Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Baltimore Sun Massacre

Quarter of newsroom staff
fired in a bloodbath
by bankrupt Tribune Co.

Tears, cheers for departees
on a dark day at The Sun

Tribune Company reapers whacked their way through the Baltimore Sun newsroom Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon in a bloodbath of layoffs that decimated the staff – editors, columnists, photographers, copy editors, page designers and support personnel.

Except in the sports department, the reporting staff seemed to remain mostly intact – but with some alterations in duties as the company reorients the newspaper toward an online and local news focus.

As much as I expected (and in my last blog posting foreshadowed) new layoffs at The Sun, my former home of 40 years, the extent of the slaughter was unimaginable: At least 15 editors, and 40 other staffers. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild issued a statement saying Tribune was cutting 27 percent of the already reduced newspaper staff. Online accounts put the total number of layoffs as high as 61.

With names of the casualties mounting in back-and-forth Facebook messages and updates, it seemed like waiting for word on passengers after an airline disaster. And with messages received overnight here at The Real Muck, names of more apparent victims have been added to this account Thursday morning.

Little more than a week ago, new top editor Monty Cook gave a talk at Johns Hopkins University about how The Baltimore Sun was no longer a newspaper company and had to adapt to the digital age. Nonetheless, he singled out a few particular employees for praise – including my longtime friend and colleague Ann LoLordo who, as opinion editor, oversaw the editorial page and the online “second opinion” blog.

Tuesday evening, LoLordo, the newspaper’s former Jerusalem Bureau chief among other key reporting positions in her storied career, was among at least 15 management people ushered out the door. Accounts that these key editors – some, like Ann, having dedicated more than a quarter-century of their lives to the newspaper – were given 15 minutes to get out of the building and watched over by a beefed-up contingent of security guards could not be confirmed.

But clearly there was not much notice. Ann LoLordo was still listed atop Wednesday’s Opinion page, along with deputy opinion editor Larry E. Williams, who also was sent packing. Of the four news and opinion editors listed under the names of publisher/CEO Timothy E. Ryan and editor J. Montgomery Cook, only Larry Williams’ wife, deputy managing editor Marcia Myers, seemed to have survived the purge. The other deputy, Paul M. Moore, was told earlier that he is leaving – but not immediately and he apparently remained on staff Wednesday.

Forget the Derby

Sports reporter Bill Ordine had his tickets and reservations to cover the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, but instead was packing up his desk Wednesday afternoon. Reached by phone, Ordine said he had been expecting to cover the race but was not surprised at the sudden change in plans because “I was pretty low on the [Newspaper] Guild seniority list.”

A longtime sportswriter in Philadelphia, Ordine came to the Baltimore paper as an assistant city editor before going back to his specialty and a Guild- jurisdiction job. His byline topped the lede story, on horse racing safety, in Wednesday’s sports section.

Below the fold of the morning newspaper was popular sports columnist Rick Maese. With the Los Angeles Angels in town, Maese was writing about the team’s Western Maryland-raised pitcher Nick Adenhart, whose anticipated return would never happen. Adenhart was killed in a car accident three weeks ago, hours after pitching his first game of the baseball season for the Angels. It may have been Maese’s last column in The Sun.

Wednesday afternoon, Maese was back at work at Oriole Park doing an interview when he got the news of his layoff by telephone, according to accounts from colleagues at the newspaper.

Also getting the ax, according to various accounts: Sports columnist David Steele, and sports editors Ray Frager and George VanDaniker.

Other casualties, according to word trickling out through Facebook messages among friends and through telephone interviews, are at least eight members of the newspaper’s stellar photographic staff: editor Chuck Weiss; photographers Monica Lopossay, Glenn Fawcett, Chiaki Kawajiri, Liz Malby and Doug Kapustin; and photo technicians Danielle Bradley and Denise Sanders.

Shopping bags and tears

Ellie Baublitz, who put in 22 years and four months as a Sun editorial assistant after a few years as a community news freelancer, wore a spritely yellow outfit to work Wednesday, to “cheer people up” -- but having heard from a newsroom confidant of the Tuesday Night Massacre, she came prepared.

“I stuffed two shopping bags into my briefcase, just in case I needed them.”

About 2 p.m., as the newsroom awaited an expected announcement, Ellie and fellow editorial assistant Fay Lande were summoned by a top editor into his office and told of their layoffs.

Ellie came out in tears and, by one reporter’s account, “That really broke the newsroom up, when Ellie broke up.”

In a telephone chat Wednesday night, Ellie acknowledged the account as “pretty accurate,” and recounted how colleagues cheered and applauded staffers leaving the building after getting the same fate.

“It was pretty ugly down there,” Ellie said. “They probably did me a favor. The last couple of years have been really bad.”

