Friday, May 29, 2009

Newspapers: Staff shuffles, angst at The Sun

Bumping, new layoffs,
a reporter’s job recall keep
personnel door spinning

Five reporters volunteered to leave;
others keep eye out for new pastures

A month after Tribune Co. reapers rudely dispatched nearly a third of the news and editorial staff at The Baltimore Sun, the revolving personnel door is spinning again from the after-effects.

Several laid-off employees have exercised bumping rights under the union contract, moving back to former job classifications – at the cost of jobs or assignment transfers for less-senior staffers.

And in a newsroom seething in angst and discontent, several reporters have taken voluntary layoffs – with the happier result of saving the job of colleague Nick Madigan, and protecting others.

Two weeks and three days after departing the newsroom amid the supportive applause of his friends, Madigan is scheduled to return on Monday thanks to the latest voluntary departures -- of reporters Sara Neufeld, Rona Kobell and Rona Marech. Others leaving by choice are Stephen Kiehl and Tyeesha Dixon, both of whom are taking up the study of law. Given the rapid decline of the newspaper industry, that sounds like a mighty good career move.

Neufeld, as noted in earlier postings here and on her own education blog, decided to leave in hopes of saving Madigan’s job – Sara being young and unencumbered by family responsibilities, while Nick is the sole provider for his wife and young son and has a mortgage to pay.

Kobell's farewell note

Kobell, an environmental reporter and mother of a young daughter, was completing a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan when she made a similar decision. She posted a message about that on her former blog at the newspaper Web site. It said, in part:

This year, I wrote a screenplay. I read good books. I put more miles on my bike than I did on my car. I picked up my daughter early from school and took her out for ice cream and to the library. I went out with my husband. I cooked dinner occasionally. I traveled - to Russia and Argentina and Northern Michigan and New York. I had time - a luxury foreign to journalists and working mothers - to think about what I want. And what I want is to keep doing all of those things. The two journalists in danger of losing their jobs want to keep them; to the extent that I can make that happen, I want to do that, too.

Rona Marech was on maternity leave during the newsroom massacre. Asked about her departure, which was effective this week, she wrote in an email:

Yes, I volunteered for a lay-off…. On July 1, I'm moving to Berlin for the year with my husband and baby. Josh was awarded a fellowship and will be teaching at a university in Berlin (and is also on research leave from his job at U. of Maryland for a semester). I'm hoping to freelance and have an adventure.

In addition to Madigan, the voluntary layoffs protected the jobs of reporters James Drew and Nicole Fuller – even as multi-talented copy editor Arthur Hirsch and sports writer Childs Walker bump back to the metro news reporting staff.

Bumping back to copy desk jobs

Coming back from layoffs, according to colleagues, are copy editors Connie Knox, a longtime union officer; Mark Fleming, who worked on the newspaper’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Shipbreakers” series by former Sun reporters Will Englund and Gary Cohn; and Jeffrey Landaw, for years a late-edition rear guard for breaking global news whose incredible breadth of knowledge saved The Sun from innumerable errors. As The Sun moved toward importing all its national and world news from Tribune’s nonunion content production staff in Chicago, Landaw found himself working as a copy editor in the sports department – where arcane facts of the likes of eastern European history are pretty much irrelevant.

Unfortunately, their returns meant layoffs for colleagues Norine Schiller, who had been at The Sun for 11 years, and Helen Jones, who had been at the newspaper longer – but because earlier positions she held have been eliminated, according to a colleague, could count only her nine years as a copy editor for seniority purposes.

Norine said she had been anticipating her own layoff as she watched the personnel numbers game play out – and like others losing jobs, she had no ill feelings for those bumping back inside to remain employed: “I don’t begrudge the people coming back one bit.”

Unlike the initial firings and layoffs that sent some 61 employees out without notice in less than 24 hours at the end of April, the subsequent personnel moves – layoffs, bumping and the departure and apparently lone company recall, of Madigan – have seemed deferentially polite by comparison.

Schiller said she might have as much as a week of work remaining before her tenure ends. A month ago, colleagues getting axed arrived for their evening shift and found their computer access denied. Electronic pass cards that got employees into the staff garage would not open the gate as they were leaving. Carried out amid the presence of a beefed up security guard presence, the firings and layoffs were a virtual ambush utterly lacking in respect for dedicated professionals.

Morale: How low can it go?

Despite the company’s more mannerly demeanor in the latest reshuffling of personnel, morale in the newsroom has reached a new low, according to accounts from those still there.

They tell of extreme disorganization as the newsroom staffing reassignments announced in detail less than 24 hours after the mass firings and layoffs moved reporters from their focus on important beats toward Web contributions and blogging. New editors were assigned to oversee areas of coverage in which they lacked experience or knowledge, and some found themselves writing headlines and overseeing page layouts for the first time. Reporters who had worked in partnership with well-versed editors found themselves alone in decision-making on coverage, and their stories getting minimal editing before rolling on the press.

And they’ve seen the only employee protection from arbitrary dismissal – the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild – eviscerated by buyouts, layoffs and selective transfers to newly-created Web-oriented jobs outside union jurisdiction. The contract expires in 2011, and union-jurisdiction survivors of the Purge of 2009 will find what little job security remains to be on very shaky ground.

For the folks getting their jobs back, there is inevitably fear that the return to work may prove no better than a reprieve. And it makes for a strange atmosphere when many, if not most, of the employees are keeping an eye out for jobs elsewhere and the opportunity to escape an oppressive and depressing work environment.

No stranger to layoffs

For Norine Schiller, a layoff is not a new experience. But at least this one was better-timed.

Layoffs around 1979-1980 from her first two newspaper jobs, at the Catonsville edition of the Star and at the Carroll County Evening Sun, came a day before and a day after Christmas; and after marrying and moving to Connecticut, she was among nearly 50 people shown the exit at the New Haven Register in 1990 – in her birthday week, she said.

As Norine noted in a Facebook comment after receiving the news on her latest layoff Thursday:

I have had a month to expect and mentally prepare for this possibility, so I am not floored by it -- unlike all the others who were shown the door the same day. I have made some volunteering arrangements to broaden my experience a little bit. Also, the other three times I was laid off, it was in fall or right at Christmas, so ... hey, summer vacation!

Her husband, Don Schiller, also was a Sun copy editor and was one of several people who briefly held the job I left as night metro editor two years ago in the Buyout Class of 2007. Don missed a buyout opportunity by a month last September as he took an editing job on a private industry’s internal magazine. “Right now we’re pretty happy he did this,” Norine said said of her husband’s new job. They are the parents of two sons, ages 10 and 12.

Looking around for freelance writing opportunities, or a new job, Norine said that for herself and some others leaving the newsroom, “It feels like we’ve gone back 20 years in our careers.”

Arthur Hirsch, meanwhile, was looking forward after three years on the copy desk to his imminent return to “the ringside seat” he enjoyed as a reporter.

“I learned a lot; the copy desk was a very good experience,” said Hirsch, who since 2002 has been teaching nonfiction writing as an adjunct instructor at Johns Hopkins University. He added that he missed the role of being an observer of people’s lives and “being able to ask questions.”

Hirsch, bumping over from the copy desk, is expected to be moving into an open news beat he had inquired about as “a faith and values writer” – working with editor and former Sun religion and national reporter Matthew Hay Brown. “He knows more about the subject than I do. I can learn from him.”

He was relieved that in returning to the reporting ranks, thanks to the voluntary departures of Neufeld, Kobell, Marech, Kiehl and Dixon, “I will not be pushing someone else out the door.”

Timely symposium looks to future

"The End of Local News? If Communities Lose Newspapers, Who Will Fill the Void?" That’s the title for a symposium in Baltimore scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, in Westminster Hall at 519 West Fayette Street. (Not to be gloomy and doomy, but the hall is a former church built in the cemetery where Edgar Allan Poe is buried.)

Panelists include Baltimore Sun editor Monty Cook (he probably still won’t apologize for the rude manner of last month’s staff massacre); Mark Potts, former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post, co-founder of and proponent of hyperlocal, user-generated news sites; Jayne Miller, chief investigative reporter, WBAL-TV; John J. Oliver Jr., publisher, The Afro-American newspaper; and Timothy A. Franklin, Louis A.Weil, Jr. Endowed Chair, Indiana University School of Journalism, who is Cook’s predecessor as Sun editor.
The symposium was arranged by Sandra A. Banisky, who left her job as deputy managing editor of The Sun to become the Abell Professor in Baltimore Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Details on the event, which is open to the public :

More food for thought

If you really want another peek at the future of local journalism, check out this look at Tribune’s next big thing about to have its rollout in Chicago – and likely a model for what’s to come at The Baltimore Sun. (Personal prediction: When it comes to Baltimore, The Sun’s journalistically embarrassing free tabloid ‘b’ will be quietly rolled into the Web project and then killed.)

This comes, by the way, via the blog of symposium panelist Potts:

Yet another very worthwhile read, particularly considering that its author, James Warren, is a former Chicago Tribune managing editor (and, as my not-so-shabby friend and former colleague Bill Glauber notes, a terrific journalist):

Finally, this appears at on Saturday May 30 -- yup, I update these posts occasionally -- on the union concessions vote aimed at saving a couple of Maine newspapers. Interestingly, The Sun provided far more detail on this story than on its own recent cutbacks . But it is an interesting development in the wider story of newspaper failures:,0,2814742.story.

