Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pay cut for newspaper publishers?

Should the higher ups (publishers or editors or other news executives) in the newspaper business take a pay cut for the sake of helping their underling employees? That's a question I explored in a story I wrote and which was published today on the Web site of the S.C. Press Association.

Here's my story:

By Larry Timbs
Special to the S.C. Press Association

Should owners, publishers or other executives at community newspapers cut their own pay to save jobs or reduce layoffs at their enterprises?

It’s a question that might be making the rounds of management and the rank and file at America’s community newspapers given a recent request by Newspaper Guild 39521 to Gary Pruitt, chairman of the board, president and CEO of the McClatchy Company.

Citing the challenging era the newspaper industry in general, and McClatchy in particular, now finds itself in, the Guild asked that Pruitt agree to reduce his full compensation for 2009 to $500,000, “the amount,” according to the Guild’s letter to Pruitt, “of executive pay the president of the United States has suggested he believes is appropriate in dire circumstances.”

Posted on Feb. 16, 2009, at BeeGuildNow.org, the Guild’s letter mentioned a succession of gloomy facts: the freezing of Guild salaries and pensions; the elimination of the McClatchy Company’s match for employee 401K plans; painful layoffs coming during the “worst economic climate in 80 years”; McClatchy company requests that Guild members absorb additional voluntary pay cuts; and the certainty that all Guild members will be furloughed in 2009.

The Guild’s letter acknowledged that Pruitt relinquished one of his two pension accounts but it asked that he cut his full compensation for 2009 to $500,000 “to save jobs” at McClatchy.

Whether he was responding to the Guild’s request or just feeling a bit guilty after seeing McClatchy trim 1,600 jobs (15 percent of its workforce throughout the United States), Pruitt recently took a 15 percent pay cut.

That’s a start but it’s not nearly enough, according to Leroy Towns, faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. “The fact that Pruitt is still running the show is astounding considering he guided the company through purchase of Knight-Ridder, a move that left McClatchy drowning in debt and is largely responsible for the news chain’s troubles. . . In this case, it’s not the economy stupid, It’s stupid management,” Towns wrote on March 17 2009, on the Talk Politics blog (http://weblogs.jomc.unc.edu/talkpolitics/?p=523).

But back to the core question: Should news executives at community newspapers take a pay cut for the good of their employees and businesses?

In working on this piece, yours truly put out several queries to news executives in community journalism. Some did not answer and a few who responded said they’d pass, thank you, on this one.

But several did step up to the plate and share their views on the compensation issue.

Ken Garfield spent 31 years in newspapers, including the last 21 at the Charlotte Observer (a McClatchy paper), where he retired a few years ago as religion editor. He thinks Pruitt’s cutting his pay won’t restore readers or advertisers to revenue-starved publications. Nor will reducing Pruitt’s pay, Garfield said, stop the flow of classifieds to other ad alternatives or keep Americans from turning on cable TV or their computers (rather than reading newspapers).

Still, Pruitt’s pay cut can be looked at as a symbolic gesture of good faith, said Garfield, now director of communications at 5,000-member Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

“…in this day and age, symbols count, and I think such a move by Pruitt would provide at least a small measure of encouragement to the rank and file in his chain,” Garfield said (days before Pruitt decided to cut his own pay.) “I hear nearly daily from former newspaper colleagues about the bleak atmosphere in newsrooms everywhere, and how there is little hope for the future. Pruitt cutting his pay won’t change the reality, but it might boost morale if only for a short time. And maybe it’ll send a message to other CEOs in other businesses, that symbols matter.”

While he said he couldn’t speak specifically to the McClatchy situation, Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., sees executive salary reductions as a good idea—especially when the business enterprise is stressed.

Applying reduced compensation (for top executives and upper management) or other tactics to reduce payroll costs is appropriate, Policinski said, “for any company facing layoffs or salary reductions for lower-compensated workers, regardless of whether or not the company is a newspaper or news information source.

“It’s just good management, apart from the actual cost reduction. . . In smaller communities, where I have seen general reports that some news operations are profitable (if not flourishing), I again would use performance and value as a guide and avoid symbolic cuts,” said Policinski, who started his career in journalism at a small paper in Indiana and later worked at USA Today in sports.

Max Heath is a respected expert postal consultant and longtime (and now retired) vice president of Landmark Community Newspapers, Inc., in Shelbyville, Ky. Heath said the Guild had a right to ask the management of McClatchy, a public company, to reduce executive compensation, and management had a right to do as it wished.

Heath added, “Most such executives are invested in company stock, and have lost far more money from the sharp decline in company stock values than they would ever lose via pay cuts. And management profit bonuses have evaporated as well.”

