Thursday, January 10, 2008

Morning Call Making Cuts, Including Ten News Positions

PoynterOnline, a leading source of information about the news industry, somehow got its hands on a memo, dated yesterday, that was sent to all Morning Call employees by editor Ardith Hilliard. I'm surprised it didn't start with, "Dear John."

It was that kind of memo.

Besides a "universal news desk" and the hiring of something called a "watchdog reporter," the paper plans to eliminate ten positions, and these are basically news positions. They include a news editor, assistant copy chief, copy editor - sports, copy editor - features, special projects editor, librarian, page designer, sports reporter, opinion writer and business editor.

Hilliard forgot to mention blogger Pam Varkony, who probably doesn't count because she is an independent contractor or something.

Despite the frilly language, The Morning Call is obviously making cuts. Aside from the affected employees, the readers will suffer most. But we still get to pay the same anount of money for a paper. Hilliard's memo, in its entirety, is below. I don't think it's copyrighted. If it is, I hope they sue Poynter.

Memo to Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) employees from editor Ardith Hilliard:

Colleagues:

Change in our profession is relentless. We know this from many discussions in recent months here at The Morning Call but also because we know well what struggles are unfolding throughout our industry. Reader habits are rapidly shifting, demanding that we rethink our entire business. At the same time, our vision calls on us to sustain The Morning Call well into the future. And our commitment to our responsibilities as truth tellers to a public that needs us remains our primary duty. Through innovation and your toughness and resolve, we have met these challenges again and again, taking many steps to work more efficiently, stay true to excellence every day in the pages of our newspaper and build our on-line franchise, affirming our rightful place as the most important news source in our region. Now we must do more.

So we are implementing a significant reorganization of the newsroom that will be challenging but is consistent with our vision.

The plan includes:

· Completing creation of an innovative universal news desk begun in 2007.

· Reorganizing some functions within the visuals department to better support digital initiatives, including a new investment in more than 40 video cameras to be deployed this month in the newsroom.

· Creating three new positions to help build our print and on-line audience: A watchdog reporter for publication of investigative consumer columns Sunday and during the week; an additional lab tech to complete a pool of technicians to handle video editing closer to the 24/7 ideal, and an on-line producer assigned primarily to sports to assist in updating sports news Web pages and to update the Varsity Web site, nightly scores and statistics. This producer also can support building of photo galleries and other elements for non-sports continuous news.

· Eliminating 10 current positions: four open, four resulting from retirements and two others.

The plan will reduce editorial costs. Part of achieving this is job elimination. The pain of losing friends and colleagues who have contributed so much should never be pushed aside with platitudes. But this newsroom repeatedly has proven that it can absorb change, no matter how difficult. You are what gives me confidence that this reorganization will work. You are the key to its success.

I believe the plan will help us adhere to our commitment to our profession and will be a foundation for innovation in the coming years. It also preserves our regional reach, conceding nothing to our competitors and continuing to serve our readers with minimal disruption to them.

Within each of the changes I will describe, there are many more details. All those individuals directly and immediately affected have had discussions already. However, I anticipate that you will have many questions now and through the implementation of the plan. We will offer an additional opportunity for discussion at two staff meetings on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the newsroom and at one-on-one or group discussions as needed and desired.

The Universal Desk

At the heart of the reorganization is complete consolidation of our universal desk operation. We took a step in this direction in 2007 by consolidating the management of copy editing and other production under Ron Stumpf, chief of copy desks/continuous news. Now we will go further, co-locating all production desk staff in a central location (to be determined) and changing responsibilities, deadlines and in some cases, schedules, to leverage talent and time. This will entail complete rethinking of all workflow, process and even seating in the newsroom; I ask your patience and cooperation as we work through this in the coming weeks.

Key changes related to the universal desk:

· Rick Sample has been named to a new position of news chief and will be the senior editor in charge of the night production operation across the entire newsroom, with primary oversight of Local, Business and the A-section. He will report to Ron Stumpf.
· Deputy copy chiefs for features and sports will continue in those roles but at times will be assigned elsewhere as workload dictates. Karen Phillips is being named as an additional deputy copy chief, joining Jane White (features) and Brad Krum (sports).
· Several assistant copy chiefs will be named to provide additional bench strength to the overall universal operation. They are Keith Kaeppel, who will be reassigned from his current job of assistant sports editor, and current copy editors Gary Andrews and Jacob Michaels. Additionally, Eloise DeHaan is being reassigned to the universal desk as a copy editor. The classification of assistant business editor is being eliminated. The Sports department will now have one assistant sports editor, Ernie Long, reporting to Sports Editor Bill Kline.
· As has been the case with the reorganization of the copy desk under Ron, all editors on the new production desk will be trained to handle posting of continuous news. This initiative already has been very successful, boosting night Web site traffic considerably because of the efforts of the entire desk staff.
· Finally, Dave Dawson is being named editor, news technology/training, to better reflect his role and increasing responsibilities for training, including Intranet updating.

