Social Media, Rules and John Paton

John Paton is CEO of the Journal-Register Company. JRC publishes the New Haven Register and bunch of other papers in and out of Connecticut. I work for Tribune Company which owns FoxCT, The Hartford Courant and others. So, to be perfectly clear, Paton runs the competition.

At the moment the newspaper business sucks. Only time will tell, but a case can be made John Paton is a visionary who will lead newspapers from their malaise.

John Paton is CEO of the Journal-Register Company. JRC publishes the New Haven Register and bunch of other papers in and out of Connecticut. I work for Tribune Company which owns FoxCT, The Hartford Courant and others. So, to be perfectly clear, Paton runs the competition.

At the moment the newspaper business sucks. Only time will tell, but a case can be made John Paton is a visionary who will lead newspapers from their malaise.

What John Paton says and does is a big deal because the industry watchws him. His influence is larger than his company’s circulation would imply.

Today Last year John Paton said ‘anything goes’ for JRC employees using social media.

Some of you have asked what are JRC’s Employee Rules For Using Social Media. To keep it simple I have reduced them to three:




Yes, blank.

By removing rules Paton is saying objective reporters are allowed to have subjective opinions. That flies in the face of journalism over the last fifty years.

Back while I was at Channel 8 corporate management attempted to impose the opposite kind of policy. To their credit when shown the modern impracticality of muffling social media they relented. As far as I know that policy died a quiet death.

A noisier policy battle pitted reporter Rinker Buck and his blog versus the Hartford Courant. I suspect (years, management and policy changes later) it would be a non-issue today.

Everything we know about traditional media has changed! Some see extinction ahead. Others are looking for a way to move on. I’m rooting for the latter.

Note: For some reason I thought this was a new entry by Paton. It is not, but it’s still worth noting.

And The Calories Just Keep On Comin’

I am living proof. Too many Christmases. Too many pounds.

I like working here in “Connecticut’s Newsroom.” It’s a busy place. Since we’re a TV station, website and the Hartford Courant it’s by far the largest newsroom in the state! A newsroom like this is steeped in tradition.

I got this via email yesterday. It’s a newsroom tradition!

Just a reminder…..

Tomorrow (Wed.) is our annual newsroom holiday party.

Please bring a potluck dessert to share.

See attached flyer.

Happy holidays !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I forwarded a copy of that note to Helaine who sent me in with banana cake enveloped in cream cheese frosting. Somewhere nearby a cardiologist is crying!

In case you’re wondering my place of business is just like yours. Throw out some food and they’re all vultures!

It was just a little crazy with cakes and cookies and pies. It was too much even for an overeater like me! There are delights I’d love to sample if only they’ll keep until tomorrow.

Fat chance!

Eat-a-thons like ours today are the grist of holiday news stories like this one from the New York Times.

[S]everal studies now show that the average weight gain during the winter holidays is just one pound.

The news isn’t all good. Most people don’t ever lose the pound of weight they put on during the holidays, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds a year, that means much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating.

I am living proof. Too many Christmases. Too many pounds.

Reassuring News On The Snow Front

On this day in 1977 it snowed! Some parts of the Northwest Hills got as much as nine inches.

Kudos on this go to my weather partner at FoxCT Rachel Frank and the Hartford Courant which never throws anything away! On this day in 1977 it snowed! Some parts of the Northwest Hills got as much as nine inches. North of Hartford Bradley Airport got an inch and a half.

The good news is May 9 is the latest it’s ever snowed in Connecticut… well, at least as far as we know. Recorded history doesn’t go back far enough to make rash generalizations.

I was living in Philadelphia in May ’77. Had I been living here I would have been suicidal!

Reductions At The Courant

It’s a sad day for journalism, for print media, for Connecticut.

Someone just passed a memo to me, no more than an hour old, from the publisher of the Hartford Courant to his staff. News pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. Subscribers will only be getting 75% of what they get now in quantity. The newsroom will go from 232 to 175. The reduction there is also to 75% of current levels. There will be voluntary buyouts and forced layoffs.

All this comes on the heels of the heavily leveraged purchase of the Tribune Corporation, the Courant’s owner, by Sam Zell. It’s a sad day for journalism, for print media, for Connecticut.

There is little public support for newspapers or print in general. The problem is, newspapers still perform an extremely valuable service. No one else provides the depth of reportage papers do.

The Courant’s memo follows after the jump.

Continue reading “Reductions At The Courant”

Valuing News By The Pound

The struggling company has looked at the column inches of news produced by each reporter, and by each paper’s news staff. Finding wide variation, they said, they have concluded that it could do without a large number of news employees and not lose much content.