That should be enough to keep you off the streets and out of trouble until Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Newspapers: Errors to regret

Fired national reporter
gets his last Sun byline
too late for the edition

David Wood moves on
with thanks for the memories

Maybe this is what happens in a newspaper world without copy editors – or without enough copy editors. Or without enough people around to talk about what’s right or wrong in a story or about a story, or how it’s played on the front page.

The case in point was on the front page of The Baltimore Sun on Monday: A Memorial Day-timed story on the growing problem of care, treatment and after-effects for war veterans physically and mentally maimed by the enemy’s almost ubiquitous weapon of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan, the improvised explosive device.

The story was terrific.

The byline wasn’t. It read, “BY A BALTIMORE SUN STAFF WRITER.”

Some readers called the city desk, praising the story and wondering at the lack of a name in the byline.

Credit goes to the newspaper staffers who, after learning of the byline omission, belatedly added the name of the author atop the story on the Web site – and a correction at the end of the story as well. Tuesday's print edition had a correction in the usual place, at the bottom of Page 2 -- but the correction had an error. It said the story had appeared on Sunday's front page when, in fact, it was in the Monday paper. But that's an easy mistake to make, seeing as how Memorial Day feels like a Sunday. Deja-vu will get you every time.

What the print edition correction lacked was the customary expression of regret for an error. It needed even more regret, though -- a public expression of regret that the author, distinguished reporter David Wood, was fired without notice nearly four weeks ago along with nearly a third of the news and editorial staff in the latest cost-cutting move ordered by The Baltimore Sun’s absentee overlords in Chicago.

And, on the Web edition, that is why even after David Wood’s byline was added, you won’t find the usual behind it. He doesn’t live there anymore.

Interestingly, his biography still lives there – or still did on Monday – at I found it using a Google search of “David Wood reporter.” It begins this way:

David Wood, 62, has been a journalist since 1970, a staff correspondent for Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Newhouse News Service and The Baltimore Sun. He covers military issues, foreign affairs and combat operations, and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting. He recently won the Headliner Award for his Iraq coverage.

Actually, Wood will turn 64 next month, so the biographical sketch is a little dated. And for a little more than a week, he’s had a new job writing for AOL’s – one of the few, if not the only, recently expelled Sun staffer to land a new gig.

The Real Muck had reported his unexpected departure from The Sun in an earlier posting on the personnel massacre and its aftermath, but the newspaper’s byline omission provided an excuse to call him for some details about his brief stint there. As night metro editor, unfortunately, I had only talked to him a few times before my voluntary buyout and retirement from The Sun two years ago.

Wood had mostly good words for The Sun, which offered him a job three years ago after he had taken a buyout from Newhouse.

“I went up to Baltimore and went into the newsroom, and it was this wonderful crazy place where people were shouting at each other about stories across the newsroom and jabbering into telephones,” Wood said. “It was a wonderfully vibrant, hard-driving place…. We were going to do great journalism.”

He added: “It was a really good place to be for a couple of years.”

Wood's hiring in July 2006 was probably the last of a national reporter by The Baltimore Sun before owner Tribune Co.’s plunge into private ownership and bankruptcy, and his coverage of the Defense Department included travel to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He worked mostly out of the newspaper’s Washington Bureau, where a large national staff had operated in The Sun’s glory days – but at the end had just two people remaining, Wood and Paul West.

The weekend preceding the mass firings, Wood said, he had been “horribly sick” but managed to work that Monday and produce a story for the front page. The next day he was out sick again, and that Wednesday was coming back from a visit to his doctor when “my wife called and said there were all these layoffs at The Sun.”

Wood said he called Paul West about the situation, and was told that “it’s worse than you know – you were one of the ones fired. I was thinking of driving to your house and telling you.”

A tough week to imagine.

“I still haven’t called downtown [to The Sun] to talk about it,” Wood said, adding that he did get a call from former national and deputy managing editor Marcia Myers expressing her regret. (Myers was assigned to new duties and a lesser title under the subsequent newspaper staff reorganization; her husband, deputy opinion editor Larry Williams, lost his job in the cutbacks.)

Wood said he was not immediately aware that his last story to appear in The Sun was missing his byline – and had largely forgotten about the story itself. He had worked on it “for almost a year,” Wood said, and “turned in a version in March.” It was a longish story, and space in the newspaper was tight, so it was held – “and then it suddenly appeared,” Wood said of its front-page play on Monday.

‘‘Nobody from the copy desk ever called to check on anything… they just ran it, which is a little unnerving. I love copy editors calling and saying, ‘You said this, but did you mean to say this?' I love those people.”

Copy editors, he said, improve stories – and protect writers from mistakes. It’s an oversight role that has been substantially reduced at The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers across the nation.

The byline omission evidently was an innocent mistake, but particularly embarrassing for the newspaper under the circumstances of the massive staff reduction that sent more than 60 employees packing in a hurry.

Wood said he received a call Monday from newsroom veteran David Nitkin, recently promoted to the new job of “head of Maryland news” – a title shared with Dave Alexander, who had been the online deputy editor. He said Nitkin was calling from vacation, “horribly upset” at the mistake.

“He thought it was just a glitch,” Wood said. “Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But he was just terrific to call.”

Looking back on his not-quite three years at The Sun, Wood said, “I got a good ride, a chance to travel a lot. The Sun got a lot of good stuff from me and I got a good ride from them. I was fortunate to be able to accept that kind of opportunity.”

And now he’s moved on, to a job at that Wood calls “a terrific honor and responsibility.”

“I was very lucky to get a job like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of reporters out there who I wish were working, because we need them.”

More grief to come

Crunch day at The Baltimore Sun is Wednesday – the deadline for eligible layoff victims to claim rights under the union contract to “bump” back into job classifications they formerly held, which will determine whether some of the least senior surviving newsroom employees lose their jobs.

Several reporters have volunteered for severance -- notable among them education writer Sara Neufeld, who decided to leave in order to save a colleague’s job.

Since Neufeld’s gesture, I hear at least two others have requested layoffs – Rona Marech and Rona Kobell.

The Sun might well have been the only U.S. newspaper with two reporters named Rona.

Now it’s apparently going to be Ronaless.

Kobell, a longtime friend who has a young daughter and just completed a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, posted her farewell at her Baltimore Sun blog and it is well worth reading at

Sadly, it seems obvious this won’t be the last farewell at the newspaper.

Another Memorial Day tale

Bonnie and I took a cruise Saturday aboard the S.S. John W. Brown, the last World War II Liberty Ship in operation -- thanks to its restoration by the Baltimore-based nonprofit Project Liberty Ship. We joined more than 400 paying passengers for the six-hour jaunt on the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay, including one old soldier who last sailed on the Brown on his journey to the war zone in 1943.

You can check out the story, and some of Bonnie's photos, at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Newspapers: A very unmerry birthday

Little cause to celebrate
as Baltimore Sun turns 172,
a shadow of its storied past

The Baltimore Sun turned 172 on Sunday, but the birthday was not much cause for celebration as the pain and uncertainty from its mass firings/layoffs of nearly a third of the news and editorial staff continues.

Latest to go appears to be reporter Nick Madigan, but unlike many others at the newspaper in recent weeks, Nick saw his layoff coming – in painfully slow motion.

Even an act of amazing generosity by a colleague, aimed at saving his job at the cost of her own, could not save Nick because of the seniority numbers game that determined who is in line for the personnel axe.

Jobs started rolling like severed heads at The Sun at the end of April, in two days of instant layoffs that targeted news and editorial managers and then union-jurisdiction staffers. The bloodbath, carried out amid extra security in the newspaper building, claimed at least 61 jobs.

But because of a union contract – a rarity in the anti-union Tribune empire – seniority protected some longtime employees initially given layoffs, enabling them to bump into job classifications they had previously held. Longtime copy editors, for example, could go back to being reporters.

Who was vulnerable to being bumped? Some of the younger staffers were protected by the company with moves into newly-created jobs that were outside union jurisdiction – enabling the company to zero in for firing on older, and higher-paid, employees. Some others with only a few years at The Sun stayed in jobs they loved and hunkered down as best they could in these uncertain times for the print newspaper industry.

The night of May 8, when the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild held a party – a wake, really – to honor both the union and nonunion victims of the purge, it was apparent that job bumping was imminent and some still-employed colleagues like Nick Madigan were on shaky ground. No one was comfortable with the prospect of staffers wanting to keep their jobs having to bump others out the door. It was just another ugly reality of life under the Tribune Company.

That’s when veteran education reporter Sara Neufeld told Nick that, to save his job, she was going to volunteer for a layoff. She’s young, and hasn’t started a family, while Nick is married, the father of a four-year-old son, and faced with a mortgage on the house he and his wife bought after moving from Los Angeles to Baltimore four years ago.

Nick said he didn’t want Sara to quit her job if the only reason was to save his, but that she assured him she had wanted to pursue other opportunities and suddenly found herself with a reason to do so. As it turned out, Sara’s act didn’t help Nick directly, but rather another employee further up the seniority chain.