For Ellie, that included the death of one of her three children and transfer by the newspaper from one suburban office to another, in shutdown after shutdown, until she was commuting from her home in rural Carroll County into the city each day.

She had an interesting spin on the timing of the layoffs. “Friday [May 1] starts the new vacation year, so they had to get rid of us before then. I know how the jackals work.”

After Ellie and Fay got the word, one reporter said, “it was like the Angel of Death walking around the newsroom.”

Designers done in

Staff artists Shirdell McDonald and Wes Harvey, former business editor Bernie Kohn, pop music critic Roshod Ollison, librarian Phyllis Kisner (40 years at The Sun)… all are said to be among the Tribune departees, as well as page designers Dave Zeiler (who also wrote an Apple a Day blog on Apple Computer news), Bill Wachsberger, Todd Windsor and Tracy Logsdon Dieter.

Wachsberger immediately fired off a Facebook message, saying: “it's done. i'm officially laid off and headed to o'sheas. good luck to the survivors.” Others joined the party at Mick O’Shea’s pub, celebrating what was left to celebrate – one another.

Bernie Kohn survived an earlier dismantling of his business section and its staff, and was overseeing what little investigative journalism remained at the paper. Until Monday, when his term in office ended, Kohn had been president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Wednesday night, the copy desk was mostly vacant. Its chief, John McIntyre, who authored a highly-regarded Sun blog on editing and language, had been fired Tuesday night. According to an unofficial account from the newsroom, much of his current and former staff – some of my close friends in the newsroom, given my last six years there as night metropolitan editor – got the ax, among them: Mike Kane, Beth Hughes, Peggy Cunningham, Mark Fleming (copy editor on The Sun’s 1998 Pulitzer-winning Shipbreakers investigation), Paul Bendel-Simso, Jeffrey Landaw (who was on vacation in Prague). Also whacked: Connie Knox, former Guild president and longtime union activist.

However, the status of the copy editors remained murky, as all those listed appeared to have higher job titles and may have "bumping" rights to return to lesser status -- unfortunately, at the expense of colleagues with lesser seniority, newsroom sources said.

“There’s so few people [on the copy desk], I can’t tell who’s gone forever or who’s off,” a newsroom veteran said, quietly, in a brief telephone chat from the belly of the beast.

In his final posting for his blog at The Sun (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog), McIntyre was gracious and eloquent despite being fired.

“I expect to continue blogging elsewhere, but you will no longer find me at my post here,” McIntyre ended. “In addition to colleagues who have been great fun, I have had the good fortune to collect a remarkable corps of loyal readers, and I salute you all with gratitude and affection. You have enriched my life.”

DCRTV.com appeared to have the first big listing of the toll of editors, which also included Patricia Fanning, who oversaw medical and science stories (and was held in highest regard by the reporters who worked with her); regional editor Jay Apperson and his counties editors Joe DeCarlo, Dan Clemens and Bill Caufield; and Eileen Canzian, a state editor and former reporter whose tenure at The Sun goes back three decades.

Fanning was said to be editing a story when she got the tap on her shoulder.

Who they gonna call?

Steve Auerweck, a longtime staffer who oversaw newsroom computer operations, was terminated – leaving no one instantly available to help reporters or editors unlock frozen stories or, in what he considered the most important element of his job, act as a liaison between the news operation and Information Technology departments.

So who they gonna call? “There’s the Help Desk in Orlando,” Auerweck said, adding that there was also “someone from IT” in the newspaper building during operational hours. “Clearly they made the decision that what I do can be handled by the Help Desk. It will work for some things; it will fall apart for others.”

Steve's first words after I reached him at home Wednesday night: "I didn't think they could shock me anymore, but they did."

High security for Exodus

Newspaper staffers confirmed that the added security Tuesday evening, as editors were canned, included a guard posted on the skywalk across Centre Street between the building and the employee garage.

“There were security guards stationed in the building and at the end of the bridge… different faces you don’t always see,” said DeCarlo, the editor for Anne Arundel County news. “Additional guards. You’ve got to stop and think, the people we’re talking about here -- nothing bad’s going to happen with that group. This is top- and mid-level management. It’s probably just procedure; they do this for any purge.”

Apperson met with DeCarlo and Clemens and told them he had been fired; they had been unable to find Caulfield, but learned soon after that he was in another office being told of his own termination.

Amid the growing turmoil and shock as colleagues gathered at desks of the departing, DeCarlo said he managed over about an hour and a half to pack up his stuff.

“When I walked out of the newsroom [Tuesday], I said to a couple of people, “The way we put out the paper Monday night will never happen again. It can’t be. Maybe Chicago [corporate home to Tribune and its flagship newspaper] thinks that’s a good idea. We’ll see.”

