal. The newsrooms don’t see it coming any better than hogs at a Bakersfield slaughter house. I take that back, hogs do get the picture about five minutes before the drill.
(CAN YOU IMAGINE? WRITERS COMING UP WITH THEIR OWN HEADLINES?)
Word out of the Los Angeles Daily Journal newsroom is that the legal paper lopped off its copy desk last night — the whole thing. I’ve heard it from a few sources, one of whom emails that deadlines will be pushed earlier in the day, writers are being asked to suggest their own headlines and line editors will back read each other’s edited copy. The editor staffing was already thin, with recent departures not replaced. Emails one staffer:
Honestly, how do you put out a paper without a copy desk? We’re all very shell-shocked. The lay-offs included a veteran copy-editor who had been at the paper for 15 years, and who was completly unaware she was on the chopping block. We’re all scrambling around, trying to figure out how we’re going to keep doing our jobs without copy editors. — Kevin Roderick of the LA Observer
TIP TO PUBLISHERS: TRY USING WEB-BASED CONTENT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE AND HAVE COPY EDITORS IN PUNE, INDIA DO THE EDITING FOR 20 PERCENT OF THE EXPENSE. THOUGH, GIVE YOUR WRITERS A CHANCE. ALL THEY NEED IS ABOUT A WEEK OF PRACTICE.
Here are the latest cuts:
The Seattle Times –175 to 200.
The Dizzy Dean Singleton cuts in California — bottomless.
Here is some open grieving from what was once a real fluff position, sports columnist in Southern California. Free food in the press box, jokes about the sports stars, great seats for all the best games, somebody had to do it. Well, not any more.
I have a suggestion for your exit interview, say “Pull my finger!”
And blow one a burrito/beer fart that they will remember.
‘We’re Eliminating the Position of Sports Columnist’
It took me, oh, about three seconds to process the meaning of the call from the newsroom secretary.
“Steve wants to see you in Louise’s office.”
Steve would be Steve Lambert, editor of The Sun/Bulletin/Titanic. And Louise is Louise Kopitch, head of personnel for the same foundering entities.
These days, your editor wants to see you (in tandem with the HR boss) for one reason only. And it’s not to congratulate you on being named Employee of the Year.
It was about noon, and I was in the new, north San Bernardino offices of The Sun to do my weekly IE-oriented notes column. I was going to lead with several paragraphs on Don Markham, the mad genius of Inland Empire prep football who, at age 68, is attempting to put a maraschino cherry atop his “mad genius” credentials by starting up an intercollegiate sports program (and, more importantly, to him, a football team) at something called American Sports University (current enrollment, about 30). A school planned and created by a Korean mad-genius businessman who either is about to fill a niche in academe or lose a boatload of money.
As it turns out, American Sports University is located in downtown San Bernardino in the very same collection of buildings occupied until October of 2006 by The Sun. The same buildings I reported to for my first day of work, Aug. 16, 1976, and then spent the next three decades of my working life. Later, I found that meaningful.
When the phone rang, my colleague, Michelle Gardner, had been talking to me about Cal State San Bernardino basketball, the aspect of her beat that most interests her. As usual, she was highly animated and barely paused for breath as I took the call, said, “OK,” and hung up. Michelle resumed describing the permutations of the CCAA basketball tournament and what it meant for the Division II NCAA playoffs. She was just getting warmed up. I basically had to walk away from her to answer the summons. Michelle does love her beats, and I admire her for that.
I may have laughed aloud as I went down the stairs. Certainly, I smiled. It seemed so silly. “They come for me at a random time and a random day. A Thursday. At lunch. Huh.”
I walked down the hall, looking for the personnel department offices. All the doors were closed, so I had to glance through the glass to find one occupied. I noticed a guy sitting across the walkway, a guy whom I once had worked with on a daily basis, when he was in the plate room and I would run downstairs to build the agate page. Mark Quarles. I remember wondering if he knew what I was doing down there, Thursday afternoon, and whether he might actually call out to me. Or whether it’s politically dangerous to acknowledge a Dead Man Walking.
I pushed open the door to Kopitch’s office, was invited in, and there was Lambert, looking smaller and thinner than I recalled him. Not that I had seen him often the past year, between my doing so many L.A.-oriented columns and him doing whatever it was he does. Corporate stuff, meetings off site, whatever.
I said, brightly, “I’ve been trying to think of a scenario in which this meeting is a good thing.”
Lambert said something like, “It’s not a good thing.”
I sat on the other side of Kopitch’s desk. As did Lambert, but he was turned slightly toward me and was about six feet away. Maybe that’s the way you do these things? On the same side of the desk but a bit removed? I remember a managing editor, name of Mike Whitehead, telling me, 20-odd years ago, that you never fire someone in your own office because if they insist on talking/complaining you can’t get up and leave. It’s your own office, see? So you fire people somewhere else.
Anyway, Lambert had a bit of a preamble. Something we hate to do, forced on us by economic realities, sorry … “but we’re eliminating the position of sports columnist for the Inland group.” I remember that fairly clearly, and I recall thinking “hmm, they leave it to me to grasp that I am not just a columnist but “sports columnist for the Inland group,” a title I’d never heard, let alone used. There was a flicker of “what if I were really dim, or contentious, and made him say it more directly? Like, “you’re fired.”
Lambert may have said he was sorry another time or two. How often he said it doesn’t matter because I don’t believe he meant it in the least. He could have said it 20 times or not at all and it wouldn’t have mattered. The guy hasn’t liked me since, oh, 2004, and I bet whacking me was the easiest call for him, of the 11 Sun newsroom people he fired that day. Dump a big salary (by Singleton standards) and a guy you don’t like at the same time? Easy. Fun, actually.