Still, Nick was stunned at what he called Sara’s “amazingly selfless” offer, a far cry from the manner in which many of their colleagues were driven out of the newspaper they loved.

“I was very touched by what Sara did, and it proves that there are some very fine people at the paper,” said Nick, who left the newsroom Friday to a round of applause from colleagues. “I’m sad to leave The Sun, not only because I'll miss the crew of characters who put it out every day – some of them good friends and all of them very dedicated – but also because its newsroom is probably the last one I'll work for, and after a 29-year career in newspapers and wire services, that's hard to take.”

Nick has written from around the United States and more than 20 other countries, including France, Morocco, Britain, Mexico, Haiti and Cuba. For The New York Times, he covered the Columbia shuttle disaster, the trials of Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, the William Kennedy Smith rape case and other stories in California, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. He also worked on the staffs of the Palm Beach Post, Variety and United Press International, for which he covered the Invasion of Grenada among other stories throughout the Caribbean.

He left his position as a contract writer for The New York Times’ Los Angeles bureau in 2005 to take the job as national media writer for The Sun. But after two years, The Sun, which had begun cutting its personnel and narrowing the scope of its staff’s coverage, eliminated Nick’s beat. He was assigned to the “Sun Rising” team, which was tasked with beefing up coverage of breaking news for the Web site and expanding stories for subsequent print editions. More recently, he’s been covering criminal justice stories, notably the case of Nicholas Browning, who murdered his parents and brothers, and the Rodgers Forge parents who starved their infant son.

On one of my increasingly rare visits to the newsroom a few months ago, I found Nick working a police story and expressed hope that he hadn’t been thrust into a beat he didn’t want or enjoy. But Nick said, enthusiastically, that he was doing the job he always loved – news reporter. He had no complaint about the role.

Not that it much matters now, but Nick said he received his last “performance evaluation” from the company Wednesday, and it was, he said, “pretty damn good.”

(The company went to enormous lengths to create its performance-evaluation system and force a change in the union contract so that annual raises could be based on merit – although it proved to be grossly arbitrary in determining the winners and losers, and was more demoralizing than constructive. And now that The Sun is simply firing people – many of them among the most talented and experienced – it proves the evaluation system to have been an irrelevant waste of time and resources.)

As for Sara, a Sun staffer since 2003 and earlier an education reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, she emailed a note to friends about her decision, in addition to announcing her imminent departure on her education-beat blog at (The responses from readers are telling about how highly her work was regarded by the community that The Sun ostensibly wants to reach online.)

In her note to friends, Sara wrote of the reporters with low seniority about to lose their jobs through bumping:

“One is a friend who is the sole provider of his family of three and stands to lose his house. As he was telling me about his plight last week, I found myself blurting out that I'd like to give my job to save his.

“I was shocked by my words as soon as they were out of my mouth, but ever since then, it's been increasingly clear to me that leaving now will be the right thing for me as well as for whatever reporter whose job I save (unfortunately, I don't think it will be his, but it depends on how the bumping situation plays out over the next few days).

“I'll get five months of severance and vacation time, and I am confident from some job inquiries I've made recently that something will come through during that period. And, though I'm really sad to leave some wonderful colleagues and a great beat, I'll get out of what has become an increasingly unhappy environment. I would also be incredibly sad to leave my adopted home of Baltimore, but so far most of my prospects are in New York City, which would put me with my sister and a quick train ride from the rest of my family.

“So, I don't know what's next, except that 16 years after I fell in love with newspaper reporting as a high school sophomore, it's time to try something new, likely in education. I'm lucky that I've developed a second passion for the subject I've covered for nearly a decade, and public schools aren't going away nearly as quickly as newspapers are.”

Today, Monday, will be Sara’s last day at The Sun.

Nick said his treatment by top Sun editors was at least humane, given the advance notice a week earlier from Sam Davis, the newsroom’s assistant managing editor for administration who has found himself in the unfortunate role of a messenger with bad news for so many employees. Nick said he was advised to hang on to the possibility of a call-back until the bumping deadline of May 27 should others ahead of him in seniority rankings decide not to come back or, like Sara, volunteer for a layoff.

But even if he manages a return, there is no certainty of a future for anyone at The Baltimore Sun these days.

Sunday, as noted earlier, was the venerable newspaper’s 172nd birthday. When an institution is that old, such occasions rarely get notice – except maybe at numbers divisible by 25, when the marketing folks take advantage of it as a sales pitch.

The last such occasion included a specially fat commemorative Sunday edition of The Sun and this slogan: “The Story of Our Lives for 150 Years.”

I have that slogan sitting in front of me, emblazoned on a white commemorative mug produced for the 150th birthday. The metallic gold lettering is beginning to chip away with the passage of time and the mug’s delivery of an occasional dose of caffeine.

The Sun will turn 175 on May 17, 2012 – if it lives.

A lot of people have their doubts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Saving The Baltimore Sun

Could a nonprofit
ride to the rescue
of its own creator?

I've been watching my blog Statcounter reports of late, fascinated with the flow of visitors to The Real Muck since its public flogging of The Baltimore Sun began two weeks ago over the insulting treatment of dedicated employees in the firing of nearly a third of the newsroom staff.

The links to my accounts of the newspaper’s death spiral from more than a dozen blogs and Web sites brought readers by the thousands – so many that I could hardly keep up with watching where the visitors came from, the links that brought them, and which of my links they followed to other information and opinion sources.

But now that the shock value has worn off and the numbers are dropping into the very low hundreds, my eye caught an interesting digital footprint this week – of a visitor from the Abell Foundation. And Statcounter reported three previous visits from the same computer there.

I hope for another – for today’s entry – because of the Abell Foundation’s history, and a longshot hope in some quarters that it could factor in an eventual purchase of The Baltimore Sun that would return the nearly 172-year-old newspaper to local ownership, perhaps even a nonprofit.

You’d have to think that the price for buying The Sun is dropping, seeing as how its owner – Chicago-based Tribune Co. – is in bankruptcy and, while supposedly reorganizing under protection from creditors, is running its print media properties across the country into the ground.

What would it take to save this newspaper, here in Baltimore? Once upon a time (1986), Times Mirror Corp. valued it at about $400 million – paying some $600 million to the A.S. Abell Co. for The Sun and related properties, then selling off WMAR-TV for $200 million to comply with federal regulations on media cross-ownership.

The privately-held Abell company, largely owned by a small core of families, had created the A.S. Abell Co. Foundation in 1953 – launching it with an initial company contribution of $100,000. It grew, of course, but the sale of the company in 1986 had an enormous impact on the scope of what was renamed the Abell Foundation --- its assets multiplying tenfold to about $112 million, according to its own history (

What could be more appropriate than the Abell Foundation reclaiming the company that gave it birth, or at least playing a supporting role in its rescue from midwestern marauders.

And as I said in a radio panel discussion last week, if the Abell Foundation is looking around for donors to such a cause, I pledge $1,000 (from my personal ‘fortune’ as a Tribune retiree) – and would work for the newspaper six months for free to help out in the transition. (Then it's back to my seven-day weekends.)

The Sun was acquired by Tribune in its multibillion-dollar Times Mirror merger/takeover nine years ago, and then investor Sam Zell took the company private in an $8.2 billion deal a year and a half ago with a resulting debt burden that figured in the bankruptcy.

So, Sam – what would it take for a buyer to acquire The Baltimore Sun from Tribune? Clearly it’s worth a lot less than $400 million, now that Tribune has overseen substantial reductions in revenue and circulation through a combination of bad management, rapid growth of the Internet as an information source, industry-wide failures to adapt to that digital revolution, and now a global recession.

And you can hardly add ‘goodwill’ to the price – that’s pretty much been squandered. You and your yes-men flunkies treat its employees like chattel, and disserve readers by eliminating from the daily newspaper reason after reason why anyone would want to buy it.

Stock tables? Who needs them? And kill the business section while you’re at it.

National and world news? Who cares. Bury it inside. Makes it easier to import it all from Chicago in news modules, and run whatever fits.

Maryland section? Kill it. Put local news on the front page – only local news, unless you can find a Chicago module if anything really important happens like another war, or Mount Hood erupting.

Sports? Shrink it to a tabloid with half the space. Oops. That didn’t work. Must have had too many complaints. So make the section look larger, but still have half the space.

TV schedules? Kill the magazine, and create an unreadable Sunday section for the listings. Comics? Kill most of them. Sunday comics? Shrink what’s left, and make them unreadable in the back of the TV section.

Features section? Shrink it, eliminate it whenever possible.

Typefaces? Design style? Throw them out, and make The Sun look like all the other Tribune newspapers. And say the reason you did it was to improve readability. Not true? Who cares. Tell them anyway.

Oh, and don’t forget -- fire the writers, fire the columnists, fire the editors, fire the photographers, fire the page designers, fire the artists, fire the editorial writers, fire the infrastructure… fire the… fire… fire… fire… who?

Hmmm. Surely they can find someone who’s really to blame.

A reporter with real heart

My friend and former colleague, Sara Neufeld, who covered the Baltimore schools beat with distinction and reached out to the community through blogging about city education at, announced on her blog today she is volunteering to leave -- in order to save the job of a less senior colleague.

