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There's No Fat Left to Cut! Pass the Pork Rinds!

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For those (few?) aficionados of long-form (of course!) alternative weekly pissing contests, this j'accuse by L.A. lefty Marc Cooper aimed at the newish owners of the LA Weekly is something to behold. I know and have worked with many of the players involved, including Cooper, so I'll stay out of the fray, but I was struck by this bit of throat-clearing at the top:

I was so turned off by what I saw happening that I visited my Weekly office exactly three times in the last two years, mostly to pick up accumulated checks in my mailbox. During election week in November, I was given a layoff notice with a generous settlement.

They had lost interest in me and I was too expensive. With very few exceptions, I had long lost interest in them, too. It was a miracle, in fact, that I had lasted the two years since New Times took over the Weekly.

Maybe I've just got too much management on the brain, but I always find it striking when journalists who confess to mailing it in then turn around and bitch about cost-cutting from the evil owners. There's no fat left to cut! I am very expensive and under-motivated!

Most newsroom bosses, in fact, more or less agree; here's new editor Monty Cook of the admittedly beleaguered Baltimore Sun saying something that would turn my ears purple if I was signing his paychecks:

"I told our staff a few days ago that they will never hear me utter the phrase 'We must do more with less.'"

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  1. I was under the impression that alternative weeklies made their money in their “arts & leisure” databases and that their writers were just there to provide low-cost filler around the restaurant/bar/club info.

  2. …saying something that would turn my ears purple if I was signing his paychecks…

    Maybe he could hire some English-speaking Yugoslavs for $100 a month.

  3. Lamar, don’t you ever get the Orlando Weekly? “Chat” phone ads and massage parlor ads are where they make their money.

  4. ‘We must do more with less.'”

    Wasn’t this the exact line used in The Wire when they started cutting personnel at the Baltimore Sun? Maybe that’s what he’s referring to.

  5. I thought alt weeklies made their money from the gay singles line and gay escort advertisements.

  6. BakedPenguin agrees with me, only he left out the word “gay”. Maybe thats the difference between Orlando and Louisville.

  7. “Lamar, don’t you ever get the Orlando Weekly? ‘Chat’ phone ads and massage parlor ads are where they make their money.”

    I think we’re saying the same thing. Why do people pick up the Weekly? The arts and entertainment database. The entertainment info brings in the eyeballs, and the gay massage abortionist hair cutters pay to reach those eyeballs. Hence, whatever copy cranked out by the writer is secondary in importance.

  8. Oh, and since Orlando’s kings of porn MBI arrested Weekly ad salespeople for aiding prostitution, they’ve been subsisting on only partially titillating advertising.

    What is the MBI? Why, it’s the Metropolitan Boner Inquisition, of course.

  9. Ska,

    You’re correct sir. I think Monty was just making a reference to the show.

  10. “I told our staff a few days ago that they will never hear me utter the phrase ‘We must do more with less.'”

    Well, he could alwaays get a job at General Motors, if he loses that one. He’d fit right in.

  11. robc – Been a while since I picked up a copy, but they had both gay and hetero ads in the Weekly.

    Lamar – ok, I understand – you were talking about where they got their readership, without whom they couldn’t charge for the ads. I also agree that MBI and Lawson Lamar are tools.

  12. Unless and until Reason magazine makes a dime of profit, I don’t think Matt Welch is qualified to criticize the business practices of the Baltimore Sun or any other profitable media competitor.

  13. “Unless and until Reason magazine makes a dime of profit, I don’t think Matt Welch is qualified to criticize the business practices of the Baltimore Sun or any other profitable media competitor.”

    Let’s see: both entities are not earning a profit. One says “let’s do more with less” and the other says, “never will we do more with less”. No room for criticism?

  14. Reason Magazine is published by a nonprofit organization…

  15. Lamar: Unless you have information that I don’t, it appears that you are incorrect. The Baltimore Sun does not report its financial information, but its parent, the Tribune Company, has positive operating cash flow. Tribune is in bankruptcy, but only because it took on too much debt and can’t make its payments. CEO Sam Zell told the LA Times that “Its largest units, including The Times, are profitable on the same basis.”

    Source: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tribune9-2008dec09,0,5273854.story

    Jordan: That’s exactly my point. It’s easy to criticize the business practices of others (including others who have positive operating cash flow) when you work for a company that has never had to make a profit. If Reason had to compete in the market, how many reporters could it afford to employ? Any?

  16. So, I have to run a car company to know that GM is a shitty company?

  17. “CEO Sam Zell told the LA Times that ‘Its largest units, including The Times, are profitable on the same basis.'”