As hard as economic times are for TV, they’re worse for newspapers and other print outlets.

So, what do you do to get the bottom line up? I don’t know, but I suspect it isn’t this. Here’s a story from The International Herald Tribune. Michaels is Randy Michaels, CEO of the Tribune Corporation, now owned by Sam Zell, and heavily in debt.

…the struggling company has looked at the column inches of news produced by each reporter, and by each paper’s news staff. Finding wide variation, they said, they have concluded that it could do without a large number of news employees and not lose much content.

Michaels said that, after measuring journalists’ output, “when you get into the individuals, you find out that you can eliminate a fair number of people while eliminating not very much content.” He added that he understood that some reporting jobs naturally produce less output than others.

He said that The Los Angeles Times produced 51 pages of news for each journalist there, while the figure for two other Tribune papers, The Baltimore Sun and The Hartford Courant, is more than 300 pages.

Michaels had been CEO of Clear Channel Communications. When he left there, Radio Ink reported:

…industry message boards were swollen with vitriolic postings vilifying both him and Clear Channel. Various diatribes claimed that Michaels was everything from “the antichrist of Radio” to “a blight on professionalism” to “representative of the heinous crimes perpetrated by Clear Channel.”

Today, it seems Michaels is valuing content the way a butcher values meat – by the pound. But in the real world content is not equal word-for-word. You would hope some of the LA Times lower word count has to do with the depth its stories contain.

It will be sad to see newspapers disappear. I’m afraid that’s going to happen… and sooner, rather than later.

Right now, TV is incapable of providing the depth and story count papers do (though TV kills print in immediacy, emotion and a number of other categories). Few of the Internet news sites really produce their own content, and those that do seldom produce local news.

My daughter and her generation don’t read many newspapers nor do they watch much TV news. No one has yet figured out how to make traditional news more attractive to them.

It’s all very sad.

An Evening Of Higher Education

After last night’s 6:00 o’clock news, I headed to Southern Connecticut State University. Jerry Dunklee, a journalism professor at Southern who I knew as a radio talk show host when I first came here, invited me to join a panel on blogging.

The class was already underway when I walked in the room. I was glad to see little has changed. The students avoided sitting close to the front.

Sitting behind a table, facing the group, were Denis Horgan and Andy Thibauld. These guys are much better examples of what bloggers are all about than the navel gazing I usually post.

Andy publishes “The Cool justice Report,” while Denis’ blog is self named.

Both these guys are capital “J” journalists with backgrounds at traditional media outlets. Denis went though a messy divorce at the Hartford Courant, after editor Brian Toolan told him to stop blogging. I’m not sure of all the steps, but the Courant no longer has Horgan… we do.

As with my blog, though in a much more beautiful, writerly way, Denis choronicles his own life and experiences. A really good writer can make the mundane meaningful.

If that came off as a left handed compliment, it wasn’t my intention.

Denis is also author of “Flotsam: A Life in Debris,” reviewed quite favorably in the… wait for it… Hartford Courant. You can’t make this stuff up!

Andy Thibauld is also a print journalist gone web. This description probably doesn’t do it justice, but his site is an outlet for Andy’s investigative reporting.

Staunchly liberal (as is Horgan), Andy is answering a calling, more than doing a job. The fact that he’s doing this kind of expository reporting in a medium where there’s little chance for financial payoff means it’s passion driven.

Stereotypically, both men seem directly out of central casting for who they are. That Denis is an Irishman from Boston is totally obvious before he even speaks! Andy wears the same rumpled trench coat nearly every other investigative reporter wears.

There’s got to be a warehouse where these are given out to people who whisper, “I know this pol on the take.”

Both these guys are passionate about what they do. Neither seems to have a free will choice to stop. It’s just too deeply ingrained in their DNA.

I’m not sure how either puts food on the table. There’s no money in blogging… certainly in this kind of blogging. People write for newspapers because they need to write and they need to eat. Blogging only fills half the equation.

I can’t be sure the students got what we were talking about. Can you understand what drives these two guys before being driven yourself? Don’t you first need to understand what it’s like pounding your head against the wall for a boss who judges your work by quantity alone?

The students seemed attentive and asked good questions. It’s just, I’ve come to the conclusion experience cannot be taught.

It’s a shame the traditional media (print and electronic) are under such brutal financial pressure. Guys like these, to whom principle is king, are amazing role models for college students. I’m not sure if I belonged on the same panel.

There are never enough bright people with principles.

Telling Off The Boss

There’s an old joke. Two guys get together, and the first one says, “You know, I really feel like telling off the boss again.”

The second one says, “Again?”

“Sure,” comes the reply, “I felt like telling him off yesterday too!”

At some point, we all want to tell off the boss. It’s not limited to me. I’ve had ten bosses at my current job. Each of them probably wanted to tell off his/her boss too.

We seldom let loose in the face of authority. Mostly, we grumble to ourselves and suck it up. On those few occasions when emotion trumps restraint, it can be downright petrifying.

I remember one incredible screaming match with my bosses boss. This was nearly twenty years ago and I was much more hot headed… and expendable. He was hot headed too, so we just went at it.

I left that fight knowing I’d soon be fired.

I wasn’t and never figured out why. Trust me, it wasn’t because he liked my spunk&#185!

Anyway, what brings this up is what was said by Rinker Buck, a reporter for the Hartford Courant. He told his bosses off – questioned the marching orders they’ve given, and he’s done so publicly.

He hadn’t finished the first paragraph of his rhetorical treatise when he said:

Sub Base New London Saved

I am stunned. I never wrote about it here, there being so much controversy and it being a seemingly political issue, but when the BRAC commission originally announced the New London submarine base would close, I figured it was a done deal.

From the Hartford Courant:

Connecticut officials reacted with joy.

“Yahoo!” said U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. “Submarine base New London lives, and I think that it will live forever.”

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she was in tears as she listened to the decision while in her car on the way to New London. The governor said she had someone in her office hold a phone to a television set so she could hear the vote. “We did it! We did it!” Rell said.

It seemed, as a Blue State, Connecticut had little pull in 21st Century Washington. The BRAC commission was supposed to be non-partisan, but…

Well, I could not have been any more wrong!

Forget about security for a moment, because I am not qualified to judge how much more or less secure our nation would be with submarines based elsewhere. My concern was Connecticut and how our state’s well being would be affected.

In terms of economics this would have been a tragic body blow to the state. All those people and jobs, all that money and commerce, all the subcontractors necessary to run the base – gone.

Before the advent of casino gambling, Southeastern Connecticut was an economic black hole. This would have brought us back to where we were before the casinos and then some.

Am I looking at this from a selfish standpoint? Absolutely.

Judgemental for Christmas

My friend Josh Mamis, who publishes the New Haven Advocate, asked me to come to their offices and judge Christmas decorations. Is there a job I am less qualified for?

I said yes.

The Advocate is a weekly tabloid devoted to local arts and entertainment. It is often the best place for ‘bite the hand that feeds me’ expository journalism on local politics and business. I always enjoy reading their longer feature stories.

In the past, the Advocate had been very unkind to my station in a story that I felt was vindictive and a maybe little heavy handed (though they were always nice to me…. even in that article).

Though once locally owned, it recently become part of Times-Mirror which also owns the Hartford Courant and Channel 61.

Josh knows I have a soft spot in my heart for print in general and the Advocate specifically. Though TV has more impact and is much more immediate, the written word has an elegance and permanence that TV can’t touch. That’s probably why I enjoy writing this blog.

I drove into Downtown New Haven and parked under the Omni Hotel. Though cold, today was a beautiful day with high thin cirrus clouds adding some texture to an otherwise blue sky.

It is only in the past few years that New Haven has had a first class hotel downtown. I popped up to street level through the hotel’s lobby and walked around the block to the Advocate’s offices. They are located on the 11th floor of a building over what was the Chapel Square Mall. The building had fallen into disrepair, but looked very good today. Obviously, someone has spent the money to try and turn it around.

The mall is long gone – a failure through a few incarnations. I was surprised to hear it had been converted to upscale apartments. What was the actual mall is now an enclosed courtyard with an open air roof and apartment entrances. Upscale apartments going into Downtown New Haven (and now a 4-screen artsy movie theater down the block) is another very good sign for the city.

Josh’s office is near the receptionist and has a killer view of the Green and then north to East Rock&#185. Very impressive… especially so with today’s weather.

We schmoozed for a few minutes and then it was on to the judging. To my eye, Christmas lights around Connecticut seem to less visible this year. The Advocate’s office maintained that trend. There really wasn’t a lot of cubicle decorating, though I did pick a winner.

The winning cubicle featured a very scrawny little artificial tree but lots of other little homemade Christmasy type accoutrements. It was enough to show real holiday spirit. That won me over.

As I walked around the office, saying hi to people and chatting, I noticed someone working on a page from the paper featuring a photo of a group of people. They were from a store called “Group W Bench.”

I smiled… actually chuckled at that name. No one else did. The name “Group W Bench” only meant something to me. My age was showing again.

“The Group W Bench” was made famous in the late 60s by Arlo Guthrie in his song “Alice’s Restaurant.” For 18 minutes Arlo told and sang the story of his arrest for illegal dumping… in the town dump… on a legal holiday… and led to his day at the local draft board.