Her blog entry begins:

This is a hard post to write, but as a reporter (for the next five days, at least), I mustn't bury the lead: I volunteered today to be laid off by The Sun.

After the 61 layoffs in our newsroom two weeks ago, former reporters laid off from other job classifications (i.e., columnists, copy editors) have the option of going back into the reporting lineup. As a result of that "bumping," some of the reporters with low seniority are being laid off this week, including a friend with many more personal responsibilities than I have. That friend's situation inspired me to offer my job, but I think it will also be the right move for me personally, sorry as I am to leave the Baltimore schools beat that I've come to care so much about.

And this blog...

Read the full account at:

Noted in passing

Tribune Co. received permission Tuesday from a federal bankruptcy judge to pay more than $13 million in bonuses to almost 700 employees for their work last year – but because of constraints in the law, not to pay more than $2 million in severance payments to more than 60 employees laid off shortly before the company filed for bankruptcy protection, Associated Press reported.

“Judge Kevin Carey authorized the bonus payments after Tribune chief financial officer Chandler Bigelow III testified that the bonuses are critical to keeping key managers motivated as Tribune tries to adjust to a tough economic climate for media companies,” AP reported.

“We need to motivate and incentivize the key people who will implement change," Bigelow said. "These are really good people we're talking about. They're the best and the brightest of the company."

If anyone finds a list of Tribune’s “best” and “ brightest" needing that additional monetary motivation and incentives to do their jobs, please send me the link. I have a list of many of the real best and brightest at The Baltimore Sun, and their reward: Fired without notice, with extra security guards called in to make sure they didn’t steal anything on their way out the door.

Open Letter to Tim Ryan

A friend and former colleague, Arnold R. “Skip” Isaacs, emailed a letter Wednesday to triple-threat Sun publisher/president/CEO Timothy E. Ryan and top editor J. Montgomery Cook, and gave permission to The Real Muck to share it:

Dear Mr. Ryan and Mr. Cook --

I am writing this letter with more sadness and regret than you can probably imagine.

I was a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Sun for nearly 19 years, during which I had various adventures, many enjoyable, some not, some fairly dangerous. I did not agree with every decision the Sun's management made in those years. But there was not a day or a moment that I was not grateful to be working for an honorable newspaper, whose owners recognized their responsibility to readers and their community as well as to their own profit and who expected me and my colleagues and our editors to do our jobs honestly and thoroughly with no agenda except to find and tell the truth in whatever story we were covering.

In our worst nightmares none of us could have imagined how badly the present owners and managers have damaged that tradition. Nor could we have conceived that any Sun executives would treat any employees the way you and those under your direction treated the men and women whose jobs you eliminated last month.

No doubt you will blame business conditions for the drastic shrinkage of the paper and loss of journalistic quality. That can be debated elsewhere. But business conditions didn't require canning people without notice in the middle of covering or editing a story, or letting them find out when they couldn't log onto their computers, then shoving them out the door under the eyes of security guards without time to absorb the event or for an appropriate goodby to colleagues. There is no possible business reason for those practices. The only reason is a thuggish indifference to common decency and human dignity.

The wrecking crew in Chicago and your leadership have bankrupted the Sun in more than the legal and financial sense. You are also intellectually bankrupt and morally bankrupt, bankrupt of principles, bankrupt of social conscience, bankrupt of basic decency. Not to mention bankrupt of any idea of what good journalism is and why it matters. I am sure that nearly all present and former employees share my feeling that only new ownership, as soon as possible, has any hope of restoring the serious purpose and public responsibility the Sun once had. If and when there is a change, no doubt many would be happy to see you booted out of the building with the same contempt you showed those you terminated earlier this month. But that will not really even the score, for this reason: You will deserve that contempt. The good journalists you kicked out the door did not.


Arnold R. Isaacs

Thanks for all the comments

Responses at this site and through emails to Muck postings continue to amaze and delight.

From Tim Windsor, on the newspaper’s explanation for its typeface changes:

Not to minimize the pain and suffering of the 61 newly-former Sun employees, but to me the low point of the past several weeks was the obvious dissembling of the reader's note you quote above. There were many ways to acknowledge the change; saying it was for readability was an unnecessary lie. All a news organization has is its reputation for truth. Beyond that clear line lies Pravda and the house organs of a dozen Banana Republics.

From ‘anonymous’:

Didn't The Sun pay a bazillion dollars to have someone create the "Mencken" font used "exclusively" by the paper? Seems to me at that time the Mencken font was praised for it's "readability."

From Len Lazarick, of the recently defunct Baltimore Examiner, who wrote just before the ‘Sun lies’ posting here:

This was much like the explanation when they trimmed the page size and told readers something like "this will make the paper easier to carry."

How can you have any credibility as a newspaper when you can't speak the truth to your own readers?

TV worth watching

Friends Laura Lippman and David Simon are heading to Los Angeles for television appearances later this week.

Laura, a former Sun reporter who has produced some 17 books of fiction (most of them in the mystery genre), is scheduled for an appearance Thursday night on CBS’ Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Not familiar with her? Visit Not familiar with Ferguson? You go to bed too early.

David, a writer, TV producer and former Sun reporter best known as creator of the HBO series ‘The Wire,’ is among the guests Friday night on HBO’s ‘Real Time With Bill Maher.’ David testified last week at a Senate committee hearing on “The Future of Journalism.” If you haven’t seen the transcript already, here’s a link:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Newspapers: Sun lies?

‘Font Day’ brings change
to Baltimore Sun design,
and curious note to readers

The Baltimore Sun took on a noticeably different look on Monday as the newspaper adopted the typographical style demanded by its Tribune Company overlords – throwing away the work of Sun staffers in recent years that produced the last of several redesigns.

A small notice at the bottom of the front page, with the heading “To our readers,” offered this explanation:

Today you may notice that we have changed the newspaper’s type styles to improve readability.”

Then again, you may notice the change another way – to make less obvious the smuggling of content from Tribune’s central editing and production staff in Chicago into The Baltimore Sun.

There wasn’t much from the Windy City on this inaugural day of the style overhaul – the heavy local content seeming almost to have been planned as a cover-up. But increasingly, Baltimore Sun readers will find the balance shifting, their newspaper becoming less and less uniquely Baltimore – and more and more driven by content that’s cheaper to produce, using the Tribune chain’s nonunion central staff to feed all of its publications.

That’s part of the reason for the firing without notice nearly two weeks ago of nearly a third of the news and editorial staff – writers, copy editors, photographers, page designers, graphic artists, newsroom editorial assistants, even one of the few remaining librarians. (Another, clearly, was that little matter of breaking the Sun chapter of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild.)

The Tribune typeface, to my aging eyes, seems less readable. It’s also uglier – visually and morally.

And the notice “To our readers” was disingenuous at best.

At worst? Maybe it was a little notice bearing a big lie from Sun president/publisher/CEO Timothy E. Ryan.

'House ad' hilarity

Don’t know if anyone noticed the back-page house ad appearing in The Baltimore’s Sun’s unreadable ‘tv&comics’ section on Sunday.

A house ad is a self-promoting message often used to fill pages and holes where paid advertising is lacking, and can probably be deducted from the bottom line for tax purposes as a business expense. In flusher times, many house ads were planned and scheduled for specific parts of the newspaper to promote classified ad sales, special marketing sections, newspaper-sponsored events and the like -- and when important news needed additional space on a page, moving or eliminating a “scheduled” house ad required permission from higher-ups.

Some houses were pretty clever; most were predictably mundane or unimaginative.

Sunday’s TV section… well, maybe too many people have been fired in the marketing wing – an extra set of eyes that might have prevented this Baltimore Sun Media Group message, under the image of a cute designer-breed dog with the power cord of a table lamp in its mouth:

“Selling your merchandise and pets has never been easier.”

To which I can only plead: “Please, daddy, don’t sell Fluffy!”

Then again, maybe that’s just another indication of bad economic times.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Veteran newsman turns a page

Baltimore Sun
veterans celebrate
colleague's book

Author Luxenberg investigated
his own mother's secret

I had a vision tonight: A young Mickey Rooney rushes up the steps to the back door of the home of Will Englund and Kathy Lally in Baltimore’s leafy Roland Park neighborhood, spins around and declares to a crowd of party-goers, “Let’s put out a newspaper!”

Then the ghost of Judy Garland appears, and they do a 1939-vintage song-and-dance number while, out front, a horse-drawn wagon carries a Linotype machine up Hawthorne Road.

Will is one of The Baltimore Sun’s last Pulitzer Prize winners, and with reporter-wife Kathy Lally, had two tours as the storied newspaper’s Moscow Bureau. Their home was the setting for the party -- celebrating publication of the first book by longtime colleague Steve Luxenberg, “Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret.”

Co-hosts for the party, along with Steve’s wife Mary Jo Kirschman, were Francie Weeks and her husband Scott Shane, another former Moscow Bureau chief, who left The Sun to join the national staff of The New York Times. He wrote a book about the fall of the Iron Curtain – as a casualty of the information age.

