Wisconsin State Journal shrinks again

The Wisconsin State Journal is laying off more staff. Cap Times not affected, as we read the stories, but State Journal and other Capital Newspapers holdings definitely are.

JimRomenesko.com, as usual, has the most insider-ish story.

The Wisconsin State Journal has the basic facts presented as favorably as possible.

This is a slow-motion disaster for the working journalists, other newspaper staff, and the people of Madison, Dane County, and southern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin State Journal again offers only confusion on the debt

For some strange reason, whenever the State Journal editorializes about the federal debt, it’s almost exactly like Republican spin. Today, of course, was no exception. They’re demanding seriousness from the Dems at their national convention. That would be okay, but we’d rather just see honesty all around.

We don’t think debt is our current number one problem. We actually need more spending to stimulate job growth and demand for business. We should be building and repairing now while borrowing costs are low. We need jobs, jobs, jobs. But let’s put that aside and focus on the debt.

What’s causing the debt? Let’s look again at this graph.

Note first that the graph begins at a low point in 2001. In 2001 we weren’t adding to the debt, because the Clinton years succeeded in balancing the budget.

Then George W. Bush and the Republicans took over. They promptly set us back on the path of more and more debt. Note the orange swath at the top. The Bush-era tax cuts are THE biggest factor driving increasing federal debt, now and in the future.  Really, nearly everything in the graph — tax cuts, wars, the recession, and measures to fight the recession — were Bush-era policies enthusiastically supported by Republicans (yes, including  Paul Ryan).

So the Republicans were merrily — really, merrily — adding to the debt until approximately the day Barack Obama became President. And then, the Republicans turned on a dime and began their public hysterics over debt. Naturally the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board did the same.

Now you might think that a good way to reduce the debt would be to examine what’s causing it and then stop doing that. This would first mean getting rid of the Bush era tax cuts.

Simple? Well, it would be a big start. But as everyone knows, the Republicans won’t have it. They won’t allow it. They can’t. Getting rid of the Bush tax cuts, would be a “tax increase,” and the Republicans are simply intransigent. They’ve signed pledges to Grover Norquist. If they vote for any kind of tax increase, the Club for Growth and a dozen other well-funded groups will fund their opponents in the next Republican primary.

So all kinds of reasonable compromise has been blocked. And we use the word reasonable intentionally. We don’t think you can look at the graph above, and “reasonably” say, “we want to attack the debt, but the Bush-era tax cuts must continue.”

But that’s the Republican message. Serious people should not take it seriously.

Are you listening, WSJ editorial board?

Are we done?

Labor Day. The Daily Tissue has published for just over a year. We wonder are we done?

This little blogitty thing began more out of annoyance than any rational goal. Our local newspaper was gradually disappearing, and its editorial page was actively alienating its natural, local audience.  That is all still true.

Did we hope that somehow that editorial page would improve? Well, we might have. A little. It seems silly to admit.

Exactly why the majority of staff putting out the Wisconsin State Journal do not walk into a meeting of the editorial board with flaming torches and pitchforks to explain that they want to keep their jobs, and that the miserable work on editorial page makes that less and less likely, and that routine inconsequential drivel may be one thing but the really dumb stuff about important topics has got to cease… why that doesn’t happen is kind of a mystery, but we suppose it has something to do with being a-scared of the boss who — against all odds and evidence — must imagine his editorial page is doing all right.

Maybe that’s the problem. We don’t know. We have no inside information. We just follow along, as readers. Albeit less and less, as there’s less to read.

We realized our comments had gotten all too repetitive when we sat down last week to say something about the State Journal’s discouragingly dishonest editorial on Voter ID. Who is it supposed to fool? It just makes you sigh. The editorial first determines, based on nothing, that it’s no big deal to make it harder for some people to vote, even though Wisconsin Republicans had only “wild claims” to justify their new law. The editorial writers say students and the poor could obtain the newly required — but technically free-of-charge — photo IDs if they just had the “gumption”. (Of course they’d also need time, transportation, and the proper certified proof of citizenship to go along with their unusually strong determination to be a voter, quite possibly for the lesser of two evils.) And finally — out of simply nowhere, of course — the editorial includes the nonsensical and yet always serviceable boilerplate trope ‘Other Party Also to Blame’. The Other Party, it seems, had spoken out against the new law, and that seemed like “playing politics” to the editorial writers. Honest. Read it yourself.

