This is the second installment of my perpetual series of articles themed, "Newspapers Aren't Dying, They're Committing Suicide."
I see several articles all over the Internet that try to explain the decline of newspapers. They're impractical. They're too biased one way or the other. The audience is too old. The Internet is killing them. Cable news is whipping them. Americans just don't like to read. All of these reasons are given, and although they all have some merit, when it comes down to it, they're all wrong.
Newspapers are dying because the people running newspapers have no idea what they're doing. They are committing suicide.
At my last job at a small-town daily, I had six different publishers (hired by the McParent McCompany) in 12 years. Each one got a little more stupid than the one before. None of them had any idea how to run a small daily newspaper, or if they did, those ideas were quickly quashed by the bozos in the corporate office, who liked to micromanage from 2000 miles away.
So, for your perusal, here are the 15 most stupid things I have heard a McPaper McPublisher say:
1. Twitter is what is going to save newspapers.
How? I am not sure. But a recent publisher insists that all reporters must now tweet from whatever events they are covering. And that's fine, Twitter is a very useful tool to connect with readers and possibly draw them to your Web site. And so, you'll have more hits on your Web site. Still not sure how this is going to save newspapers. Unfortunately, when the newspaper cut the news hole (60 percent ads, 40 percent news) and the publisher was told that there was not enough room for local stories, the answer was "Twitter." Don't even write a story, just tweet it. Also, when the company bought into a pagination hub and started sending all its articles 1000 miles away to be laid out on a page by a bunch of college interns, then sent back to press, it moved the deadline up nearly three hours. So the morning paper was going to print before any local sporting events were over. The answer? Twitter. Just tweet all the games, don't even put them in the paper. Of course, the sports writers each have about 30 followers on Twitter. So, on a perfect night, as many as 60 people can follow their local sports team in periodic bursts of 140 characters or less -- and NOT read about it the next day. So THAT's how Twitter is going to save newspapers.
2. I don't give a frog's fat ass about the governor. I want pictures of little kids and puppies. I don't want news in my newspaper.
Yep. A publisher said that. I think the stupidity of it speaks for itself, not to mention the irresponsibility.
3. You have more experience than anyone else in this newsroom. That's why we're letting you go.
Said to me two months ago, just before I cleaned out my desk. I have many friends who have been told this exact same thing. They were being let go due to "restructuring." Part of the restructuring, apparently, is to get rid of anyone who knows what the hell they are doing. It's a sad time in America when being very good and very experienced (25 years in newsrooms) at what you do is a liability -- but this is the case, not only in the newspaper industry, but in almost every industry.
4. I don't want any more stories about Iowa or Iowa State football in the sports section. People can read about those games anywhere, and I'm going to let them.
Yep. The paper needs to be local, I agree. Local stories always come first, it is a responsibility as well as just smart business -- it's the local stories that make the paper different from everyone else. However, it's also a daily in southern Iowa, in a town that's crazy about college football. To the readers, Iowa and Iowa State ARE local teams. The readers want to read something about Hawkeye football and Cyclone football, every day in the fall. Oh, and basketball in the winter, too. Refusing to put something in about Iowa and Iowa State football just because readers can get that information somewhere else is, well, suicide for a local daily paper. And saying "people can get those stories anywhere" makes as much business sense as Burger King saying, "people can get a cheeseburger anywhere, so we aren't going to make cheeseburgers anymore."
Never mind the additional point -- shouldn't the sports editor and managing editor be deciding this anyway? What the hell is the publisher, with absolutely no news background, doing telling the newsroom what stories to run? Same goes for your "little kids and puppies" mandate. Do your job and go sell some ads, numb nuts.
5. Why should we subscribe to the AP? Why don't you just copy those stories off the Internet?
Yeah. A publisher said that to me once. Actually, ordered me to copy AP stories off the Internet, rather than pay the expense of an AP subscription. I tried to explain copyright laws and plagiarism laws to him, but he wasn't hearing it. I believe someone else -- someone more patient than I am -- walked him through it, so he eventually dropped the idea.
6. From this day forward, our paper will be hypocritically local.
OK, this one really isn't fair, it's just something a publisher once said aloud at a meeting, and he clearly misspoke. I think he was trying to say "hyper" local, and it came out "hypocritically" local. But, as it turned out, it was not far from the truth.
7. Camera phones make photographers obsolete. Any nitwit can take a photo.
And nitwits take photos every day. See part one of my continuing series "Newspapers Aren't Dying, They're Committing Suicide" for more details.
8. Every single one of our readers has a smart phone. I guarantee you that.
Well, not really. First off, almost 10 percent of our readers in this part of the country are Amish, so there's that. Also, more than half of our readers are over 50 years of age, so there is that. But maybe, someday, every one of our readers will own a smart phone -- when the rest of them all drop the paper.
9. The most important skill in the newsroom is being able to type fast.
OK, typing fast is an important skill in the newsroom. I'll put my own typing skills up against darn near anyone out there. But the MOST IMPORTANT skill in a newsroom? Writing, reading comprehension, interview skills, an ability to see the bigger picture, proofreading, editing, pagination, design, general knowledge of 100 different topics -- NONE of that is as important as typing fast?
10. Isn't a copy editor and a page designer the same thing?
Unfortunately, yes. That's not the way it's supposed to be, but sadly, that's the way it is. But any publisher who does not know that's not the way it's supposed to be should be taken out and shot. Or perhaps forced to edit copy and lay out a section and man the phone and write capsules all at once, on deadline -- which is worse than being shot.
11. I've been through this myself. Look at where I ended up!
You "ended up" here, as the stupidest publisher I have ever had, unwittingly helping what was once a great newspaper commit suicide. And the parent company is going to cut you sometime soon, just like they did to the five previous dumbasses who have worked in your office in the last 12 years. Sorry, that doesn't cheer me up.
12. The press is malfunctioning, so we can't print anything in color. So make everything on the front page black and white, except the yellow cancer awareness ribbon.
Fortunately, he thought about that for a few minutes and then said, "Actually, I guess we should go without the yellow ribbon this time."
13. There are only about 20 or 30 people who read the articles about the local high school team, which is why we need to write more of them, which is part of the reason why you're getting less space to run them. If more people read them, we can sell more ads on your pages, and even though that means less space for sports, in the long run it will mean more ads, more space, more readers. That's how newspapers work.
I actually had my recorder running when this was said, so I transcribed it word for word. If anyone can make any sense of it, let me know. It's beautiful in an abstract way. I play it once in a while when I need a laugh. The best part is, he gets all smug and superior when he tells us, "that's how newspapers work," as if he's telling a group of slow-learning first graders how to tie their shoes. Read that quote again, with the knowledge that the person talking actually has an MBA from an accredited institution of higher learning. I think this might lead me to my next big article, which I might entitle, "MBA is a fake degree."
14. I don't want to see any more opinions in any opinion column.
This one wasn't spoken aloud, but rather sent out on the company email. Went viral.
15. No one really cares about sports. And if they do, they aren't reading about it in the paper.
I have no idea what the larger point here was, other than to diminish the importance of my job.
So there you have it, 15 of the stupidest things I have ever heard said by a McPublisher of a McPaper.
Please, newsroom people -- in the comments section, I would really, really like to read some of the stupidest things you've ever heard your publisher say. And non-newsroom people, give some stupid stuff you've heard your brilliant bosses say.
And, just for the fun of it, if any of you have ever heard a publisher say something intelligent, I'd like to know. After all, even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.