The house and backyard were packed with talent representing the best of the newspaper’s foreign, national and local reporters over the last quarter-century, including Ann LoLordo, Arnold Isaacs, Antero Pietila, Mike Bowler, Dan Fesperman and his wife Liz Bowie, Jean Marbella, Eileen Canzian… and, not to name-drop, friends and former colleagues David Simon, creator of 'The Wire' among other post-newspaper accomplishments, and prolific novelist Laura Lippman.

In the blur of the joyous evening, forgive me if I’ve left out others. The talent that has passed through my old newsroom is amazing – and a few at the party are still there, holding on amid the white-knuckle downhill ride of American print journalism. Ann LoLordo, who was overseeing the editorial page and had jobs including Jerusalem Bureau chief during three decades at The Sun, was hurled out nearly two weeks ago without notice as the newspaper fired nearly a third of its news and editorial staff.

Luxenberg, a former Sun city editor who moved on to the Washington Post more than two decades ago, is one of the best news people I ever worked with. He was the editor who hired David Simon, a just-graduated University of Maryland newspaper editor and campus stringer for the Baltimore paper.

Sure there was nostalgia about newspaper days, and sadness at the upheaval making the future of print journalism uncertain at best. But mostly, the party was a great celebration for one of us who has taken a great next step in his life.

The family secret underlying “Annie’s Ghosts” was kept hidden by Steve’s mother, who until her death told just about everyone she had been an only child when, in fact, there had been an institutionalized sister.

Steve, who succeeded Bob Woodward as head of the Washington Post’s investigative and projects staff, delved into his own family’s mystery and emerged with a book that, coincidentally, was being celebrated on Mothers Day.

You can find out more about the book at, and hear Steve talk about the secret in an appearance at Baltimore’s Stoop Storytelling series at

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Mourning Sun

Buttons, bumper stickers were party favors at union-sponsored wake for fired staffers.

Employees find no news
in publisher Ryan’s talk
on newspaper’s future

Closest executives come
to any layoffs apology is 'regret'
and 'could have been handled better'

In case you were wondering, there was no apology Thursday from top Baltimore Sun executives for the mass firings without notice last week of nearly a third of the news staff.

The question of an apology was posed at a companywide meeting in the newspaper building’s cafeteria Thursday morning and, according to several accounts from staff survivors who attended, the best that CEO/president/publisher Timothy E. Ryan and editor J. Montgomery Cook could offer was regret at the layoffs.

Employees crowded shoulder to shoulder for the meeting at which newspaper CEO/president/publisher Timothy E. Ryan was to present a vision of the future for The Baltimore Sun, and there was an undercurrent of anger evident in the audience. What Ryan had to offer, several said, was no more than contained in statements already issued by the company about the turn toward alternative platforms brought on by new technology.

“Basically, it was just BS,” one employee said later at another gathering – a wake, of sorts, held by the newspaper union Thursday night to honor and celebrate the careers of the more than five dozen people sent packing last week in the Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon bloodletting carried out under the watchful eyes of extra security guards brought in for the occasion.

Some of those fired, as noted in earlier postings at The Real Muck, had worked more than 30 years for the newspaper. The action partially targeted older, more experienced and higher-paid staffers, as the newspaper shielded others much less senior with moves into newly-created nonunion jobs.

According to another employee's account of the meeting, it was Ryan who said he regretted the way the layoffs were handled -- and that "had to be dragged out of him like blood from the proverbial stone."

"He said it 'could have been handled better' in 'some' instances. When pressed as to whether he would actually apologize to those former employees, he simply said, "That's my position," referring to the "handled better" statement."

Ryan confirmed at the cafeteria meeting that Monday, as reported here earlier, will be “Font Day” – when readers find the typographical style of The Baltimore Sun uniformly changed to match that of other newspapers in the Tribune chain, discarding the work of earlier redesigns that had taken months of work, including presentations to reader focus groups for their opinions.

This blogger was never a big fan of the results from focus groups, feeling that many people participating would have a tendency to do what was expected – to say they liked something, even when they would have misgivings. But the style that came out of all that work was far more attractive and readable than what the public will find in The Sun on Monday.

The key to the change is expedience – making it easier for the newspaper to be largely filled with “content” created in Chicago and distributed throughout the Tribune empire in page modules that leave holes for local advertising and local news. While local news takes over the front page, what national and world news is seen on inside pages in The Baltimore Sun may depend more on the number of pages available that day than on news judgment. Larger Tribune newspapers likely will have more pages, and more of the modules.

Also coming Monday will be expanded roles for newly named local content editors, who will be editing stories, moving them electronically into modules and writing the headlines – with the likelihood that no copy editor will be available for a second look before the newspaper starts spinning off the presses at the Sun Park printing plant three miles away.

The result, say surviving staffers and those who lost jobs, will inevitably be more errors in the newspaper and increased danger of inadvertent libel – the kind of mistake that brings lawyers with threats of lawsuits. So a little advice to Tim Ryan: Don’t skimp on the insurance.

Unfortunately, the pain of layoffs is unlikely to end – with the possibility of longtime newsroom employees exercising bumping rights to reclaim jobs they formerly held in other classifications. Copy editors who held higher designations as slot editors or makeup editors may seek to move down, and some copy editors may opt to return to earlier jobs as reporters.

The result would be some going back to work, and others being bumped into the ranks of the unemployed.

Trouble is, they’re all like family, and it’s tough to decide the worth of pushing out a colleague in order to keep working in the uncertain employ of the Tribune Company, which has owned The Baltimore Sun for a decade and is seen by many as running the newspaper into the ground.

Some at the party hold the newly-created jobs that took them out of the union, and others find themselves worrying about losing jobs in the bumps that could come. Yet they joined in fellowship even with those at the party whose decisions could push them out of jobs.

It is none of their fault. They are just victims of Tribune – whether inside or outside for now. And they hug each other, all feeling the same pain from an ill wind out of Chicago.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sun massacre brings byline strike

Newspaper CEO Ryan
to present vision ahead,
but will he apologize?

Retirees, alumni mourn Sun decline;
Newspaper Guild offers counseling

Many staff bylines are likely to be missing from Thursday’s editions of The Baltimore Sun, and from stories on the newspaper Web site, in an action by members of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild protesting “layoffs and heavy handed tactics by owner Tribune Co.”

But it may just as well be an act of mourning in the wake of last week’s mass firings without notice of nearly a third of The Sun’s news and editorial staff. Sort of akin to a flag at half mast -- bylines symbolically gone.

The protest comes as the newspaper’s publisher/president/CEO Timothy E. Ryan was to address employees on the company’s vision going forward – an event that was expected to take place in the company cafeteria Thursday morning.

The question that this blog would offer first to Mr. Ryan: Will you issue a public apology for the manner in which dedicated, longtime employees were fired?

I’m not sure there is a way to go forward without acknowledging mistakes of the past, and the Chicago-based Tribune Co., which acquired The Baltimore Sun as part of its merger/takeover of Times Mirror Corp. a decade ago, has a lot of mistakes to acknowledge and rude and disrespectful actions that require an apology.

The firings and shrinking of the newspaper were, as expected, the main topic on the discussion menu Wednesday as the Sun’s alumni and retirees – nearly all of them from newsroom jobs – held their annual luncheon at the Engineering Club, about the same three-block distance from the newspaper building and the downtown church basement where the union was simultaneously holding a job fair and counseling session for the displaced workers.

The retirees and alumni included many distinguished journalists, and they shared revulsion for the manner in which their brethren were shown the door by the current (absentee) Lords of Calvert Street.

Bob Timberg, a former White House correspondent and three-decade veteran of The Sun, lamented the firings and added a name I had missed: David Wood, who covered the Defense Department with distinction. “He was a great reporter,” said Timberg, whose latest book was the definitive “John McCain, An American Odyssey.”

But greatness doesn’t necessarily count at The Baltimore Sun.

Steve Luxenberg, a former city editor who left The Sun more than two decades ago for the more promising pasture of The Washington Post, told the gathering that he had witnessed many management meetings in his years at the southern end of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and “it only takes one person to stand up and say, ‘You’re not going to treat people this way.’”

But evidently there was no one so brave in the top management at The Baltimore Sun to stand up and say ‘No.’

Arnold R. “Skip” Isaacs, a longtime Sun staffer and foreign correspondent who left in the 1990s, called it “a combination of cluelessness and cowardice – it’s hard to discern anything else.”

And John Plunkett, a former assistant managing editor who helps organize the annual reunion, said: “This was done by the standard business school method – not to tell anyone it was going to happen.”

The retirees organization was still trying to compile a list of all those fired, Plunkett noted.

The layoffs/firings went beyond the newsroom, having been going on for several weeks in commercial departments of the newspaper. About eight union members there have lost jobs in the latest round of job reductions, according to Angie Kuhl, the Sun’s Guild unit chair – in addition to nonunion managers who also were eliminated from the payroll.

“Tribune’s tactics are deplorable,” Cet Parks, the union’s executive director, said in an announcement of the byline strike. “Employees who poured their hearts and souls into putting out a great newspaper every day were told to get out and stay out. No fanfare, no thank you, no outplacement help, just hit the streets. Maybe that’s big business Tribune way, but it isn’t right. Through its actions Tribune has demonstrated that it has little regard or respect for its employees.”