…like those emails from Nigeria

It was laughably poor persuasion, but the thing is — these laughers are fairly routine.

How many times can we make fun of these guys without boring ourselves silly? It’s like warning folks about Nigerian scam emails. After a while, you get tired of saying it, even though the emails keep on coming.

Warren Buffett doubles his stake in Lee Enterprises

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports good news for Lee Enterprises’ valuation. Warren Buffett now owns about 6% of shares outstanding.

Lee’s shares jumped nearly 20 percent on the news Wednesday, closing at $1.59, up 26 cents.

Lee Enterprises, Inc., headquartered in Davenport, Iowa, owns over 50 newspapers including the Wisconsin State Journal.

LEE stock is way down from $45/share in 2005. However, the Post-Dispatch article includes this as a partial explanation of why Buffett might be buying now:

 …newspapers still turn out operating profits equaling 10 percent or more of revenues, notes long time newspaper industry analyst John Morton. “There are industries that never expect 10 percent margins in the best of times, and newspapers are doing it in their worse times,” he said.

That combination of low stock prices and respectable margins are what attracts Buffett, says Morton. Lee Enterprise’s operating margin is 14 percent, according to a recent SEC filing.

Would Buffett like to own Lee? “It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Morton.

An invisible man at the Sikh temple murders

The Wisconsin State Journal must have felt like they had to say something about the Sikh temple murders, and they tried twice.

The first editorial got started as you’d expect, expressing sympathy, but then, before you know it — really, just half way in — they were wandering off, recasting the massacre into a debate (and not a very big one) for journalists:

Requests have been made for news media to withhold the names of shooters to deprive them of the attention they may crave.

These requests, while understandable, are misguided. When crimes are committed, the public needs information to enlighten debates about how to prevent similar crimes. We should know full profiles, names and all, on Wade Michael Page, the alleged Oak Creek shooter, and James E. Holmes, accused of the Aurora shooting, so that we can intelligently discuss what roles, if any, gun control, bigotry, mental health treatment and other matters may have played.

Wait! Did they mention “bigotry”? Was that a hint that bigotry might have been involved. We’ll just have to wait and see. It sounds like a promise (at some later date) to

…intelligently discuss what roles, if any, gun control, bigotry, mental health treatment, and other matters may have played.

Readers await.

A week later, a second editorial again offers deep condolences to the victims, calling it a “bizarre and unexplained attack.”

While the world at large may understand that the shooter was a neo-nazi with his own little white-power garage band, and the victims practiced a distinctly unusual religion (for the Milwaukee area) and the men often wore turbans, our local editorial page puts it this way:

With the killer dead, a motive for the attack will never be fully known…

Really. What is going on here?

Imagine an incident where school bullying leads a teenager to commit suicide. No newspaper is required to editorialize (much less twice), but if they do, you’d really suppose they’d do more than say how very sad it is. Yes, it’s sad, but shouldn’t they say something about the bullying?

Racism is part of our history and heritage. Currently the official custodians of America’s ongoing problem with racism are the Republicans. That’s the impolite truth and virtually everybody knows it.

Is that why the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page is having such difficulty saying that the Sikh temple shootings were committed by a white racist?

Well… we suppose it is.

To acknowledge that white racism exists in the abstract is one thing; the State Journal editorial page can do that easily. But to discuss it in any depth is fraught with difficulty, because the American political right and the Republican Party in particular is simply bubbling with racism and xenophobia, and this makes honest discussion very uncomfortable.

But it’s got to stop. And it actually could stop if the majority would demand it. And if the media would call it out.

Once upon a time, Democrats held the franchise on hate-based race politics, but they gave it up (were forced to, actually) almost 50 years ago when they passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Immediately, this weapon was grabbed up by the Republicans, who own it to this very day. The GOP cannot win a national election without the votes of its racist base. That’s just a fact. By no means does this argue that everyone in the Republican base is a racist. However, IF you’re a racist or a xenophobe, you know which political party is courting you. It’s no secret. When The Simpsons (Fox Entertainment) used this little visual about Fox News, it was darkly funny because it was true:

But really it’s not that funny.