    First of all, Sam Zell is 100% full of horseshit all the time, no exceptions.

    Second, I was merely going by the description in the article that the Baltimore Sun is “beleaguered”. So instead of claiming that the Sun doesn’t turn a profit, perhaps I should say that it is struggling, because as I am confident you are aware, it doesn’t change the substance of my comment. As such, I give you the edited for Mark version:

    Let’s see: both entities are in difficult earnings positions. One says “let’s do more with less” and the other says, “never will we do more with less”. No room for criticism?

    Still incorrect? Or are you going to criticize my decision to put the period outside the quotes?

  18. By the way, Mark incorrectly assumes that Matt Welch has never worked at a for-profit publication. Since Mark’s premise is that Welch could not possibly criticize a paper with positive cash flow, his whole premise rests on the idea that Welch has never worked in such a scenario. Since his bio says that he was an editor at the LA Times, I think we can all conclude that Mark is, so to speak, INCORRECT.

  19. Tribune is in bankruptcy, but only because it took on too much debt and can’t make its payments

    Oh, is that all they did? Well, how dare Matt Welch say anything that might aid Tribune in paying down its overdrawn accounts and credit cards*? Regardless, you’re a bit out of line. I wonder why you’re so enamored with defending Tribune?

    So the argument is as follows: Reason is non-profit, ergo it cannot say anything about for-profits companies ummm…failure to be profitable. Why?

    * – these are expressions. I am aware the debt obligations on the part of corporations are not just credit cards.

  20. Lamar: Yes, you are still wrong. Reason is not in a “difficult earnings position.” Reason is funded by the Reason Foundation, which is funded by billionaire ideologues (ideologues with whom I often agree, but ideologues nonetheless). “Between 1985 and 2006, the Foundation received $6,318,421 in 162 separate grants from only eleven foundations.” (Source: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Reason_Foundation)

    As far as I know, Reason has never had layoffs or been asked to do more with less.

    Jordan: It’s a free country. Anyone can criticize anything. But Matt criticizing the Baltimore Sun is a bit like a trust fund kid criticizing a struggling entrepreneur for not making more money.

  21. The Sun was founded in the 1830s. I would hardly call that the profile of a “struggling entrepreneur”.

    Welch’s sole criticism is that a manager refuses to tell his employees that there will be cutbacks when cutbacks are needed. Holy god, is that so terrible a crime, to point out common sense?

  22. Angry Optimist: Don’t get me wrong – Tribune it a terribly managed company. I wouldn’t invest a dime in it. But Matt’s criticism would strike me as more than just whining from a privileged position if Tribune’s problems (and L.A. Weekly’s, for that matter) weren’t shared by the entire newspaper industry (and that includes conservative newspapers, just in case anyone wants to turn this into a political argument).

    Newspapers are in trouble because of technological shifts. Matt related two anecdotes that imply that newspapers are in trouble because their employees are lazy.

    Lamar: I never assumed that Matt has never worked for a for-profit media company. But I would guess that he wouldn’t be so snarky about the industry if he still worked for such a company and had to deal personally with the effects of shrinking cash flows.

  23. As far as I know, Reason has never had layoffs or been asked to do more with less.

    Reason has had layoffs and done more with less during my tenure, as we are not magically immune from market forces ourselves (the nonprofit sector is indeed a “market,” since you are competing for people’s philanthropic dollars, in addition to our specific case trying to squeeze as much revenue and cost-savings as you can out of the publication).

    And “trust fund” kid my ass. Reason publishes a monthly magazine, 4-5 web pieces a day, and this here blog for about ONE-THIRD the cost that the L.A. Times opinion section spends on its two pages per day and scattered web stuff, most of which (unlike ours) is written by outside contributors (including Reason contributors!).

    And note: I sure the hell ain’t criticizing the Balt Sun for not making enough money. I’m criticizing the Balt Sun editor for a mentality that I CANNOT AFFORD, and that way too many full-time newspaper employees luxuriate in almost as much as they do self-pity.

  24. I would guess that he wouldn’t be so snarky about the industry if he still worked for such a company and had to deal personally with the effects of shrinking cash flows.

    You would guess wrong. I worked for the very same Tribune Company that owns the Baltimore Sun, and in my first week of work I saw a half-dozen people from my section ushered out the door. Another half-dozen or so of my ex-colleagues — including people who (unlike so many others there) are actually productive — go the axe since I left. And yet STILL I believe that the industry is bloated, and not just with self-regard.