“These decisions were made without any discussions on alternative costs saving methods,” added Brent Jones, a Sun editor and Guild representative. “We wanted to do something to show our former co‑workers that we're upset with how they were treated last week. We produce this paper and expect our voices to be heard.”

Gus Sentementes, a Sun reporter and Guild representative, said, “The wisdom and experience that has left The Sun in this period is shocking. Out‑of‑town and out‑of‑touch ownership has extracted a heavy toll on the newspaper.”

To say nothing of the heavy toll on Sun readers, this blogger adds.

Not everyone on the staff agreed with the byline strike. Michael Dresser, a longtime Sun staffer and Guild member, said his byline will appear Thursday.

"That fact does not represent an endorsement of the actions of Tribune management. I am shocked and saddened by the handling of the recent layoffs and dismayed [at] the entire direction of Tribune's response to its current economic difficulties," Mike wrote. "Nevertheless, I have long opposed byline strikes on principle and have refused to participate on past occasions."

He added: "I have many reasons for opposing byline strikes. I don't care to share most of them with management. I will openly state my belief that they are inherently undemocratic because they are called with no debate and no vote.

"I have been a Guild member for 38 years and have always been proud to be one. But on this point I have no intention of backing down -- ever. I have never seen a byline strike that accomplished anything positive. It's a tactic that should have been left behind in the 20th Century."

Coming up: ‘Font Day’

According to sources, the “font” style of The Baltimore Sun will be changed as of Monday’s editions to conform with that of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in the Tribune chain, pretty much discarding the style developed in recurring redesigns of The Sun in recent years.

This change has nothing to with making the newspaper look more appealing – it’s all about conforming with the look of news content that will be written, edited and composed in page “modules” by nonuion employees in Chicago. You’ll be seeing those news modules from Chicago in The Sun within a few weeks, the sources predict.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Newspaper weights and measures

Sun puts new spin
on ‘The Vanishing’
as staff, paper shrink

Something is missing in my Sunday paper – you know, The Baltimore Sun. An entire section has vanished. I seem to recall it as Section B, or Maryland Closeup, and though I'm told it happened a week or two ago, I just noticed yesterday.

Over the past two years, as The Sun was moving its elements around, eliminating some sections and consolidating others, there was usually a note to readers explaining the changes. Sometimes there was even a little audacity in suggesting the changes were improvements.

And after my initial wee-hours posting of this blog, I received an email and a Facebook note from friends who informed me that I missed the note to readers. As one of the fired editors put it, "The section was dropped two weeks ago, and a brief announcement was published saying that some content formerly in the section would be printed in the A section. Not, I concede, a conspicuous notice, but it was there."

I didn't find it on the electronic archive, so I'll have to wander down to the library later to see if I can find a copy of the notice I missed.

The disappearance of Maryland Closeup came just days before the newspaper’s purge of nearly a third of its editing, news and opinion staff through what has been charitably described as “layoffs.”

I called it a massacre. Firings. I had a comment from a reader criticizing my use of the word “fired,” saying it carries an implication that the employees had done something wrong. They hadn’t. But they were fired anyway.

In this world, you don’t have to do anything wrong to get fired. You can do a job better than anyone, and get fired because your higher salary was considered excess baggage by corporate bean-counters.

And these wonderful people, friends I worked with in my former life in the newsroom, did nothing wrong. They did their jobs well, demonstrated their professionalism and dedication by working longer hours than the standard 40 under their union contract (mostly without putting in for overtime), won honors for the newspaper, and were rewarded with unending abuse by the company – including a worthless, arbitrary employee evaluation system intended to justify giving one worker a $50 raise, while another gets $10 or less.

One of my thoughts in asking for a buyout in the newsroom reduction Class of 2007 was not wanting to ever fill out another evaluation of the small newsroom contingent I ostensibly supervised. It didn’t seem to matter what praise I wrote, how I graded. They all did their jobs to the point of excellence, but you couldn’t tell from the raises they would get.

Weights and measures

On a whim Sunday night, I drove down the road to my local Giant supermarket and picked up copies of The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, carried them over to the produce section and plopped them on a scale.

From a purely size-and-price standpoint, here’s how they measured up: The Post was half a pound heavier, and cost 38 cents less.

And the Post news report had Section B – and a Section C. That’s “Outlook” and “Metro,” respectively. And all three newsy sections, A, B, C, had an ample supply of Washington Post staff bylines, as opposed to The Sun’s sparse news beyond the Baltimore Beltway. (And they were followed by the sections for Sports, Style & Arts, Travel, Business, and a crappy advertising-driven Jobs. Sealed in a plastic bag were the Post's magazine, full comics section, TV Week, Parade, ad inserts and coupons.

Fair to compare? Maybe not. After all, Washington is the nation’s capital and the Post has greater resources and a definitively wider reach in its global coverage. The only purely local story on the front page is about Virginia politics. And Metro has entirely too much Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties news for this Baltimore-and-burbs reader. I’ve never understood why The Post so disdains wider coverage of Maryland news, allowing its competitor 30 miles up the B-W Parkway free reign over metro Baltimore for the past two decades.

I’ve never been a Post subscriber. Only The Sun – and I buy it still. I thought about canceling in protest, as some readers of this blog say they have. But I still have friends on the inside, and don’t want to see the rug pulled out from under them through declining circulation numbers despite their own employer’s seeming intent on diminishing its value and angering readers. One equally dismayed newspaper friend suggested we go out and sell subscriptions to The Sun despite it all, in an effort to keep the print product alive.

Seems strange to me that the newspaper has gone to such lengths to get rid of 30-year employees and 30-year readers, though.

Baltimore Sun publisher/president/CEO Timothy E. Ryan (a triple-threat player!) has a “to the readers” note on Page 3 about the newsroom changes and how proud the newspaper is to provide “award-winning journalism to more readers than any other local news media organization.”

“We truly value the more than 1 million people who read us every week.” (Doubtless a one-page online click is counted as one of that million, and people who buy the paper on multiple days count as more than one reader. Numbers are so easy to manipulate.)

There’s also some bragging about how the newspaper benefits in being part of “the Baltimore Sun Media Group (BSMG)” that includes 28 community newspapers in the Baltimore metro area – most if not all of which, the note doesn’t mention, have been cut in staffing and frequency of publication.

That latest note to readers is just spin, I’m afraid. The readers are getting less than ever before, unless they rely on digital sources for their news. There’s an awful lot of readers, or would-be readers, who are not equipped or able to do that, and The Baltimore Sun has fired them, too.

BSMG, hmmmmm. There’s probably other uses for those letters. Maybe I should hold a contest.

The final photo

In recounting the last day at work for veteran, award-winning Sun photographer Chiaki Kawajiri, The Real Muck last week noted her final assignment before being given a mutually tearful layoff by her department boss: A lawyer with his pet bird.

The photo taken Wednesday afternoon appeared in Sunday’s editions, accompanying an article by Personal Finance columnist Eileen Ambrose. The early Sunday edition hitting newsstands on Saturday had an enormous photo on the front page of a dog wearing a dollar-sign neckband, and the lawyer-with-parrot photo on an inside page. The later editions had both the large dog and a shrunken lawyer-with-bird on the inside page.

Not to criticize the maximum waste of space in a news-shrunken newspaper with a two column-by-13-inch photo of a dog with jewelry, but there was no credit line saying whose photo it was. Probably a stock-agency photo of a dog, but usually a credit line will identify the source.

There also was no credit identifying Chiaki under her final photo for the newspaper. It just reads: Baltimore Sun Photo. I'm told that the lack of a credit on Chiaki's last photo was her own request.

Attention TV News

Since The Baltimore Sun does not seem likely to throw a farewell party for the 60-plus staffers given the bum’s rush last week, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild is planning a reception for them – for the fired union-jurisdiction staffers as well as the editors and managers who were in the nonunion “merit system.”

The party – to which newspaper alumni and friends are invited – is being held from 6 p.m, to 10 p.m. Thursday in the Rockefeller Room of the Standard Building at 501 St. Paul -- at the corner of the Franklin Street hill just up from the Sun building. Anyone thinking about starting up a real Baltimore/Central Maryland newspaper (or buying the old one) will find plenty of available talent -- top talent!

Also in the works: A job fair for the suddenly unemployed newspaper staffers, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday (May 6) at St. Ignatius Church, 805 North Calvert St.

Also on Wednesday, the personnel massacre and downward spiral of the newspaper are sure to be the main topic of conversation at the annual luncheon of the Baltimore Sun Retirees Association, beginning at 11 a.m. with a cash bar, at the Engineering Club, 11 West Mount Vernon Place.

The Sun’s firing of many of its best, brightest and most senior employees has been grossly under-reported by the area television news programs that for years have relied on the newspaper to cue its own coverage of what’s happening in and around Baltimore. The old A.S. Abell Co. founded and owned WMAR-TV (Channel 2) until its 1986 sale of The Sun and broadcast properties to Times Mirror Corp. required divestiture under federal regulations. It has in recent years had news partnerships with the various stations, and currently with WJZ-TV (Channel 13).

We’ll see if Channel 13, in particular, takes this hint.

