Wisconsin State Journal cuts staff again The shrinking news. It's less fun for dogs to fetch.

We just learned (five days late) that the Wisconsin State Journal has once again cut its newsroom staff. Story from the invaluable Bill Lueders at Isthmus online. Were we the last to know? Could be. Look, we never said we had connections at the State Journal, or any newspaper. We just used to read the thing. Regularly. For many years.

So 7 more newsroom professionals are gone from the State Journal, although one of them, Dee J. Hall, the paper’s best reporter, had departed for a better job, managing editor of Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The State Journal won’t fill her position, so it’s a cut for the State Journal.

Our first reactions were sorrow and a peculiar narcissistic shame. We don’t want anyone to lose their job, certainly not journalists working in Madison. And the shame? We’d stopped buying the paper and now seven journalists were gone. Were we partly to blame? Maybe we should’ve hung in there despite the difficulties.

Can these cuts possibly do anything other than compound the difficulties?

Anchorman It can all go away so quickly

Brian WilliamsIf YOU are ever elevated to become Network News Anchorman (or woman), then huge congratulations! All of a sudden, you will earn (or rather “rake in”) a cool ten million dollars a year.

Welcome to the 1%.

The lavish pay won’t be because the network needs a virtuoso of journalism. No, it’s because they need a face, a focal point, an anchor man. You will be a Brand Spokesman (or woman). You’ll be like Wilfred Brimley, the face of Quaker Oats. Or Bill Cosby fronting for Jell-O Pudding. Your role will be exactly like that, but instead of oats and pudding, you will represent your network’s supposedly-special brand of news, which you will endorse, with your Anchorman face.

So remain slim. No visible piercings or tattoos. Do not get your nose broken or your face punched. Stay out of fights. Actually, take really good care of your face in every way. Salon facials would be a good idea, but don’t let it be known. Remember, your face, plus a nightly jolt of familiarity, will be your ticket to the good life. You will go to the best restaurants and hang out with the most famous people in the world’s most exciting city. Don’t screw it up. And don’t do anything embarrassing. Remember, 10 million a year. It can all go away so quickly.


Why we know so very little

It’s one thing for an ordinary person to be wrong. It’s quite another for a public figure to be just spectacularly, famously wrong. On-the-record. And with disastrous results. Like the people who brought us the 2003 Iraq War.


Remember Dick Cheney?

  • “And he [Saddam Hussein] is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.” (March, 2002)
  • “I think it will go relatively quickly. Weeks rather than months.” (March, 2003)
  • “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” (March, 2003)
  • I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” (July, 2005)

Dick and daughter Liz are back, opinionizing in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. Well, not surprising. It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

There is no penalty for getting things wrong. 

And the famously wrong Bill Kristol (we “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East.” September 18, 2002) and the equally thick Paul Wolfowiitz (“We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” March 27, 2003) are back, too. They’re on the supposedly serious Sunday morning TV shows, discussing — believe it or not — what to do about Iraq’s current descent into sectarian violence. It’s very much like having the captain of the Exon Valdez offer advice on how to clean up oil spills. Except, to be fair, grounding an oil tanker is only a very small blunder compared to the colossal moral, military, planning and policy blunders advocated — insisted on! — by these wrong-way neocon blunderers.

The lesson? There is no penalty — in large swaths of our news media — for getting things wrong. Even calamitously wrong.

In real life, people do fail. They get fired. They’re effectively discredited. They lose reputation. After a big blunder, they never work in the same field again.

That’s real life. If you screw up, you will probably experience accountability. That captain of the Exon Valdez? He never captained another oil tanker. Probably he never expected to. And indeed he never got the chance.

Meet the Press and This Week weirdly operate with entirely different rules — the incompetents never need to leave. Observe, the incredible shrinking news.


Folk hero in-the-making

CEO Mary Junk‘s frankly absurd bonus of $700,000 for [yet again] refinancing an $800 million debt has led a long-time employee at Lee Enterprises’ most storied newspaper Lee’s St. Louis operation to quit in protest. Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan (as passed along at Jim Romenesko) recounts the story of resigning carpenter Scott Bujnak:

Workers have suffered while the big bosses have prospered. Pensions were long ago frozen. Mandatory unpaid furloughs were introduced. Layoffs were the worst. Families were ravaged. Yet, it was the small things that got to Bujnak…

Who will play Bujnak in the movie version? Too soon to say. But for now there’s a folk song developing, which begins

Scott Bujnak

Scott Bujnak

“Twas the straw that broke the camel’s back”… 

Sez disgusted lead carpenter Scott Bujnak…

Another bonus for old Mary Junck…

Somep’n, somep’n…

Rhymes with clunk…

It’s a work-in-progress

People respect honest work, and Ms. Junck collecting outsize bonuses for simply doing another refinancing is neither honest nor fair. It’s demoralizing to everyone below her in the organization. That Ms. Junk has continued to accept these awards-fer-doing-nuthin’-special is nice for her, but is in every other way bad for morale and bad for business. In fact, we’ll go further. The only way we can understand these bonuses for Junk and her chief financial officer is that they aren’t planning for the enterprise to survive, at least not with them at the helm, and they are instead looting in plain sight taking profits, now, while they still can.

Lee executive bonuses draw criticism

You can readily see why Lee newspaper executives dislike having unionized employees. They’re so outspoken. Unreasonable, too.

The head of the union that represents reporters and other workers at the [Lee-owned] St. Louis Post-Dispatch says employees of Lee Enterprises – rather than its chief executives – deserved bonuses…

…employees hadn’t had a raise since June 6, 2008. Since then, employee costs have increased “for the worst company health insurance we’ve ever had.” Sorkin went on to point out that retiree health and life insurance were gone, pensions frozen, and for new employees there are no pensions.

A bitter, unsuccessful strike finished off the newspaper unions here in Madison over 30 years ago, so there’s less outspoken grumbling.

More bad news for news — the looting continues

JimRomenesko.com reports the latest out of Lee Enterprises, Inc.

Mary JunckMary Junck, CEO of Lee Enterprises, has once again been awarded a financial bonus ($700,000) for doing utterly routine work. She — or more likely, accountants brought on temporarily — have restructured Lee Enterprises’ corporate debt. Again. Wow.

(Note: Lee Enterprises owns the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison’s last remaining daily).

If managing corporate debt is somehow not within Ms. Junck’s ordinary job description, we cannot imagine what is. And yet, here she receives another gigantic bonus for doing what’s expected. We’ve griped about this kind of LOOTING before. It’s shocking to the conscience. Why should these Lee executives be specially rewarded for doing a re-fi?

Meanwhile, the working journalists at Lee Newspapers get nothing.

Romenesko’s FaceBook page has comments.

Did the Wisconsin State Journal “name” a new publisher?

Googling wisconsin+state+journal+publisher we happened to notice that most of the stories announcing the new publisher were headlined much like, or exactly like, the State Journal’s own headline; i.e., “Wisconsin State Journal names new publisher”. Of course that’s an artful misstatement of the facts. The State Journal didn’t choose a new publisher. Corporate owner Lee Enterprises chose the new publisher.

Only business-oriented MaketWatch.com appeared in the first page of Google search results with an accurate headline (“Lee Enterprises Names Group Publisher for Madison and Tucson”).

It’s a small thing. We know why the State Journal might choose a misleading headline. It sounds better. But why would so many other online sites — many belonging to newspapers where staffers surely know better — use the same misleading headline?


Wisconsin State Journal gets new publisher

Lee Enterprises has selected John M. Humenik as the new publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal. Here’s the State Journal story.

John M HumenikHumenik has been president and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson for 3 years.

Here is (to us) the most interesting part of the State Journal story… interesting because we can’t understand it.

Humenik will be handing over publisher duties at the Arizona Daily Star to a successor still to be named. However, even after that transition, Humenik will oversee all newspapers published by Lee Enterprises in the Tucson and Madison areas as “group publisher,” the company announced.

“By staying connected and involved with our Tucson operation, together we will be able to explore important synergies,” Humenik said. “I believe that relationship will prove to be a tremendous advantage for our group, especially as we build upon our print and digital successes.”

Are there synergies between Tucson and Madison? We shall see.

Just last month Lee Enterprises named the Arizona Daily Star as its “2013 Enterprise of the Year”.  Here’s the press release.

We found the press release mostly interesting for showing that the Lee executives are quite knowledgeable about print and digital revenue. And also pre-printed grocery advertising. They did mention journalism, too, although it didn’t sound as heartfelt (you know, to us). You read it, if you really care. And to be fair there’s nothing wrong with Lee executives being business-oriented. It’s a business.

To Mr. Humenik, welcome to our fair city. It’s colder than Tucson, but it’s got groceries in need of advertising — wait, is that a synergy? Is it working already?  Maybe if the advertising works out, you could please hire more reporters.

Auditor withdraws report on Madison Newspapers, Inc.

The St. Louis Business Journal reports this morning

Lee Enterprises Inc. has hired KPMG to perform audit work on its Madison Newspapers Inc. subsidiary after McGladrey, its former auditor, said reliance should not be placed on its reports.

Lee received a letter from McGladrey on Sept. 13 withdrawing its audit reports for the MNI subsidiary, stating that its independence was impaired, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. McGladrey stated reliance should not be placed on its reports on MNI for the fiscal years ending in September in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

What does “impaired independence” mean in the language of auditors and audits? We don’t know. We await more info.