According to the Newspaper Guild, “Since Tribune acquired The Sun in 1999, the newsroom staff has been cut by more than 60 percent to currently 148 employees from roughly 420.

According to several newsroom sources, The Sun is expected to increase its dependence on content from Chicago – helped by a transition to a computer system that links all the newspapers in Tribune’s bankrupt empire. Some pages likely will have modules left open for local news which the remaining Sun staff will produce.

And that switch to the design style of the Chicago Tribune is coming soon to a newspaper near you.

Addendum:

Overnight messages since the initial "massacre" posting included this one from a friend still on the inside:

If you want a description of what it's like to be a survivor, you can use this unattributed quote:"It's a little like being the turkey who survives Thanksgiving but knows Christmas is a month away."

74 comments:

Jeff Smith said...

It seems a long time ago now when the pages of the Sun were full of bylines I recognized -- and I often knew who had written a story without even reading the byline. Lately there have been very few writers whose names I've recognized, and now there are fewer.

While I don't really want to single anyone out as "shouldn't have been fired" when that applies to everyone involved, but man, Ann LoLordo. I still remember way back when, when she was filing stories, and how I always read them whether I was interested in the topic or not. A great reporter.

When Bob Irsay took over the Colts and started dismantling the team, people got furious and stopped attending the games. And he said, look at these numbers, the people in Baltimore aren't even interested in football. Then the team was gone.

I feel like if I cancel my subscription in protest, I'll be helping to prove that Baltimoreans don't even want a newspaper.

Harry said...

Hi, David -- Thanks for posting this. I'm trying to put together a full list of the departed. What a wretched turn of events. -- Harry

Anonymous said...

Ann covered Tiananmen Square live for the Sun in 1989 for crying out loud. A reporter's reporter whose intellectual curiosity is unmatched. In another business, I too know what it is like to be given 15 minutes to pack your things in front of a security guard. My heart goes out to Ann, Hank and Ethan.

Tracey Logsdon Dieter said...

Hi David. Thank you for your post. I'm one of the casualties -- you can add me to the designer list!

Denise said...

Hi Dave,

After nine years at the Sun and 26 years in the newspaper industry as a graphic artist, I was told my services were no longer required on Wednesday.

Time to chart a new course, but I will miss working with so many. I pray we all find careers where we are valued.

-Denise Murray

John Reinan said...

Any news organization that doesn't need Bernie Kohn must not be much of a news organization.

Jesus, this is depressing. I live in Minnesota and I've probably read the Sun five times in my life, but I'm well aware of its sterling heritage.

Faith said...

Thanks for posting this. My heart is broken. So may wonderful former colleagues who truly cared for the paper. The Sun will never be the same again.

Dan Thanh Dang said...

Ettlin, you put to words what our friends at the paper tried to describe to me as the calls and e-mails started Tuesday evening and all day yesterday.
As the list trickled out over the days, it was a stab to the heart with every name I heard. I didn't know about Chiaki, just heard about David Steele, and I'm still stunned that they fired Lolordo.
My hearts and prayers go out to all our friends let go and who still remain.
I want to tell them to keep fighting the good fight, but I don't even know how that's possible anymore after this bloodbath.

Darren Allen said...

Ettlin,

This is so heartbreaking. The bylines, fotogs, copy editors... and Ellie, for crying out loud actually makes me weep.

I can't put into words how devastating this purge must be for my former colleagues. But I do know it is the latest step in the destruction of a once-great American newspaper.

Caitlin Francke said...

Thank you so much for posting this. As I watch this carnage from New Jersey, where I now live, my heart is just broken. The Sun was a place full of smart, talented people - truly the best and brightest - and then they were just treated like dirt. It is an outrage.

What assholes.

Eric Hartley said...

Great job reporting and writing a very sad story.

Anonymous said...

Just remember the TRIB geniuses for the future: You and the other thousand other Tribune victims might someday be in a position for payback: Sam Zell> Randy Michaels> Lee Abrams. Don't forget.

J.D. Considine said...

Thanks for writing this Dave.

Even if I didn't know any of those laid off, this would still be heartbreaking. The last time I saw the Sun (I'm in Canada) I could barely recognize it; I can't even imagine how much thinner it will become.

What galls me (apart from the loss to journalism) is how stupid this is as a business move. This shouldn't be about repositioning the paper for a new media era -- it should be about providing value for money. People aren't going to pay for a newspaper that delivers less with each passing week. I mean, duh!

I hope all who got the sack land well. They're a talented bunch, and deserve better than they got.

kr said...

@ Jeff Smith. You're going to take the Sun to prove you still want a local paper? Wrong message. Take a paper of value, the WSJ, NYT, Washington Post. If the readership of better papers grows, bean counters will get the message that quality matters. The Sun has set. Let it go.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, David, and for doing it so well. You should try to package it for print, maybe CJR or something. This story deserves to be in a permanent archive somewhere, for posterity's sake and our own.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I heard the news... I predicted it all!

caricatureKerry said...