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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Baltimore Sun massacre aftermath

Firings, reorganization
gut union presence
in Sun newsroom

Reorganization message sent to staff
shows calculated planning before purge

Villains? How about publisher, editor

Depression settled in Thursday across the Baltimore Sun newsroom along with the dust of this week’s nearly 24-hour-long personnel massacre in which nearly a third of the staff was shown the door.

By now, media blogs across the nation have added more pieces to the account outlined yesterday in this little corner of cyberspace:

– About Sun writers Rick Maese and David Steele, and photographer Liz Malby, getting word they’d been fired in cell phone calls while they were covering an afternoon Orioles game a mile from the office.

– About how copy editors arriving for work in late afternoon found themselves unable to sign on to their computers, and being given group notification by their surviving editor that their jobs were gone.

– About how Tribune was taking similar actions across most of its chain of newspapers, with plans to produce much of the content (by one account as much as 75 percent) in modular page sections produced entirely by a central staff in Chicago. (That was pretty much in line with the prediction here in February ( when The Sun introduced its first nation & world page produced by nonunion staff in Chicago, at a time when union jobs in Baltimore were being eliminated.)

Reorganization plan unveiled

In Baltimore Thursday evening, just 24 hours after the last of the layoffs that largely eliminated senior editors at The Sun and many union jurisdiction columnists, copy editors, page designers, artists, photographers and support staffers, editor Monty Cook handed down a reorganization plan that appears to complete the newsroom gutting of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild.

It transfers many younger staffers into new, apparently nonunion positions as The Baltimore Sun reorients its operation from having a print newspaper mother ship to a focus on other information platforms evolving as part of the world’s digital communications revolution. (The company had long fought to keep employees at out of the union, including maintaining a costly separate office space for the Web operation in North Baltimore in recent years.)

The detailed reorganization plan is a clear indication of the lengthy planning that enabled the management to protect some younger employees through transfers to newly-created positions outside union jurisdiction, leaving more senior and higher-paid staffers exposed to layoffs – in effect, firings.

Even extra security guards were on hand as the layoffs came between 6 p.m. Tuesday and late afternoon Wednesday.

Among those told nothing: The victims.

Villain nominees

And that is why editor Monty Cook and publisher Timothy Ryan win Villain of the Year nominations from The Real Muck. Execution of their plan was calculating and cruel, and victimized employees who had dedicated a large portion of their lives to making The Baltimore Sun the best possible newspaper under any prevailing circumstance.

Two feet of snow? The Sun came out in the morning. Many of the folks who made that kind of miracle possible were treated like chattel this week.

That said, I have a personal dilemma in that those who were fired and nearly everyone moving to other jobs under the reorganization were part of my family across many years as colleagues in the newsroom. I love them all. We fought the good battles together to write, edit and publish great stories, rejoiced in good times and supported each other in sad times.

This is a very sad time, the most awful of times. Shrinking the staff was clearly unavoidable. But being cruel and clumsy in going about it was not necessary. It was flat-out wrong and stupid. And the depth of hurt is evidenced in the many comments from readers added to my previous blog posting on the Sun massacre.

I missed a few names and stories… like Karen Zeiler, who was fired at – even as the company was reorienting toward the digital side. Why? I have no idea. She had no union protection, though – she worked on the then-isolated Web side of the company. She is the sister of page designer Dave Zeiler, who also was fired on Wednesday. Also gone, graphic artist Denise Murray, after nine years at The Sun and a good quarter-century in the business; features page designer Carrie Lyle, also after nine years (and, judging by recent Facebook exchanges with friends, expecting); editorial's letters page overseer Franz Schneiderman. The names keep coming in.

I also failed to make note of recent layoffs on the commercial side of the company, and the voluntary layoff requested by veteran reporter Steve Kiehl. Amid all the uproar I heard of others leaving, but some accounts proved incorrect and so a few feared losses are for now not true. There's so much uncertainty amid the chaos.

A message received from Andy Ratner, an editor and writer also with a quarter-century in The Sun in jobs ranging from editor of the Anne Arundel section during some of its good years, and for the business and sports sections, indicated he was among the victims. He was affable, talented and, clearly like so many others, under-appreciated.

Some writers with the title of columnist were retitled as reporters, so it will be interesting to see if that makes the portrait photos accompanying their work disappear. And one sports reporter, Childs Walker, who also wrote extensively on fantasy sports, was facing a layoff unless he opts to transfer back to the department where he started -- on the metro news staff.

From the newsroom and editorial staffs, I hear, the body count was 61. I don’t have all the names, still. But I can tell you, there’s a story for every one of them.

Just one little story

I talked at length Thursday afternoon with Chiaki Kawajiri, who returned my call from Wednesday night after her 14-year tenure as a Sun photographer ended without warning. She could have sought a transfer earlier to one of those murky-titled new jobs under the heading “multimedia,” but with 14 years at the newspaper it was thought she had the seniority to survive in the endeavor she loves: photojournalism.

On Wednesday, she had two assignments – in the morning a press conference featuring the mayor, police commissioner, and school system CEO, and later in the day a photo shoot of a lawyer with his pet bird.

“After [the morning assignment] I tried to call those who were laid off the previous day -- not knowing I was getting laid off that day -- to make sure they were OK and offered to help,” Chiaki wrote in an email after an emotional telephone conversation with me recounting the stunning turn of events.

She said her subject was running late, so she called the office “to make sure I didn't have another assignment after that.”

“Jeff Bill, who was filling in for assignment editor Chuck Weiss who was just laid off, answered the phone and sounded different. He told me Bob [photo editor Robert Hamilton] wanted me to come in the office after the assignment... better yet, if the subject is late, just forget it and come in. As I hung up the phone shaken, he shows up and I finished the assignment which turned out to be my last work... I was trying to be professional.”

Fearing what might be in store, Chiaki came downtown by her husband, who waited in their car with their 5-year-old son Zen while she went into the newspaper building.

“When I came in, [photographer] Amy Davis walked alongside me. Then I saw Peter, whose face looked as if he has been crying. He gives me a big hug and says call him anytime... and others followed. At this point, I haven't been told yet.

“Bob has been a great boss. He was so sad to tell me the bad news. It must have been so hard for him. At this point, he has told six people in the photo dept. that they had been laid off. I was second to last…. His tears rolled down, and we hugged and cried together.

“My dear friends, fellow photographers, Algerina and Jed comforted me. Then Jeff Bill and Karl Ferron came to give me hugs. While I was sitting down, Jerry Jackson, Paul Moore, Mike Klingaman came to offer their support. As I was leaving, I got some hugs from writers starting [with] Liz Bowie. Stephanie Desmon whom I worked with the most came to me crying and we hugged and cried together.

“Dear friend Amy Davis gently helped me go out [of] the building because she didn't want me to be alone when I departed. As she walked me outside, my 5-year-old son ran to me and gave me a big hug and kisses.”

That’s how Chiaki wrote it. Telling it, speaking it, is even harder to do without crying some more.

Here’s what Chiaki said: “My 5-year-old son wiped my tears off and said, ‘Mommy, it’s OK. I love you.’ He caressed my hair. He comforted me.”

She had not been able to send a message out to all of her friends in the newsroom before leaving. Her computer access had already been shut down.

There’s more about the kind of person she is, of course. I have to tell you about one of my favorite photos by Chiaki Kawajiri – a weather picture. It shows four young children in winter, leaning their heads back and trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues. When I retired 23 months ago with a voluntary buyout, I mentioned that photo – which hangs in the building with other examples of the staff’s finest – and she mailed me a print of it. But she apparently had the wrong zipcode, and the package came back to her from the post office.

During my recent return to the newsroom for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of staffer Richard Irwin’s Police Blotter, Chiaki handed me the still-sealed envelope containing that gift.

She has won numerous awards, and received an honor last month from President Obama in a ceremony at the White House. I asked her about that, and she emailed me this account of the award – for a photo from a six-part story on breast cancer. (Editor Monty Cook, in his talk two weeks ago at Johns Hopkins University, said the era of the six-part series is no more.)

“The woman I photographed died a week before I met Obama. Her companion wrote me the nicest letter thanking me for the photo. We were supposed to bring the prints of the award winning images, but I didn't. When it was my turn, I told Obama that this amazing woman passed away a week ago, and I was still mourning for her death. If I brought the photo of her, I would look at the image and start to cry, so forgive me, but I don't have the prints... He felt so bad and comforted me.”

Keep in mind, this is one person’s story, among the reported 61 people fired by The Baltimore Sun. Chiaki was reluctant to be the focus of a story herself… she is a shy, and very wonderful human being. She wanted to be sure none of this account would be harmful to her boss, Bob Hamilton.

I replied: "There is nothing harmful about telling how a boss cries when he has to tell an employee he deeply cares about that she has been given a layoff. There is nothing harmful about saying that human beings can cry at circumstances beyond their control. The public needs to know there are people of great compassion at The Baltimore Sun doing the best they can, even when the company they work for makes horrible errors in judgment and causes great hurt to dedicated and talented employees."

Chiaki was raised in her native Japan, where a work ethic and dedication to one’s employer are deeply ingrained. Chiaki brought those attributes to the newspaper every working day for 14 years.