  25. Matt: I don’t think anyone disagrees with you that newspapers need to adapt to the times. But the idea of doing more with less is a crock. For one thing, it implies that you weren’t performing to your capabilities before. Newspapers will inevitably do less with less. Let’s just hope that what they continue to do is enough to get them through their troubled times.

  26. “Lamar: I never assumed that Matt has never worked for a for-profit media company.”

    Then everything you’ve said up until now has been complete bullshit. Thanks for wasting our time. Oh, and I’ve done my final edits to correct for assage:

    Let’s see: both entities are media publications. One says “let’s do more with less” and the other says, “never will we do more with less”. No room for criticism?

    Your comment is BS because you assume that Welch couldn’t possibly know what its like to live in the real world being that he lives way up there in his ivory tower.

  27. “But the idea of doing more with less is a crock. For one thing, it implies that you weren’t performing to your capabilities before.”

    The opening anecdote of the story is a writer who is not performing up to his capabilities! So, no, the story doesn’t really “imply” that as much as it sets it as a foundation. Doing more with less is what happens when people lose weight.

  28. But the idea of doing more with less is a crock. For one thing, it implies that you weren’t performing to your capabilities before.

    Yes, yes it does. And that’s where me and so many of my ex-colleagues differ.

    Newspapers will inevitably do less with less.

    I fear that you are right, though there certainly will be exceptions.

  29. I thought Mr Cook didn’t wanted to say ‘we must do more with less’ fior the same reason he wouldn’t want to say ‘we must think outside the box’ – it’s a horrid management cliche. Now, he possibly *does* want to do more with less (and he basically does plan to do this, as indicated later on in that same paragraph.) But it’s stupid to *say* this.

  30. For one thing, it implies that you weren’t performing to your capabilities before.

    1. I’ve been reading newspapers all my life and they have never performed to their capabilities. That was true of my hometown paper when I was a kid. It turned out to be true (after my initial six months of excitement at finding a paper that seemed not to be written by total illiterates) of The New York Times. It is true in massive quantities of the L.A. Times, where Welch and I both worked. The only American broadsheets for which it is not completely true are U.S.A. Today and the Wall Street Journal — both of which are notorious for how hard they allegedly work their supposedly underpaid staffs.

    Newspapers will inevitably do less with less.

    It is true that this is what newspapers will do. It is absolutely not true that it is inevitable. Every week at the L.A. Times I would present ideas for cost-neutral ways to increase the offerings we had — such as tapping into the 200 or so Op-Ed submissions we received every day from people who were not even looking to get paid. Every one of those ideas was shot down. The few times I went ahead and published something new without asking permission it ended up in tsouris, and the amount of grief I got was directly proportional to the amount of traffic and interest the piece generated. The pushback had nothing to do with lack of resources or failure to make necessary investments. It was simple resistance to doing anything in newer or cheaper ways. You can believe me or not. You can believe Welch or not. I’m telling you that’s how it is.

    I’m also not sure how much value there is in the “more” papers do when they have more resources. In my experience that usually results in windy multipart Pulitzer bait about how the Gates Foundation is giving too much money to AIDS treatment or how U-Hauls might flip when you turn at high speeds.

    Finally, Sam Zell’s debt load is the symptom, not the disease. There’s a reason (beyond the Chicago glad-handing Tribune employees believe is to blame) that Zell ended up being the only partner they could come to terms with. He was right to make sure he had very little skin in this loser’s game — and Geffen, Broad, Burkle, Santa Claus and everybody else who ended up spurning Trib were right to walk away completely.

  31. a mentality … that way too many full-time newspaper employees luxuriate in almost as much as they do self-pity.

    I don’t think it’s limited to newspaper employees.

    ***

    where me and so many of my ex-colleagues

    Ouch.

  32. Reason is not in a “difficult earnings position.” Reason is funded by the Reason Foundation, which is funded by billionaire ideologues (ideologues with whom I often agree, but ideologues nonetheless).

    Last time I checked, billionaire ideologues were perfectly capable of deciding, based on their satisfaction with the output thereof, which non-profit organizations to support.

    If you see what I mean.

  33. Marc Cooper is whining that the Weekly’s newish owners aren’t pandering to the aging Westside, lefty crowd who traditionally read the Weekly, and not just for the escort ads. He also is part of an old boys club that took great offense at Jill Stewart joining the paper.
    Stewart’s not the earth-mother editrix type, like EIC Laurie Ochoa (who would probably be gone if she wasn’t married to Pulitzer winning food writer, Jonathan Gold) and her style seemed to make Cooper and his cronies clutch their jewels.

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