Denise M., Wes H., Shirdell McD., Bill W., Tracy L., Liz M....
I'm so sorry to hear and read about the layoffs. That paper has lost some talented artist and designers; in addition to everyone else.

Kerry G. Johnson

Stephen Henderson said...

Ettlin:
The carnage at the Sun is disturbing on at least two different levels, and it's hard to discern which is more problematic.

The first, obviously, is the crassness involved here. This kind of bloodletting will never seem like a party, but it doesn't have to be a cruel massacre, either. The way this was handled was, by all accounts, just over the top bush-league.. Unbelievable..

But just as bothersome is the utter sense you get that there's just no strategy involved here that would preserve the Sun as a premier news-gathering organization. Cook says they're trying to remake themselves into a 24-hour news source for print, mobile and online. Sounds great. But how, exactly, does gutting the staff achieve that? And what other steps is the paper even taking to get there? Most of the website is anemic and uninteresting, updated only a few times throughout the day. The "Breaking News" RSS feed is pathetic.

In a world where every media company is in deep doo doo, you might accept an argument that says the Sun's strategy for the future is X, and purging the staff is a step along the way.

But there isn't even an inferred connection between what the paper's doing and what Cook and others are saying about where they're headed.

It just looks reckless and panicky, which doesn't bode well at all for the future of journalism in Baltimore..

neal said...

nice work on a tragic story, david.

kathleen said...

I am stunned. I wish you all the best. The collective talent, professionalism and quality of this group deserve so much better than this. It was a privilege to have worked with you.

Kathleen Gaskell-Blankenship

Nestor Aparicio said...

A sad day for Baltimore and a "real" journalistic account, Mr. Ettlin.

Brett D. Rogers said...

Tragic. It's exausting watching institutions worth being proud of systematically drained and left for dead in Baltimore. I write this as I sit on a 75% empty floor in the former Alex. Brown buidling.

nancy said...

It's the heartless behavior of the company and its hench-editors that bugs me the most. Same thing has been happening in Orlando, and for a long time. Tribune is a corrupt and evil-spirited place. Sad.

Nora Frenkiel said...

Over the years I've seen the bylines of colleagues disappear and watched a great paper transform into something unrecognizable but I never thought I'd see anything like this. A few months ago Ann Lolordo spoke to students at Loyola about her work and the future of journalism. She has the depth of experience and symbolizes everything The Sun used to be: a place for excellence. I'll miss her and everyone else who made The Sun a great paper.

Robin said...

Thanks for covering this, Dave. I heard that the only online Sun person laid off was the best - possibly the only liaison between print and online.
So what happens to all that empty space on Calvert Street? Maybe Zell plans to sell the building to someone who will turn it into "luxury condos."
I hope the mice are still there.

Dunks86 said...

FYI, Romensko linked to your blog today. Congrats.
Monty Cook and Mary Corey boldly leading the way into the media future? Color me pessimistic.

timmyg said...

With the purges that occurred last summer and fall, does anyone have a tally as to what percentage of staff has been axed in the last 12 months alone?

Is seventy-five percent a decent estimation?

Bernie said...

Dave:

Well, when your boss declares that the days of the six-part series are over, and you're the guy who edited the last six-part series that appeared in the paper, you'd be a complete fool not to see it coming. I did. It's scary as hell to be out of work for the first time in 27 years, but I'll be OK.

And thanks, John Reinan. Journalism was a hell of a lot of fun back in our Tampa days. Obviously, you were a whole lot smarter than I was to get out when you did.

Dave Zeiler said...

@Robin
That lone layoff among the online staff was my sister, Karen. They let her go Tuesday night during the purge of editors.

Ettlin, thanks for writing a thorough account of this travesty. Another tidbit: several of the copy editors realized they were laid off when they arrived for work and could not sign in to the computer system. Phil Kleindinst had to take them en masse into a conference room to lay them off as a group, instead of individually as planned. They can't even do a layoff right!

And your old pal Dave Thomas would be crushed. Where once The Sun had two Ettlins, two Alvarezes and two Zeilers, as of today it has none.

Lane said...

David,

Thank you for this account. You did a great job with it, in the proud Baltimore Sun tradition.

Heather Dewar said...