Beginning in October 2006, a newsroom task force from Features, Photo, Art and other departments has been working on initiatives to make features desk and lab operations more efficient. In addition to initiatives already implemented, the following actions are being taken to free up resource in the effort to make a universal desk operation run more smoothly. They are as follows:

· The weekly Merge tab soon will launch as “Metromix” and will be produced in a way that will reduce newsroom labor put toward the publication. It will help promote the new entertainment on-line product.
· Home & Garden will end as a separate Friday section and the best of its content will be placed on two pages in Friday’s a.m. Magazine. The restructured operation also will take some advantage (to be determined) of time gained back in the production schedule from the new computer-to-plate project.
· We hope to eventually launch a capital project to install a Tansa editing system in conjunction with our Hermes pagination system and other production systems. Tansa is a text proofing system that checks spelling, word usage and style, punctuation, hyphenation and some grammar. Dictionaries can be added to this system - word dictionary (AP approved dictionary), AP Stylebook and Morning Call stylebook, except for entries that involve news judgment. Tansa would save editing time for the copy desk, allowing us to more effectively operate a universal desk with fewer editors. The system would help reporters and data assistants file cleaner copy to the desk, thus saving copyediting time. The copy desk also would use it during the final edit to more quickly catch errors and to edit calendars and other lists that could move faster through the process than having a copy editor read every word. This system has been successfully implemented at other newspapers and is currently being tested on the Hermes system at Newsday.

Visuals Department Changes

Next is our visual journalism, also key to our digital future.

Frank Wiese will take on a new role as visuals operations editor. This ends a fractured structure that currently has video assigning and production responsibilities split across multiple supervisors in multiple departments and under multiple reporting structures. He will be responsible for the collection, editing, processing and publishing of both print and digital. Direct reports will be all lab techs. Frank’s initial role will be to re-engineer the operation to support flow from the video cameras that will be fully deployed this month. Frank’s previous job of assistant multimedia editor/video is being eliminated. He will answer to Assistant Managing Editor Craig Larimer.

Ben Morrison will continue as acting photo editor.

Business

Business reporter Spencer Soper has been named an assistant metro editor/business, and will supervise all aspects of business news, including daily sections and Sunday Real Estate. We are pleased that Spencer has taken on this challenge - he has shown great accomplishment in both reporting and editing during his time here. The position of business editor is being eliminated and business news will be merged with the metro operation, with a core of reporters dedicated to this area. Spencer will report to Assistant Managing Editor/Metro Mike Miorelli. Spencer’s reporting position will not be filled. However, by merging the business coverage with our metro operation we make it a broader priority across the newsroom, calling on expertise throughout the editing and reporting operation as well as from the business staff. One open business reporter position will be filled.

Entertainment

Aaron Sagers has been named Entertainment Editor in a role that will take on expanded responsibility for our entertainment franchise. He will answer to Features Editor Mike Hirsch. The position will have responsibility for newspaper content and Web content. This will include the content side of the soon-to-be-launched lehighvalley.metromix.com and future expansion of our local entertainment franchise overall in print and online. Jodi Duckett, who is being named Assistant Entertainment Editor, will continue to have responsibility for Go Guide and other print sections. Entertainment writers will report to Sagers. This will include Kelly Federico, whose responsibilities for Merge will end in late January when Merge ceases publication, as explained above. Federico will have dual responsibilities for print and online, including Metromix, and has already participated in working toward the site launch.

Data Desk

News assistants will be reclassified as data assistants, operating on a central desk to support both print and digital publishing. The desk already is successfully working in this way, having contributed greatly to the successful transition to the Extrovert database system and the building of the new Metromix site, set to launch soon. Deb Schnecker will be chief data assistant, reporting to Terry Rang, deputy managing editor. Kim Quier, a news assistant currently assigned to features, will be reassigned to the data desk, with primary responsibility remaining Extrovert data input. The job of special projects editor to whom the news assistants reported is being eliminated.