For now, at least, the Republicans hold the franchise on race hatred as a political tool. No candidate — indeed, no one, save comedians and rappers — uses the old words anymore. But a subtle dance up to and around the ancient themes still excites the old racialists. You’d think they’d die off, and they do, but somewhere they’re still manufacturing new hate club wannabe’s. And even the top of the Republican ticket is manufacturing new dog whistles to perk up their ears.

“Elephant in the room? What elephant?”

Now it’s possible to look at this Romney ad and insist there’s no problem. That would work especially well if you’re dull-witted, or pretending to be. We assume that Romney delivering the tagline at the end puts him into the second group. Mitt, the racism has got to stop. Putting blinders on has got to stop. It used to be Mormons getting run out of town or worse, remember?

We understand the temptation. We know there’s leverage. For many decades the Democrats were able to lever racial anxiety at election time. Now the Republicans do it. Over 63% of Republicans believe Obama was born in a foreign country. Another 15% say they don’t know.

We say to the State Journal, you can do it. You pose as a still-sensible voice of the conservative/Republican tribe, and we suppose you want to believe it. There’s still room in that sliver of the party to denounce racism, isn’t there? Even in election season? You can do it.

Show us the money, Madison.com

At Madison.com the topline “trending stories” banner changes less than you might expect. Day after day, the #1 “trending” story is Metered subscription: Questions and answers. And only just today — after a remarkable thirty-four daysCity salaries 2000-11 has finally dropped from the top 5 “trending stories”. 

Actually, City salaries 2000-11 is not a story at all. It’s an app, an online searchable database of every Madison city employee’s earnings over the past eleven years. Care to know what your neighbor is making at his job in the city Streets Department? Base pay? Overtime? Comp time? There’s an app for that. Thanks, Madison.com.

Why is this so popular? Are people performing their own analyses of city spending? That would certainly explain the sustained (wow, 34-day) period of interest, but we’re going to guess… no.

Instead we’re going to guess that folks are just being folks… nosily looking up the salaries of their friends, acquaintances, relatives, ex-spouses, co-workers, neighbors, associates, and enemies. Hell, it is public information. We are entitled to it. Why not be well-informed?

*Just as an aside, it hasn’t been proposed just yet, but we’re waiting for some state legislature to advance a bill requiring public employees to be photographed naked, or if the employee claims a religious exemption, in revealing swimwear. The resulting publicly searchable database will be exceeding popular and informative.

But back to “City salaries 2000-11”. It’s not just nosiness that drives interest. Something in turn drives the nosiness, and that is status. It’s a bit of a taboo to talk about, but we are descended from creatures obsessed by status, and it is ALL AROUND US, all the time. Yesterday, the State Journal had us talking about Forbes magazine, a silly operation is about almost nothing except status. Like it or not, status-consciousness just seems to be wired into human beings.  And nothing gauges status like income. For some, income IS status — not a ‘proxy’, not an ‘indicator’ — but the actual thing. And since it’s expressed as a number, it’s perfect for easy comparisons. Especially if you’ve got an online searchable database. Thanks, Madison.com!

But there’s a problem. People want to know about private salaries, too. Private employee earnings are just way too secret. There is, for example, a deplorable lack of public knowledge about how local newspaper employees are making out.

Exactly how much is the publisher taking home?

Yes, we know that newspapers in the past have never reported on their own employees’ pay or other compensation. But they should. First, of all, people are nosey. How are we supposed to gauge our status in regard to various newspaper employees? Do we make more or less than the publisher or the editors or the reporters? Should we take their calls or not? Rub shoulders with them or refuse?

But we can make a perfectly high-minded argument as well. Sure, they’re a private business, but they like to be treated as the Fourth Estate when it suits them. It certainly seems like they could disclose at least the same things that elected public officials do, and that the public would thereby benefit.