Well done, Ettlin.
I guess it's no surprise that some of The Sun's best, most experienced people got the axe. We all know that the newspaper business is rife with ageism. But it just seems gratuitously nasty to treat ANYONE this way - let alone people as talented and dedicated as LoLordo, Eileen Canzian, Patricia Fanning and so many others.
The most infuriating thing is that the newspaper industry could have saved itself if not for its own greed and tunnel vision. It's too easy to blame it all on the Internet; readership was falling back in the '80s. The industry leaders' response has been nearly 30 years worth of hand-wringing, gimmicry and profit-taking by the top brass. What newspaper has shown imagination, originality and courage in response to the crisis? Instead we've had a race to the bottom, and the execs are all shocked that readers have noticed and voted with their subscription dollars.
As much as I love and believe in the value of daily journalism after 27 years as a newspaper reporter, it's hard not to feel that the industry deserves to collapse - except that the top brass still have their golden parachutes. They're not the big losers. Their employees, readers and hometowns are the ones who'll have to pay for three decades of corporate cluelessness.

Greg said...

Great blog. I've been depressed all day. I worked at the Sun from 1996 to 2002 in the special sections department, and one of my former artists just got the axe (we were only a four-person staff to begin with due to cutbacks and inadequate resources). These are sad days.

Dan Thanh said...

Hi all, We're trying to get the message out. If you know of a job lead or assistance available to Sun Staffers, please contact me at consumrgrrl(at)gmail.com or Gus at GusSentementes(at)gmail.com. We run a private jobs blog for Sun Staffers looking for work.

The Twitter community has been great with offers of free space and freelance leads. Please keep them coming. Our friends can use the help.

Jeannette Belliveau said...

This is a complete shocker ... a roll call of unimaginable talent, especially on Metro, Photo and News Art.

The Sun has been in slow decline since ... 1986 shall we say, with the sale to Times Mirror. Then Tribune ran it into the ground. But prior to this week's massacre, it did have some resources and experience to provide a modicum of news about city government. Now this is gone.

Given that the forthcoming product will be even worse than ever, one can only anticipate the paper's sale, collapse or takeover by the Washington Post in the wake of the coming circulation collapse.

Bye bye Sun, you launched a lot of fine journalists in your day.

Anonymous said...

This carnage is desperately short-sighted. Who will serve as a watchdog over the gov't and big business when all the journalists are gone? Americans seem to forget that a vibrant, free press was deemed so important by our Founding Fathers that they codified the concept in the Constitution.

Scary times indeed. I worked at the Sun in the late-90s and barely recognize the paper today. I met some of the best, smartest people -- on both sides of the aisle -- on Calvert Street. There are no words.

Dave Van de Walle said...

This "15 minutes to pack" stuff is really uncalled for...

A great paper, and some classy individuals. From the other side - erstwhile PR guy - a tip of the cap.

Andy Ratner said...

Dave,

As one of the fallen 60 or so, thanks for the article. Before I got to the Sun 24 years ago, I remember a colleague at a smaller paper where we were toiling dreamily imagining "working for the elephant." I thought he was talking about running away to join the circus and because the pay was so crappy at the small paper, it sounded like a feasible plan. No, he explained, he meant the "elephant" as in the big newspaper whose reporting and opinions everyone had to sit up and take notice of. I eventually joined that colleague, Thom Loverro, at the Sun and for many years came to understand on Calvert Street exactly what he meant. Many great experiences and friendships.

Laura said...

What inhumane treatment, to not even allow your most veteran staffers to pack up their desks. Don't they realize what kind of effect on morale this has for the Sun staffers left to toil on. Ellie Baublitz, Bernie Kohn, Patricia Fanning, David Steele, not to mention all the talented photographers and designers they are letting go-- Denise Murray, Liz Malby, Chiaki and Monica-- I'm so grateful to have had the chance to work with you. Who will design, edit and supply the images for baltimoresun.com. This is an incredibly short-sighted and dispirited move.

Better Days said...

The strategy of making the papers modular and plugging in content from one source is similar to what Randy Michael did with radio when he was with Clear Channel.

Back them, Michaels pioneered the concepts of massive syndication (an old idea he took to a new level) and getting rid of DJs.

While Clear Channel did dominate the market, it's telling to note that they are now in bankruptcy. Michaels, it seems, removed all the reasons people want to listen to radio in his quest for short-term profits.

daisyhound said...

The terrible irony of this whole monstrous breakdown is that 40 years ago — in hot metal and the first cold-type days — many of us were regarded as one-man staffs who made assignments, read wires, edited stories, did layouts, chose and cropped pictures, wrote cutlines and headlines, then went downstairs to the composing room and supervised the makeup. . . and then had to go to a meeting, mostly in a 4-hour window at The Evening Sun. Ah, the good old days.

kaltoons said...

Dave... thanks for this. I am so saddened by all this. I salute all my fallen colleagues.... Kal

Downs said...

What an awful day for journalism and for Baltimore. To think this city once supported three major daily newspapers. If the laid off employees somehow start their own newspaper, I'll sign up for a subscription. Or two. We deserve their good work and they deserve better.