Position Eliminations

1) News Editor
2) Assistant Copy Chief, Features
3) Copy Editor: Sports
4) Copy Editor: Features
5) Special Projects Editor
6) Librarian: This is in anticipation of a more centralized approach to archiving. Until that solution is adopted, there will be an immediate impact on our research resource. More details will come.
7) Page Designer: One position, currently vacant. This is facilitated partly by the reduction of page design work for Merge and Home & Garden. Additional rethinking of design work will be required.
8) Sports Reporter: Being reallocated as an online producer, as explained above.
9) Opinion Writer: While this position reports to the opinion editor, who reports to the publisher, it is included in the newsroom budget.
10) Business Editor

I look forward to discussing the reorganization with you at Thursday's meetings.

17 comments:

WhetherVain said...

If I read this correctly, it appears that only 2 folks (who were not voluntarily considering retirement) are affected.

A high school classmate of mine has worked there for a while and is in the Library area. I wonder if she's safe? (I'll email her).

There has been a noticeable change in the paper over the last few months - I'm sure you agree.

For one thing, there is no such thing as a paperboy anymore...that job now being in the adult domain as a car is absolutely necessary to retrieve the paper from designated pickup locations. The carrier must pick them up in the wee hours of the morning - far earlier than what Johnny or Susie was used to. When my son & I had a paper route (1990's), the papers were delivered right to our house! We don't even know who our carriers are anymore. They don't identify themselves or even visit you for a tip at Christmas time. I kinda miss that.

We've all noticed the explosion of full page advertising too! It strikes me that the advertising rates must have been reduced to allow the proliferation of such ads (from commercial concerns that previously couldn't have afforded them). That demonstrates the paper is hurting for revenue.

And then there is the foldover portion of the paper that wasn't cut off properly and detracts from the paper's professional presentation. I used to work as a back-tender at a roofing felt mill in Emmaus. My only job was to man the cutters that trimmed the outer edges of the continuous felt carpet as it rolled off the rollers/dryers. This delivered a "clean-cut edge" to the final rolled product. It appears to me that the MC has fired their back-tender.

And have you noticed that it's not nearly so difficult to get a good discount on an annual subscription to the paper at renewal time? Before, you HAD to wait until a promotion was offered; now it seems like a standard offering.

It makes one wonder how long the print format can survive - when the MC practically gives you what you might want for free on the web (except for the comics...dammit!)

Anonymous said...

Keep tabs on those Morning Call staffers slated for elimination. They may have some terrific stories to tell once they're beyond the force field of the evil empire ...

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for the employees. I love the letter, standard Corprobabble. We, we, we until the layoff part no magnamous, imperial we at that point. The Morning Call has been the evil overlord for years with a monopoly on destroying peoples lives with their scandalous stories.
Keep the employees and toss the editorial board

Bernie O'Hare said...

Whethervain,

You make some pretty good points about the paper. Without an effective delivery system, it's going to lose business.

Anonymous said...

Must agree with 'whethervain.'in observing the Morning Call has recently exhibited signs of significant change ahead.

As noted, the proliferation of full-page ads indicates to me, interest in normally-paid ads has seriously dropped. Automobile sales are WAY down and ad space for that is minimal other than on Sunday.

The change to all-adult news carriers would seem not to be working either. Check-out the volume of routes available in the paper's classified section.

Part of me wants to feel good about the Morning Call having difficulty.Their clear attempts to SHAPE the news rather than just report it is insulting. This is most evident when they feel need to endorse local candidates, then follow with a disclaimer " We're not trying to tell anyone how to vote." Bull.

Their ridiculous policy of asking for the public's help in finding criminals, yet not providing EVERY specific detail at hand (like race) is no more than a corporate attempt at social engineering.I dislike paying to support that mission.

Their seemingly worthy program, Newspapers in Schools, sounds fine, yet for years, their management has done great damage to the process of public education through its constant presentations that encourage teacher-bashing.

I could probably go on, but really, I haven't felt good about my 'hometown' paper in several years. I kept sensing too many clandestine attempts at mind control.Is this the appropriate mission for every newspaper? Maybe I'm just naive.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being pasted in these blogs as an Allentown apologist, today's front-page story is an excellent example of the depths this paper has reached. The mayor of Allentown had a good meeting with the manager of the baseball team to discuss ways to work together. He's actually trying to work with the team, which is real news.

That new information is buried way at the bottom of a long rehash of past differences. Uh, Morning Call, we knew about the problems. What we didn't know is that the city and ball club are trying to bury the hatchet. Why bring up all of the past problems and bury the good news? It's like reading a long story about all the death and destruction in Iraq and, at the bottom of the story, reading that, oh, yeah, peace was achieved today.

Allentown isn't alone here. Ask the people in any city, borough or township if the paper is fair and balanced in its coverage. Then duck.

This paper needs to lay off people, but its not in the rank and file. It's at the top. The whole management team has to be replaced with journalists who understand community news coverage. I hope its sold to someone who will do just that.

Anonymous said...

I agree.....where have all the good District Managers gone at the paper....that is part of the problem

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:07,

I don't think this makes you an Allentown apologist, but perhaps it makes you a Pawlowski apologist. You think Allentown's success is dependent on reflecting its mayor in a positive light.

The previous comments here have been directed at the way the paper markets itself and produces the news. Your comment is directed at content. Frankly, there are many who would claim the opposite - that the paper tends to cast Pawlowski in too positive a light.

No paper does its job unless it afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

just what bill white needs to enhance his bloopers column, fewer copy editors!

Bill Villa said...

When The Morning Call debuted its "Meet The Editorial Board" and its "Our Philosophy, Who We Are, How We Act," etc. propaganda-spin in its Sunday, May 27, 2007 edition and then permanently installed this stuff at mcall.com's Opinion section, I thought it was rather telling that no commenting was enabled or allowed. Still isn't. I wanted to comment so I submitted a Letter to the Editor on June 3, 2007. Editorial & Opinion pages Emperor Glenn Kranzley told me that he showed my letter to The Entire Editorial Board ... but that the newspaper would not be running it. Then he hung up on me. Here's my letter ...

Regarding The Morning Call Editorial Board coverage in Sunday's (May 27) paper ... please ... spare us the "full disclosure" bio info and family photo only a mother could love. Without a second, competitor newspaper in town, you people are unopposed and free to abuse your position of monopoly publication power with impunity as you've been doing for decades. Just keep doing that and stop insulting your subscribers' intelligence by trying to get us to believe you're either 'down the center' politically or fair about things; you're neither and everybody knows it. The Morning Call is a cronyism-driven rag. People buy it for the local sports, police reports, obituaries, and coupons. Get over yourselves and your always transparent agendas.

Anonymous said...

The Morning Call - they still around?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Like the name.

Anonymous said...

bill villa,

I dumped my MC subscription for exactly the reasons you cited.

I get my fill of the MC's bias for free online. It feels better to know I didn't pay to be annoyed and insulted.

The E-T, with their cluttered and navigation-unfriendly website may be dumb as a fox. They likely can't even give it away. The number of comments to their blogs (usually in the zero range) is always good for some laughs.

If a blog falls in the forest and nobody gives a shit, are Joe Owens and Tony Rhodin really bloggers?

Bill Villa said...

"Bill Villa, I dumped my MC subscription for exactly the reasons you cited. I get my fill of the MC's bias for free online. It feels better to know I didn't pay to be annoyed and insulted." -Anon 3:37 pm

Thanks for citing me, anon. I really should cancel my Morning Call subscription too. But I still enjoy that ritual of waking up, brewing coffee, and unfurling a newspaper. It makes me feel so ... adult. But what instantly follows, i.e., feeling annoyed, and insulted, as you've pointed out, sure is a lousy way to start each day. Hey, I quit smoking 3 years ago. Wish me luck kicking my Morning Call habit. And thanks for the inspiration ...

Bill Villa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bernie O'Hare said...

If a blog falls in the forest and nobody gives a shit, are Joe Owens and Tony Rhodin really bloggers?

The number of comments on a blog are no reflection of its readership.

Anonymous said...

So the Morning Call faces cuts itself. Yet the editorial board refuses to acknowledge that Allentown City Hall (which has added over 30 new positions since 2001) has to cut ANYTHING at all?

Can't wait for the tax hike excuses. Will be like the "Allentown has no other option but to borrow money" excused. BTW, this borrowing has cost Allentown's taxpayers $78 million in future expenses.....