He suggests the idea of cutting a newspaper executive’s pay might be overplayed and could backfire: “…everyone is suffering, and managing is harder than ever. The newspaper industry needs competent management. Mandatorily cutting pay won’t help anything, except drive off good managers to other businesses, and leave employees suffering under less competent managers.”

One long-time editor (employed at McClatchy when it bought the paper where he worked) is Terry Plumb. He retired from The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., about two years ago.

Plumb, who still writes a column for The Herald and an occasional review of a local theatrical performance, said he doesn’t know what CEO Pruitt makes; nor does he particularly care. “But it’s a whole lot more than I ever did (make), and a bit more than my pension for sure,” Plumb noted.

Plumb added via email: “I have long thought that most CEOs made an obscene amount of money, and I am convinced that the financial crisis this nation finds itself in was due in large part to a culture that equates wealth to greatness. Given the system under which most corporate officers have operated, it should be no surprise that few of them ever looked beyond their annual bonus.”

Plumb said limiting the earning power of corporate executives “makes good sense from a marketing perspective. The PR guy who didn’t tell Detroit executives it was a bad idea to take the corporate jet to Washington, D.C., probably is in the unemployment line. In all likelihood, of course, none of those bigshots asked his opinion in the first place. They were just too important for that.”

But Plumb cautions that cutting news executives’ pay is by no means a panacea for righting what’s wrong or plaguing the newspaper industry: “…given the problems faced by most industries, including newspapers, capping CEO compensation is akin to asking the captain of the Titanic to give up ice for his gin and tonic.”

John Robinson, editor since 1999 of the 100,000+-circulation daily News and Record in Greensboro, N.C., thinks it’s a “reasonable request” to consider reducing some news executives’ pay.

You shouldn’t rule anything out in trying to keep newspapers viable in these tough economic times, Robinson said.

“If your business is in danger, you look at all expenses,” he said. “Salaries are one and there is no reason that top executives—even editors!—shouldn’t be included. If you love your business, as many journalists do, you do what you need to do to keep it going.”

Robinson, who worked in journalism at Norfolk, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Asheville, N.C., and Monroe, N.C., before coming to Greensboro in 1985, suspects that on the community level, many publishers and top executives have already cut their pay. “I also suspect that they don’t take home anywhere close to what the media chain leaders do.

“Most journalists I know aren’t in the business for the money,” he added. “We’re in it to make a difference, to inform people and to help the community. A high salary is nice but it’s not everything. If cutting a salary could save a job, my belief is that most journalists would make the sacrifice. . . My experience is that some community publishers—I know some, but not many—. . .care deeply for their newspaper and would take home les money if it would help during these times.”

Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association (which has about 100 newspaper members), said community newspaper owners, like their employees, haven’t been spared anguish in this era of layoffs, cutbacks and furloughs.

“The owners of smaller community newspapers are also feeling the pain as the bad economic conditions hit main streets in their cities and towns—just not in the same scale as the large groups,” Rogers said. “They are trying to keep a quality staff on board so the local news franchise is preserved for the better times ahead. The owners are certainly seeing profit shrinkage, and it isn’t a question of voluntary or not.”

Contacted for her take on publishers or owners of papers taking a pay cut, one S.C. community newspaper executive asked not to be named because “To tell you the truth, I don’t feel comfortable weighing in on this without going through corporate leadership. . . I can say that community newspaper publishers and editors generally are not compensated anything approaching $500,000!”

Larry Timbs is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., where he teaches courses in print journalism. Timbs is also faculty adviser to the student newspaper.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Watchdog falls asleep

The press is often called the eyes and ears of the people.

Others have referred to journalists as watchdogs (helping shine the light of truth on government, big business and the power structure.)

But what if the watchdog falls asleep on the job?

Turn your sound up and click on the hotlink headline above to see what happened to one such journalist--caught a few days ago, in the flesh, napping on the job at a public meeting.

Caffeine anyone?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The real skinny about advertising

What's it REALLY like to work professionally in advertising?

Out of the mouths of babes we sometimes get the truth.

Turn up your sound and click on the hotlink headline above. Winthrop alumna Stefanie Johns, getting her feet wet in the ad industry in Columbia, S.C., sent this to me. Thanks, Stef!

Food for thought, folks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Emotional Intelligence

I learned about Emotional Intelligence yesterday from a couple of Winthrop University faculty colleagues--Barbara Burgess-Wilkerson and Chlotia Garrison.

Barbara and Chlotia teach in the College of Business Administration.

They noted at a professional conference that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and regulate the emotions of others.

You can be smart about journalism or history or government or science or chemistry or whatever, but if your EIq (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is not sufficiently high, you won't be successful.

I had heard about IQ but never EIq before their presentation yesterday.