Monty Cook is a villain. And Sam Zell is worse.

Bradley Martin said...

Heather Dewar is right to date the decline to the sale to Times Mirror -- arranged by the infamous Reg Murphy, who had previously played a major role in the diminution of my hometown paper in Atlanta and who enriched himself enormously as he started the Sun down the slippery slope. I had moved on in 1983, after five years in Asia during the heyday of the Sun's foreign coverage. Whenever I picked up the paper in the late '80s, the '90s and the '00s I was dismayed to notice further slimming and dumbing down. Imagine if the Black family had told Murphy to shove the Times Mirror offer and had hung on to a property that allowed them a comfortable living even though it could not provide the obscene profits required by non-local corporate owners who needed to keep their stock price growing and service their loans at the same time. Of course much of what is happening now is part of an industry-wide, technologically driven breakdown, but still I'd like to think that a nimble, locally owned Sun could have figured out the coming print-online collision in advance and used some of its marvelous talent to survive and thrive as the great institution it was.

Anonymous said...

It's a sad day for everyone, who's going to be the watchdog of the community, all the newspapers want to do is make a profit, what happen to "serving the community", to the staffers I have worked with over the years, you guys are great..Doug Kapustin....call me...Liz, Monica, Glenn, Chiaki, thanks for the images and visiting us on the eastern shore, I'm sure were next....Todd D

scrappytommy said...

In the late '40's I delivered the Evening Sun. Over 300 copies each day. On foot carrying the papers with a belt. At the start of the route they hung down to my knees and up to my chin.

Returning to Baltimore in 1961 I subscribed to the Sun, and have received it without interruption until now.

A marvellous paper for such a long time. I don't know any of the people at the paper. But I find it terribly sad to see this fine publication run into the ground.
And disconcerting that a supposedly professional organization would treat their employees in the manner that has been described.

I do not want to read the "paper" on-line. I want paper - in hand. But I also want more than what the current Sun has to offer. It is no longer a source for world and national news and syndicated columnists. I just sent in my last subscription check. The paper that is being produced now no longer provides value to match the cost. And it does not provide the information I want.

So I guess I'll start subscribing to the Washington Post. It will at least provide Maryland news in additon to the world and national news, etc.

And comics.

Steve P said...

This story and similar ones in many business sectors seem to have one thing in common. The big (borrowed) money people gobbled up competition or expanded to other markets in highly leveraged deals that were paid for by firing the very employees who made the target companies desireable.

Now the behemoth conglomerates are collapsing under the unbearable debt load and crushing those who survived the first surge of the barbarians through the gates.

Tony B said...

Saying sorry isn't enough for what you guys are going through, especially when it isn't your fault or anything you did.
As a media specialist I do hope there is someway that we can all get back together and back to doing our jobs.

Amy said...

Dave,

Thank you for honoring everyone lost in this week's bloodbath by writing such a beautiful, carefully detailed account. As a scarred survivor, I was in and out of the office on both days of massive layoffs, but the scenes I did see will stay with me forever. I also appreciate your acknowledgment of our wonderful and passionate photographers, who often get mentioned last, if at all. The photo department is heartbroken.

It is rather odd - but nice - to read so many on-target posts from all the former Sun folks, who still give a damn after years away from Calvert St. After reading your wonderful post on the 150th Sun anniversary, naming all those 1987 bylines, I feel like I've just read the entire list of names on the black marble Vietnam Memorial wall. (At least your Sun bloggers can still speak out.) We have enough names of amazing former Sun staffers to carve a white marble memorial to them on the marble steps that run the length of Wilkens Ave.

Jeannette Belliveau said...

@Bradley Martin:

I believe it was I (rather than Heather Dewar) who attributed in the posts above the beginning of the Sun's decline to the sale to Times Mirror. At any rate, that is the feeling of many of us who recall the paper in the 1980s.

David Steele said...

Dave: I missed the carnage in the newsroom, because I was one of the sports guys who was out at Camden Yards and who got the news by phone call. It was me, Maese and Childs Walker. I was there to write for the next day's paper, yet Peter Schmuck was told about an hour earlier that he was writing for the next day. We were both confused - two columns from a midweek game in April? - until I got the call. After the game, and after all my goodbyes, I went into the photographer's room to tell Liz Malby about me - and she was on the phone getting the news about herself, while she was getting her photos from the game ready to send in.

For what it's worth, it's the second time in my life I've gotten news of my job ending while at an Orioles game. In 1991, when the National Sports Daily had its plug suddenly pulled, I was at Memorial Stadium for a game. I overheard Rex Barney, of all people, talking to someone else about "what a shame it was that the National has to go under.'' The editors in New York hadn't made it down to my name to tell me yet. I'm pretty sure I never want to attend an Orioles game ever again.