The people who daily inform us on the news pages and explain to us what to think on the opinion pages need to be accountable. We need to know how much they earn. We need to know what investments they profit from. Do they have conflicts of interest? Have they received any gifts? Are they busting into the famous “1%”? Or are they miserably and laughably poor? Are they earning a cushy pension that would make us envious, or are they sailing blithely into later life without a pot to pee in? The revelation of all this material would be hugely titillating. Did we say titillating? Scratch that, we meant beneficial and informative, possibly even dull, like an investment prospectus.

Without full financial disclosure, there’s really no way we can invest confidently in what they are telling us. Isn’t this obvious? We know they’ll do the right thing.

Thanks in advance, Madison.com.

Paywall arrives at madison.com

The paywall has arrived at Madison.com.

If you read the Capital Times or Wisconsin State Journal in its online form, and you read it with any regularity, and you read that content produced by their own staff, you’ll soon be seeing the invitation above (if you haven’t already).

Yes, the rules for who pays and who reads for free are murky, but honestly, they’ve got a difficult problem to solve with shrinking advertising revenue. Something’s gotta give. They want their most frequent visitors to pay while still keeping the door open for occasional visitors. OK!

They’re at pains to say it’s “not a paywall” which they would define as a plan that would “completely restrict access”. Rather, according to them, they’re offering “metered usage”. We’ll see if that language sticks with us ordinary yokels.

It’s $4.95 per month (Well, actually they say “for 30 days”. Do they really mean that?) Or $49.95 for 365 days. Or $1.95 per month if you already get the hard-copy Journal delivered.

We’ve said in the past, when this day arrives, we’d likely be willing to pay. And yep, that’s still true. We are in for $4.95.


Times-Picayune lays off 200 employees

More shrinking news as the storied New Orleans Times-Picayune transitions from a daily to 3-days-a-week (plus website, of course).

Editor Jim Amoss:  “We’re committed to being the journalistic watchdog of our communities. We’re committed to the high quality of journalism our readers have come to expect from us, produced by a formidable news staff. And we’re committed to deploying by far the largest news-gathering team in the region.”

This is disastrous for the employees and for everyone who values the news. 84 people cut from the newsroom staff.

Here in Madison the Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal have begun requiring online readers at host.madison.com to “register to read”, presumably in preparation for the coming paywall likely this year.

Let’s just say it: The headline was half right.

Last week, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein — both of them well-scrubbed, respectable, centrist Washington think-tank academics — delivered a WaPo opinion piece with an attention-grabbing headline:

  “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

Actually, that headline could’ve been better, as we will attempt to demonstrate below, but let’s get a flavor of what they said:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

Years late, but finally sober.

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction…

All true. When in power, the modern GOP acts as a wrecking ball (see Bush-Cheney, Gingrich, Delay, Scott Walker and the Fitz Brothers), and when out of power, they act as a wrecking ball of another kind.

How then do Republicans remain so powerful?  There’s also a dysfunctional American press. And to their credit, Mann and Ornstein don’t leave the press out of their critique. (emphasis added)

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.

So the think tank scholars are, of course, onto the dismal role the press is playing in all this. Who isn’t onto this? Certainly readers of The Daily Tissue are onto it. Readers of Charles Pierce and Glenn Greenwald and about 10,000 other less-read bloggers are onto it, too.

But most Americans aren’t.  On the news they hear “he said, she said” dueling talking points — D’s said this and R’s said that — who cares?

And on the editorial pages they find endless analyses blaming everyone equally and calling for bipartisan cooperation. This is a special favorite of our own Wisconsin State Journal where they regularly pit an imaginary “far left” against the very real “far right” and call for evenhanded compromise. Look for a fresh example in the State Journal soon. The pop up like dandelions in May.

Of course, this lie about “both sides alike” isn’t limited to our local daily. It’s a staple, repeated in print and video. As it sinks in, all the obstruction and outright vandalism of the modern Republican party becomes invisible and cost-free (to the Republicans), but very damaging to the rest of us.

So, as promised, a BETTER headline would have been

“Let’s just say it: The Republicans — aided by a lazy, timid, sometimes partisan, and  gradually weakening mainstream journalism — are the problem.”

Of course, you see there’s a problem with that headline, too.