EI skills and competencies include: self awareness, accurate self assessment, self confidence, adaptability, innovativeness, self motivation, conscientiousness, commitment, self control, trustworthiness, achievement drive and optimism.

Here's our challenge as professors: How to infuse the teaching of EI competencies into our classes?

An aside, as they spoke, I wondered to myself: How can I become more emotionally intelligent?

What's your EIq?

Mine needs work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tanning beds can be lethal!

In Lake Wylie, a few miles from where I work, a man crawled into a tanning bed and narrowly escaped when it caught on fire.

I've always thought this whole tanning thing is kind of kinky.

Some people, I'm told, go naked (or is it nekkid?) when they lie down in these coffin-like beds and bake.

It's always been a case of white people trying to get darker.

And now--you can REALLY BURN UP, as in the tanning bed catching on fire.

But that won't deter folks from trying their best to be brown.

Consider, for example, what a customer at the Solar Beach Tanning Salon in Rock Hill said when reminded about the fire a few days ago at Lake Wylie:

"That could happen anywhere, not just in a tanning bed,” said Kim Bazemore. “I would still feel comfortable (in a tanning bed). I'm fixing to get in one now.”

Tanners--they're passionate about brownness, and nothing (not even fire) will stop them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Clarence Page visits our school

It's not every day that I get to chat with a Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist, but that's what happened last Monday (which happened to be a day that all classes were cancelled at Winthrop because of the weather.)

So much for my plans of spending a "pajama day" at home all day at my condo!

I got a call (a gentle but persuasive request from Jamie Low, our department's administrative assistant (and go-to woman) to report to work to meet a famous columnist, and "Could you, Larry, somehow rustle up some students to come meet him with you?"

The columnist was 62-year-old Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, whose work appears in about 150 newspapers every week.

Page, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1989, happened to be in Rock Hill in connection with Mass Communication Week at Winthrop.

The former foreign correspondent in Africa and investigative Task Force reporter for the Chicago Tribune met with me and a handful of faculty and students. (He originally had been scheduled to make two presentations at Winthrop, but those were cancelled because of the snow forcing the university to nix Monday as a work day.)

Mr. Page shared with our small group that it's a peculiar time to be a journalist, what with the layoffs and cutbacks in the newspaper industry and what with all the new, mind boggling, hard-to-keep-up-with communications technology.

"Everything has changed," he said. "I tell my son (age 19), 'this is your century. I'm just walking around in it.'"

While Mr. Page said he appreciates the Web and Google, Net users should be careful: "There's a pyschological thing built in to us that if we see something in print, it must be true. I've been tripped up by Wikapedia."

Notwithstanding it's speed and wonderful aspects, the Web can never replace some of the old tools of journalism, he said.

"It breaks my heart," Page responded when told that the Rock Hill newspaper, for example, is no longer being printed on a press here. (Instead, our press is being dismantled, and our hometown newspaper, The Herald, is now being printed 25 miles away--in Charlotte, N.C.)

"I'm from the generation where when I walk into a newspaper and see an old linotype machine, we will stop and pause as if it were a shrine.

"From those of you from the old school, we had to learn that you couldn't get your degree unless you could read upside down and backwards. There was a tactile experience to newspapers," said Page, author of the 1996 book "Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity."

"It was a special thing and we don't have that now. . . I'm glad to have a 19-year-old Ipod son, cause he can clue me in."

Switching topics, I asked Mr. Page what he thought of Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Jindal, who is of Indian ancestry (as in, his ancestors are from India), represents what one of my colleagues at Winthrop has termed "the Great Brown Hope" in American politics.

Jindal recently gave the Republican rebuttal to a speech made a few weeks ago to Congress by President Barack Obama.

A lot of the pundits blasted Jindal for not measuring up to expectations and for not delivering a strong enough or sufficiently effective critical punch at Obama and other Democratic leaders.

But not so fast, according to Mr. Page: "Everybody gave him bad reviews, but Bobby Jindal is better than that. He's a good smart guy. He's a guy who represents the future hope of the (GOP) party. He's done a good job as governor. He's a pragamatist."

The Republican Party will make a comeback--in due time, according to Mr. Page.

And, speaking of elephants, what about Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Don't count him out either, Mr. Page said: "His base is the Christian right. I'd say he's half way between Pat Robertson and Rick Warren. He's got some core beliefs but he's also got a broad base."

Glad I didn't spend all day in my PJs last Monday at my condo.

Worth coming to work to talk with Clarence Page.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tribute to Mickey and his dog, Spike

If you've had any of my journalistic writing classes at Winthrop, you know that one of the topics that I teach my students they can write about--to touch a universal psychic chord in readers--is dogs.

Also on my list of topics that readers devour are sex, money, health and fitness, religion and spirituality (where do we go when we die?) and UFOs.