Thanks for all the work chronicling all of this. And let me add that we can't forget all the people in departments other than the newsroom - circulation, marketing, sales, etc. - who have been chopped away, little by little, the entire time, with no fanfare. I have a very good friend, who had been moved from the newsroom to another department, who went through this more than a month ago, and this person was far from alone. It was painful enough to watch before I became part of it.

Even this only scratches the surface of how this feels. I was only here five years, but I've known people at this paper since I was in college, more than 20 years. Between the buyouts and layoffs, I literally do not recognize the place anymore.

Anonymous said...

I read your well written account of the carnage and felt ill. What ever happened to respect? Calling a professional journalist while he is covering an event to tell them they are canned? Security escorting, again professionals, from a building, like they are criminals? All I can say to those "in charge" is karma is a bitch!

Anonymous said...

Dave,
My old man toiled at The Sun from the day H.L. Mencken died, on Valentine's Day '56, until the buyout in'92. He is so disgusted by previous evisceration of the paper he loved he would not read Ettlin's fine reporting I sent to him via e-mail.
His response: "I refuse to read anything in or about the late, great..."
He could not even bring himself to say "Sun."
It makes me want to cry.
Damn Zell all to hell.

Ruthie said...

Forward the entire blog with comments to President Obama (www.whitehouse.gov).

HMC said...

I thought with the closing down of the Baltimore Examiner that perhaps the Sun could do a little better and we wouldn't be seeing this. This is just ridiculous, I love alternative media outlets like blogs and all - but you need a real, credible newspaper. I can't believe that in a major American city you can't run a newspaper the size of the Baltimore Sun. I'm now more or less just waiting for the Tribune company to declare that they have to shut down the Sun altogether. In fact, I'm hoping for that day so that we'll be one step closer to a reestablishing a quality newspaper in this town.

Todd Windsor said...

Another one of the 61 here... I just want to express my appreciation to Dave for getting what happened on record, and to everybody for the kind words in the responses. Reading this has softened the blow a little bit.

I'd also like to point out that the longtime letters editor, Franz Schneiderman, was among those let go Wednesday. Most of you probably don't know how much care Franz put into selecting each day's letters from among dozens and dozens of submissions, then assembling and editing them into an intelligent package... but I think it'll be apparent to everybody now that he's gone.

sarahspade said...

Having been laid off for budgetary reasons four times in my work life of twenty-six years, I wish you hadn't used the word "fired" to describe what happens to these people. "Fired" implies you are being let go for incompetence or for a criminal act such as embezzlement. Not all job terminations are firings.

That said, some of my favorite bylines are on this list, including my muse, John McIntyre, and my eye candy, Rick Maese. In addition, Franz Schneiderman has been good enough to run many, many of my opinion letters over the years. Another editor might not be so sympathetic. I have other thoughts on this even I won't post here, but it's quite evident they let go whom they did for budgetary reasons—after twenty-two years with an employer, your salary and benefits are a real burden. I fully expect The Sun to replace Mr. McIntyre, eventually, with someone who doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're," or "spritely" and "sprightly."

Anonymous said...

Not to be insensitive, but this has to be said:

The former Sun and Examiner staffers have a limited time to start a nonprofit group blog that does original, non-opinionated, fact-checked reporting on local news.

You can make it fancy farther down the line with templates, print editions and salaries, but for now I suggest just using a blogger account and volunteer labor from the hundred-plus journalists who have been laid off in Baltimore over the last three months. Put out at least two stories per day and out-fact-check the Sun, and you may just manage to keep journalism alive in Baltimore as Tribune bleeds the Sun dry.

With each news cycle, however, there's less of a spotlight on you. You've had a couple of days of well-deserved mourning. Now you might as well caucus on facebook with your other laid-off colleagues, set up a shared blog account and get busy. Democracy is yours to save.

-- A bitter local TV staffer who's tired of producing five-minute commercials and will be happy to volunteer as a third-string proof-reader for any worthy local nonprofit journalism site that comes along.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more thing:

ADVERTISE the fact that you out-fact-check the Sun. That can mean a tagline for the site as a whole, fact-checker bylines, a label over headlines that says "FACT CHECKED BY THREE PEOPLE" or all of the above.

Explicitly make journalistic quality an issue, or it won't be one -- and that will allow crappy products to win.

sarahspade said...

@anonymous: You wrote:
This carnage is desperately short-sighted. Who will serve as a watchdog over the gov't and big business when all the journalists are gone? Americans seem to forget that a vibrant, free press was deemed so important by our Founding Fathers that they codified the concept in the Constitution.
----------
Apologies if this appears twice; for some reason my first reply didn't show up. You are absolutely right. It is important to have a vibrant, free press. The press is freer and more vibrant than ever before. It's just not on paper as much. There are literally billions of pages of information out there. ANYONE with something to say can put it up there for the whole world to see. With public terminals at libraries and elsewhere, one does not even need to own a computer. This very blog, and thousands of others like it, are ample proof of that. So keep blogging, keep reading, keep replying.