And I proceeded to tell him the story of the twenty seven eight-by-ten

color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and the paragraph on

the back of each one, and he stopped me right there and said, “Kid, I want

you to go and sit down on that bench that says Group W …. NOW kid!!”

And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W’s

where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after

committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly

looking people on the bench there.

Hey, it was the late 60s! Times were different and this story of a song became huge.

I left the Advocate a little disappointed – not because they didn’t know Arlo, but because there weren’t more decorations to be seen. But I also left feeling a little better (and this is a continuing, incremental process) about New Haven.

&#185 – At the end of the last ice age, as the ice retreated, huge chunks of rock that had been pushed forward by the glaciation remained in place. East Rock is one of these steep, sharp rock mountains. It overlooks New Haven Harbor and is a few miles from downtown.

Pro Tennis With My Camera

I was lucky enough to ‘sneak’ down to the photographers row at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament being staged in New Haven, CT. Actually, I was properly credentialed to be there, though my job doesn’t include carrying a camera. I brought my three week old Digital Rebel and my two Sigma lenses.

The press photographers I sat with were evenly divided between pro Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses. Using my ‘thin’ Sigmas, I was giving up at least 2 f stops to everyone there.

The match started well after 7:00 PM. There was little natural light left. The majority of what we got was coming from the stadium lights.

I asked the Hartford Courant photographer to my left how fast he was shooting and he offered up 1/500th. That would be enough to stop the players but not the ball. I switched to shutter priority and ISO 1600.

The top photo is Elena Dementieva serving. This is a crop with my 18-125mm lens at 77mm f/5.6 1/500. All the photos received noise reduction, level adjustment and sharpening.

Next up is Claudine Schaul. It’s a full frame using my Sigma 70-300mm lens at 300mm f/8 1/500.

After returning to my office, a photographer I work with (now video, but formerly still) talked to me about timing shots. While I was shooting I heard a chorus of shutters every time the ball hit the racket. He said everyone’s a little off on the first day, but by the end of a tournament it becomes much easier to time your press to catch the ball in the frame.

I was surprised at how most of the photographers looked at their pictures between serves.

My final shot here is Claudine again. Full frame, Sigma 18-125mm at 125mm f/5.6 1/500.

Blogger’s note: Click on any image to see it in a larger version.

My blog – quoted in print

“It’s embarrassing to me,” Fox said. “Forget the movie. This was the perfect storm.”

I got a call from Pat Seremet at the Hartford Courant yesterday. She had heard how I missed my shot at WTIC. The weatherman, unable to attend because of weather. Now that’s news!

I’ve attached her story to the link below.

Let me explain the use of the term “Perfect Storm.” In order for us to have had this teeny bit of snow stop a significant portion of the state, everything had to fall in line in exactly the right order. It was an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances. If any single thing would have changed, we wouldn’t have noticed the snow at all.

Continue reading “My blog – quoted in print”

Men (and Women) In Black III

I was surprised to see a half page ad in today’s Hartford Courant from the air staff (members of AFTRA) at WFSB in Hartford. Their union negotiations have been contentious, to say the least, over the past few years.

Some long time employees have worked for Travelers Insurance, Post-Newsweek and now Meredith as station owners.

Travelers was local, which always makes a difference. And, at that time, the money was flowing in like water, to a station that had cost them a pittance to put on-the-air.

Post-Newsweek was a print oriented company and, though many people felt they weren’t as employee friendly as Travelers, the station continued to be a good place to work.

Meredith is also print oriented but it’s a different situation from Post-Newsweek. I am not involved in their labor negotiations, but I have heard that Meredith declared an impasse and implemented their last/best offer. There’s not much the union members can do short of walking out.

Today’s ad said the anchors and reporters would all wear black as a sign of solidarity – and they did. The ad also listed some of their grievances. A friend called me from their newsroom to say the tension was high and management had spoken to some on-the-air people.

Meredith is going to have to make a decision on how they value the folks on-the-air. Considering the preponderance of research that says, to a large extent, people watch TV stations because of whose on the air, I will be interested to see how far this goes.

This isn’t a grade school fight. Would Meredith really cut off their nose to spite their face? Will the union cripple the station by walking out and risking their own jobs at the same time? Are there more job actions to come or will cooler heads prevail? How can it benefit any company to be at war with their own staff?

I work for the competition and I want to win, but not by default against a crippled opponent. This time, the news will be from the newsroom.

(The Hartford Courant featured an article about the situation, which is attached below)

Continue reading “Men (and Women) In Black III”