But dogs, bless their paws and slobberknocking jaws, are right up there near the top.

So a front page story by columnist Andrew Dys in today's Rock Hill Herald immediately caught my interest this morning. Accompanying the story (and with this blog post) is a photo of a man and his mutt.

The story and photo focused on Mickey Mangrum of Chester, S.C., and his ever-faithful and beloved bulldog, Spike.

Seems the two were inseparable--in life and in death.

When Mickey recently died, his obituary in The Herald mentioned the usual persons as his survivors: his wife and other members of his family.

Listed also among Mr. Mangrum's survivors: Spike

I can see this and really "get" why a dog could be woven into the last printed record of a human being's life.

Here's to Mr. Mickey Mangrum and his dog, Spike, with him everywhere in life and with him now in print and on the Internet till the end--and beyond the end.

Long live men and women and their dogs.

Here's Andrew Dys' story in today's Herald:

CHESTER -- His name was Michael, but nobody ever called him Michael. Always “Mickey,” Mickey Mangrum, from the time he was a kid at Rock Hill High in the early 1970s.

Or “Mag” as an adult, short for Magnum, P.I. because some said he looked like Tom Selleck, who played the hunky private investigator in the 1980s T.V. show of the same name.

And he almost always had a dog with him. In the truck, in the hunting stand, at his deer processing plant and his own hunt club on his Chester County property that both were called M&M – from his initials.

And throughout the last year of his 53 years of life – a life that ended at 7 a.m. Sunday – an American Bulldog named Spike was right there with his big dog head trying to nestle in Mickey's lap.

Or in the line at the bank drive-through window where the lady teller was so used to the duo with Spike in the passenger seat she would ask, “Does Spike need any money?”

Mickey's cancer started in the pancreas, then liver. The doctors gave, tops, six months.

Mickey, tough, lasted almost eight weeks.

In Mickey Mangrum's obituary in Tuesday's Herald, listed right there after his wife and two brothers and sister, was his dog.

“His favorite dog, Spike,” is how Vickie Mangrum had it worded. This is a woman who knew her husband loved his dog.

“It was my idea,” said Vickie. “They went everywhere together the past year.”

Mickey actually bought the dog as a pup last year, a purebred from down at Georgetown, for Vickie.

“I gave him the name Spike, but he was a man's dog right from the get-go,” Vickie said. “Mickey took a nap in the shop; Spike took a nap next to him.”

Mickey was a workaholic welder in his earlier years right up until he got sick. A husky guy, who traveled all over the country for work.

“Worked every day he could,” said his brother, Bobby. “Our daddy died when Mickey was 10.”

Mickey married once before, but later divorced. But he never forgot Vickie.

This is a guy who, about five years ago, found out about an old flame from Rock Hill High who was working at a restaurant/pub called Sundown at Surfside Beach, drove down there immediately and arrived at 9 a.m. Mickey sat down at the bar and ordered a Jim Beam and Mountain Dew – only because the joint didn't have Sun Drop, his favorite mixer.

He drained half the glass and broadcast to Ginger the bartender and the entire crowd: “I'm here to reclaim my high school sweetheart.”

Vickie Cox came out from the back where she was making chicken salad at the end of working the third shift and saw the man who asked her to marry him 30 years earlier. She had declined then, “because too many girls were chasing him.”

“He smiled that big smile, and I was in love all over again,” recalled Vickie Cox Mangrum. They went immediately to the same spot at the beach where they had a picture made 30 years before during their first courtship and had a new picture made. They were married in a flash.

She came home to Mickey and she came home to the dogs because Mickey and dogs were inseparable. “April, May and June, I named three of them right off,” Vickie said.

But cancer hit Mickey in a rush.

“Just like what Patrick Swayze has,” said Vickie. “I never left his side.”

Neither did Mickey's friends.

Those friends threw a huge benefit for him at the house, with a big tent, a pig roast and buckets of oysters, hash, chili beans and more than a few cases of ice cold beer. Natural Light, cans.

“That was a party, I can tell you,” said Mickey's best buddy all his life, Mike Moore. “Must have been 200 people here.”

Spike sure hung in there with Mickey the whole time after Mickey took sick. Spike knew something was amiss. He would wander around. When Mickey lay on the couch, Spike would come in and put his head right on Mickey's lap.

Tuesday, Spike wandered around outside and Vickie said, “He's lost without Mickey.”

Mickey Mangrum's funeral will be on Thursday.

The Rev. Rick Sturgis, a lifelong friend and spiritual comfort at the end of Mickey's life, who wears overalls every day of his work life at Farmer's Exchange, will officiate – and wear overalls.

Vickie invited the same banjo-picking band that played their wedding to play a few tunes at the graveside for family and friends.

And for Spike.