Joseph said...

I mailed a Sun cancellation directly to Timothy E. Ryan, along with a few choice paragraphs. I refused to just call customer service rep to do this (if, indeed, there are any left).

My home delivery susbscrition covered 34 years, plus another six years in which I lived out of the area, and had a Sun held for me at a news stand everyday.

H.L. Mencken must be turing over in his grave.

Soon to be among the uninformed in Aberdeen.

Stephen Pohl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Pohl said...

I think I may have been one of the last reader/letter writers the letters editor spoke to before he got the axe. And the last thing I said to him was:"Have a good day."

Beth Hughes said...

Ettlin,

Thanks so much for the excellent account. I wouldn't expect anything less. This has been such a heart-wrenching experience. I don't think it's really sunk in for a lot of us yet. I know not for me.

Still, this should provide a little levity: I'm guessing because of Amy's comment that mentioned the Vietnam Memorial Wall (as opposed to your use of bloodbath, massacre and casualties), the post was picked up on a Quebecois Vietnam Memorial blog, translated into French and for some reason back into English. Here are a couple of my fav excerpts:

"I’m officially laid awful and headed to o’sheas. Wachsberger this two shakes of a lamb’s behind log fired awful a Facebook lingo, saying: it’s done. most regal good break to the survivors."

"There’s so barely people [on the copy desk], I can’t be sure who’s gone forever or who’s awful, a newsroom warhorse said, with catlike tread, in a to digest up phone heart-to-heart from the belly of the animal."

Scroll down and enjoy:

http://vietnammemorial.quebecblogue.com/

p.s. The link is cq.

Jay said...

Being a former Sun employee, my heart goes out to everyone who was let go. It's truly sad to see journalism being eviscerated in Baltimore.

Larry Richardson said...

What a shame - as an avid reader of all the Sun's newspapers since the early '60's as a kid in grade school, it has been painful to watch the fall of such a once-great newspaper. On a personal note, over the past number of years I have had the distinct pleasure of interacting with both Liz Malby and Doug Kapustin on the sidelines of Ravens games, and will greatly miss their consistent professionalism, humor, and humanity.

Thanks, folks - best of the future to you all. From us rank and file readers, you all will be missed.

brownie said...

We have witnessed the death of a great American newspaper, and with it the downward spiral of daily print journalism ... as a 41 year veteran of the paper .. I sit here with tears on my face .. and have one thing to say ..(for now) when this is all over, and we can all get in a face-to-facve get together .. that's gonna be one hell of a reunion!!
More later ..
PS to ettlin .. let's keep this going ..

Karen Hosler said...

Great reporters never die. They just move on to new "platforms." Thanks, Dave, for giving us in the extended Sun family the inside story that won't come from anywhere else. The Sun retiree luncheon this week ought to have plenty of buzz.

dunk said...

Amy, to equate the layoff at the Sun with war deaths is absurd. Good Lord. The Sun leadership has been crap for 15 plus years. The demise of the paper is a major topic of discussion in my neighborhood. What a shame; we all take the Washington Post.

D

Alex Gordon said...

Dave,
I interned for you and Bill Ordine, among others, on the Metro Desk in the summer of '03, when the Guild was negotiating with Tribune and accepted a new contract at literally the 11th hour (June 22, 2003). I wasn't all that good a reporter, but I saw then, during the byline strike and acrimonious Guild meetings, that Tribune as a business and the practice of journalism were at odds. After I returned to school, my concerns were proven when Bill Marimow was sent packing.

I'm sorry to see all the Sun staffers and their peers around the country go through this wrenching time. In the fall I am going to business school, with the personal goal of eventually helping to build a new type of healthy news business that values and profits from quality journalism. It may sound naive and trite, but stories like yours are a helluva motivator.

Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun said...

Patricia Fanning was most recently the education editor. She was editing the story I was filing from a school board meeting at the time she was laid off.

ROCHELLE COHEN said...

Anyone know why oh why they have taken away by lines today?

What next?

Pigtown-Design said...

Rochelle... i think that the lack of bylines is the writers way of protesting.

My father was an ex-Sun man and is probably spinning in his grave at what's happened to the paper. He and a number of the ex-Sun people used to have lunch and slag off on how bad the paper was getting. He died two years ago and I can't even begin to imagine what he'd think now.

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Gina Smith said...

Blogged about here: http://huntingandpecking.blogspot.com/2014/08/a-wisp-of-idea-and-then-300-pages.html