Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sun massacre: More on newspapers

As the big get smaller,
a little competitor expands
through community focus

Introducing a new ‘Voice’

So how incredible is this: Last month, a newspaper was born.

Nope, not a big one like the dying Baltimore Sun. It’s a little thing called the Pasadena Voice, started up as a free sister monthly to the nearby and long-established Severna Park Voice ( the former Severna Park Village Voice) by the Lancione family owners. It’s full of stories about… well, Pasadena, Maryland.

And right under its name atop the front page, the paper declares: “Proudly Serving The Community.”

I have the April 22 edition, the second issue, on my cluttered kitchen table next to my laptop. Its top-page stories focus on “signature programs” envisioned for the community’s two high schools, and the annual season-opening festivities and parade for area kids’ Lake Shore Baseball.

News just above the fold: “Mountain Road Library Branch Faces An Uncertain Future.” I read that story through to the jump on Page 3. The library, at the end of an under-used strip mall, is just a mile from my home.

I pretty much skipped past the B-section, Pasadena Sports, which has more space for content than the daily sports section of The Sun. After all, my two kids are grown and really were not all that athletically competitive, and there was no news on the Baltimore Orioles….

But I took a keen interest in Section-C, Arts & Entertainment, featuring a top-page story on a topic very close to home: My wife Bonnie Schupp’s photographic exhibit, two years in the making, was having its debut showing in Annapolis. (Sorry, by the time you are reading this blog, the show’s over and the photos are stacked again in crates in our basement.)

Every section of the Voice has an element very much in common: Local. It’s heavy on names, and little ordinary pictures of people, and seems to have plenty of local advertising.

Watching the slow collapse of the nearly 172-year-old Baltimore Sun, once renowned for its coverage of news spanning the globe, it seems ironic that the Lanciones might pull this off – despite the heavy presence here of the twice-a-week Maryland Gazette, which lays claim to being the oldest continuously published newspaper in the nation.

The Gazette is a satellite publication in the larger Annapolis Capital family of newspapers, which recently was cutting back on production expenses and staffing. Maybe that put enough blood in the water to bring on competition.

Food for thought as The Sun goes down: Parent Tribune Company owns much of the Baltimore area’s suburban news and advertising competition through its Patuxent newspapers subsidiary. Like their parent, the Patuxent publications have been cut way back, at a time when the Lanciones were expanding their turf in neighboring Anne Arundel County.

The little guy seems to be making it, while the Tribune empire is in disarray.

I just wish there was more of the news I want in the Pasadena Voice. Come to think of it, I wish there was more of the news I want in The Baltimore Sun.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

A security guard was still posted on the Centre Street skywalk between The Sun building and the employee parking garage in the wake of this week’s personnel massacre in which nearly a third of the newsroom staff was fired. The company had beefed up security Tuesday in advance of executing its massive purge.

It brought to mind the strike some two decades back when The Sun beefed up security in an unseemly manner, hiring a security company with militaristic goons wearing blue berets. The jackboot fashionista force immediately became the object of taunting and ridicule, and striking members of the Newspaper Guild chipped in to purchase the entire stock of 300 Central American dictatorship military-style brown berets from the now-defunct Sunny’s Surplus chain for sake of mockery.

In times of trouble, a good laugh is worth a few bucks.

So here’s today’s good laugh, free, courtesy of a Facebook note from another survivor: A guard on the skywalk beat on one shift today was seen eating four bags of potato chips and reading a copy of USA Today.

How meticulous the planning?

A friend still employed at The Sun was curious about the seniority bumping rights for the copy editors receiving layoff notices. They mostly seemed to have held higher classifications as slot editors or makeup person, but under the union contract might have the right to return to their previous classification as copy editor and bump less-senior staffers into layoffs. Not a pleasant prospect, either, but that’s the theoretical protection of having been employed longer under a union contract.

“There’s nobody for them to bump,” my friend observed, noting that many of the younger, less-experienced copy editors seemed to have been moved to new job titles under the detailed newsroom reorganization plan revealed Thursday evening, a day after the layoff massacre. The new jobs are geared toward online operations and do not appear to be in union jurisdiction, putting those employees under the company “merit system.”

“An audience engagement person, whatever that is,” my friend said, describing one type of new job for The Sun’s brave new world.

“And where was the sign-up sheet for all these jobs?”

And that raises other questions, like whether the jobs were offered to specific employees rather than posted for open application by all qualified newsroom personnel – and whether the company acted legally in ousting older (and likely higher-paid) employees.

One of the editors fired Tuesday evening reported that his severance package included a statement to sign precluding legal action against the company. That may be one of the prices for collecting severance pay.

And even if an employee decides to file suit, the terminated editor said, what is there to gain when the company is bankrupt? A place in line with the other creditors?

Add to the layoff list…

Names keep coming in through email, Facebook messages and blog comments… among them, after nine years, features page designer Carrie Lyle (who sent me a note saying she was one of the victims). I also got this note from fired editorial page designer Todd Windsor:

“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.”

And there’s been a few small factual errors that have been corrected in the blog postings as they are being pointed out to me. That’s what comes of working late into the night, without the benefit of a copy editor as wingman. That’s something survivors at The Sun will be getting used to.

Remember this, however: Avoid use of the adjective “notorious.”

And be careful around “guilty” -- it’s very easy to forget the word “not” that you meant to have in front of it, until the lawyers call.

Many will be seeking jobs

The Real Muck received a comment from my former Sun colleague Dan Thanh Dang, who is plugging away at her own blog ( after leaving a consumer beat at the newspaper last year. In case you haven’t read through the many wonderful comments posted here, this one merits repeating:

I want to ask again, please, if anyone knows of jobs (inside or outside of the industry) that can be filled by our friends in search of jobs, e-mail me or Gus. You can reach us at or We run a private jobs blog for Sun staffers in look of work. If you want to join the jobs blog, just e-mail Gus.

We've had some great tips already from a Towson journalism professor, from Spin and from a great, former colleague of ours, Bill Glauber.

Please everyone, keep the leads coming. Every lead counts and our friends can use the help.


Anonymous said...

Serving the community, what a novel idea.
The newspapers that are failing spend to much time serving absentee owners and big budget advertisers to have anything left for the community.

Pretty much the same reason that local TV news failing. Out of state car chases may be exciting, but what's happening next door is what will keep us watching.


Anonymous said...

When we walked out in 1987, we didn't think we'd ever walk back in. Some things are more important than a paycheck, like your self-respect, or so we thought then.

Corinne said...

One of the editors fired Tuesday evening reported that his severance package included a statement to sign precluding legal action against the company. That may be one of the prices for collecting severance pay.It is indeed a quid pro quo. You are asked to give up every legal right you have in exchange for severance.

I was laid off from an association on Tuesday where I worked on its magazine. (I'm older and better paid.) I still have to sign and return my severance agreement.

Anonymous said...

Having done some research on this last summer, during the last round of buyouts, I do not think anyone who signed this document forgoing legal claims should really have an employment lawyer look over your case if you feel you've been wronged. It's not quite as cut, dried and iron clad as you may think.

Ray said...

The 3 job sites chosen by as getting the best results for job seekers - (professional networking) (agregated listings) (matches you to jobs)

good luck to all.