“I am stunned,” she said, “that after 14 years of giving my passion to The Sun that I come back at 5 o’clock and am told it is my last day.”

Monte’s Message Thursday

For those who haven’t seen it elsewhere, following is the message sent to survivors Thursdays evening, some 24 hours after the last ax had fallen:

Today, we begin announcing our working newsroom structure for the journalism we produce across all platforms.

While we publish for multiple platforms, our singular focus will be on journalism, news and information. Producing and maintaining the best local reporting in the region is our top priority. These changes will enhance The Sun's ability to provide greater access to the solid beat reporting, enterprise reporting, the relentless watchdog journalism and personally relevant stories that form our covenant with the Baltimore community.

We've said this before: Circumstances may change. How we perform our jobs may change. But our values do not.
Some of the titles you will see in this note reflect not only the new world we work in, but the world of The Baltimore Sun's audiences who expect their news delivered in print, online or on their Blackberry or iPhone. That means gathering news and information as real-time reporting -- whether it is in the form of the quick-hit information of our blogs or the in-depth investigative and enterprise reporting from our beats -- and publishing when those stories are ready.
We will also increase our focus on growing the total audience for Sun stories, photographs, videos and graphics. Everyone has a role to play in creating conversation and forging greater connection and interaction with readers around our stories and content. We want them to select The Sun as the first read among myriad choices they have.
Over the past six weeks, many of you have acquired greater skill sets and understanding about new media and our online content management system. That training will continue in the coming weeks and months as we transition to a platform-neutral newsroom.

Last week, we announced these key leadership positions:
Head of print: Mary Corey
Head of digital media: Matthew Baise
Head of night content & production: Chris Rickett
Director of audience engagement: Mary Hartney
We will be surrounding our journalism and coverage around specific areas led by topic heads, who will be responsible for overseeing dynamic, interesting and timely print and online stories, blogs and communities for their designated topic. Most topic areas are broad and will have several communities and sub-topics included.

Today, we are announcing the following positions. The topic managers will report directly to Corey and Baise. These changes take effect Monday, May 4.

Director, content editing and enterprise: Marcia Myers
Marcia will oversee development of stories for print and online across all departments, with a particular focus on Page One candidates and with direct responsibility for investigative and enterprise projects.

Head of Maryland news: David Nitkin and Dave Alexander
Politics & Government Editor, Jean Marbella
Crime & Courts Editor, Michelle Landrum
Education Editor, Jen Badie
Director of Breaking News, Ben Pillow
GA Editor, Liz Atwood
Content editor/chief makeup editor, Linda Schubert

David and Dave will focus their efforts jointly what we consider the core of what we provide to our readers: coverage of the city and its surrounding counties across multiple platforms. David Nitkin brings a wealth of experience as an editor and reporter. He's a rock-solid journalist whose instinct for news is unparalleled. Nitkin has been a reporter in Baltimore County, the state house bureau chief, Maryland editor, and spent time covering the White House. He oversaw coverage of the 2006 and 2008 elections. Dave Alexander's success as online deputy editor and his unique and keen understanding of our diverse audiences -- he has print experience at newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina -- provide the perfect complement and the leadership we need. Dave's career at progressed from sports producer to news producer to senior news producer before becoming online deputy editor.

Head of money & spending: Tim Wheatley
Content editors, Justine Maki, Liz Hacken

While much of Tim's career has been spent in sports, he was also AME/Business at the Indianapolis Star and responsible for coverage of the Conseco bankruptcy, Eli Lilly and the downsizing of the auto industry. He brings a broad approach to story development and knows how to surround an issue, providing readers with greater context. In his time here he has led our Sports staff to one of its most successful years in 2008 with multiple writing and section awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, and we expect him to continue that success in leading our business staff.

Head of sports: Trif Alatzas
Executive Sports Editor, Ron Fritz
Deputy Sports Editor, Pete Sweigard
Assistant Sports Editors, Kevin Eck, Steve Gould, Matt Bracken
Content Editor, night: Andy Knobel

As business editor for the past nine months, Trif has been known for his great sense for news and for knowing how to develop sources that deepen our readers' knowledge and understanding of stories. Bringing that type of experience and drive will enhance our Sports coverage, particularly with a greater emphasis for breaking news online. He has been an outstanding editor, helping guide coverage of the Constellation Energy Group and quickly mobilized the staff around coverage of the economic meltdown last fall and Wall Street's collapse. The proposed sale of Constellation won a breaking-news award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He will be excellent at leveraging our highly popular Sports content online.

Head of opinion: Andy Green
Deputy Opinion Editor, Michael Cross-Barnet

Andy brings a wealth of politics, state house and government coverage experience, with broad understanding of the issues affecting the lives of Marylanders. He also understands the heightened role that readers and online audiences are increasingly playing in helping to shape public opinion; that it's just as much about "what we say" as it is helping focus discussion and debate around what our readers and online audience are intensely interested in.

Head of lifestyle & entertainment: Dave Rosenthal
Arts & Entertainment Editor, Tim Swift
Content editor, food: Sarah Kelber
Content editor, nightlife/bands: Sam Sessa
Content editors, lifestyle: Kate Shatzkin, Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, Matt Brown, Kim Walker
Events coordinator, Rebecca Hyler

Dave will guide our lifestyle and entertainment topics. In lifestyle, these topics reflect how we live and events and issues that directly impact our readers' lives. These topic areas include parenting/family, health & wellness, green living, science, faith, home, commuting, recreation and travel. In entertainment, we will focus locally on food and dining, the arts scene, nightlife, bands, celebrities, television and movies. Dave has guided The Sun's weekend and Sunday edition coverage where many of the important projects and investigations of the past few years have been showcased. His insight into readership habits and his creative approach to story ideas will be invaluable for increasing our online audience in these areas.

Head of visuals: Jay Judge
Director of Multimedia, Steve Sullivan
Director of Photography, Bob Hamilton
Director of Interactive Design, Lauren Custer
Multimedia/interactive art director, Kevin Richardson

Jay will guide the visuals presentation for our print and online platforms, bringing solid versatility and a knowledge of the importance visuals play in helping tell stories in myriad ways. You've known Jay as a highly creative colleague, an acute problem-solver and an editor who applies great journalistic skill to visual presentation.

Head of night content & production: Chris Rickett
News Editor, Steve Young
Design Director, Anthony Conroy
Assistant News Editor/Pagination, Derrick Barker
Copy Desk Chief, Phil Klinedinst

Director of audience engagement: Mary Hartney
Community coordinator, Maryland news, Julie Scharper
Community coordinator, money & spending, Phill McGowan
Community coordinator, sports, Dean Jones Jr.
Community coordinator, opinion, Nancy Johnston
Community coordinator, lifestyle, Maryann James
Community coordinator, entertainment, Carla Correa

The community coordinators are responsible for cultivating one or more dynamic communities of interest in their topic areas on the Web using blogging, social media and other community outreach tools. Community coordinators are responsible for generating loyalty, frequency and advocacy among users so that they help our audiences grow. They will report directly to Mary.
Newsroom technology manager: Jeff Bill
Jeff, as he has done so ably for the photography staff as deputy director of photography, will expand his role into providing technical assistance, system performance, and inventory for the newsroom's computer and cellular telephone equipment.

Please congratulate our colleagues on their new roles.

Again, these roles become effective on Monday, May 4. During the transition of the next few weeks it is important that we remain flexible. Everyone will be getting used to the new roles, new relationships with supervisors, a new way of thinking about newsgathering and audience engagement, and new process requirements.

The topic managers will hold introductory meetings with reporters and columnists beginning tomorrow to talk about beats, coverage and our focus on providing journalism, news and information across multiple platforms.

Monty, Mary and Matthew

About this blog...

I started writing The Real Muck last year after getting comfortable with the idea that I was free of journalistic constraints about expressing my own opinion publicly. That's not easy after 40 years of trying to be fair to all sides, so the reader can figure out the truth. And the truth, often very elusive, really comes down to being what any person believes it to be.

For a long time, I averaged around 38 readers a day. At times, I worked daily to post what I considered to be interesting tales and commentary, and finally movie reviews. I saw the blog readership growing past 100 a day after panning Disneynature's "earth" movie.

Yesterday, my posting on the Baltimore Sun Massacre had more than 4,000 visitors -- thanks in large measure to links generously given in other blogs and media outlets across the nation.

Curiously, in the posting's first hour online, there were more than a dozen hits from China -- but maybe that had more to do with a report out of the United States headlined "massacre."

Apology to the Baltimore Burn

Amid all the newspaper hubbub, I failed to get around to reporting on the Baltimore Burn women's tackle football team which had its opening game last Saturday... alas, losing by a score of 43-8 to the Philadelphia Liberty Belles.

Its scheduled road opener a week earlier in Connecticut had been canceled because the Burn's opponent forfeited and may have folded due to insufficient players.

The Burn play again at 4 p.m. this Saturday, MAY 2, against the Binghamton Tigercats. The game site has been moved to Northwestern High School, 6900 Park Heights Ave., with tickets priced at $10 for regular admission but discounted for children and seniors.

Hopefully the weather will be better than predicted, and the Burn more successful after enduring a tough opening day before a crowd of about 140. Information: