Understatement of the century

From Charles Apple:

I’m beginning to think it’s irresponsible for the newspaper industry to rely so heavily on Facebook.

Internet, I’m moving to Nashville

Over the years I have always wondered, when a blogger I followed made a last-minute “I’m leaving the city!” announcement, why he or she waited so long to announce it on the blog, and why there was usually a lack of contemplative “what does it mean for my life that I’m moving?” kinds of posts in the run-up to the departure. And now I know that it’s because when you decide to rip your life up from the roots and cram it hundreds of miles away in a new city with a new home and a new job and new routines and new expenses, THERE IS NO TIME TO LOOK AT YOUR NAVEL, NOT EVEN FOR A SECOND TO REMOVE THAT NASTY LINT YOU’VE BEEN IGNORING FOR THREE WEEKS.

And so here it is, my big announcement: I am packing up and moving this crazed little life to Nashville to take a new job. I have been at The CA for seven and a half years and, as you can see from a recent post, things lately are not great. But let’s not dwell on that; it’s actually much more accurate to say that I have been offered a really interesting opportunity that is going to help me grow careerwise and personally. I’ve accepted a position as Gulf Coast team leader at the Gannett Design Studio of Nashville. I will be helping manage the design of five newspapers in the Gulf Coast region. It’s a robust gig, one with a ton of responsibility. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated by the prospect, but I think that’s because I have been doing my current job for so long that it’s scary to think about doing something I’ve never done before. It’ll be much less actual live design and much more mentoring, planning, organizing, communicating, and managing.

I’m heartbroken in many ways to be leaving Memphis. I feel like my time here was cut short and that I had a lot more Memphis living in me. But I made it count; I met some of the most amazing, interesting people in this city, and I got to be a part of some incredible things because of those people. Memphis will always be home to me and I will always cherish my little house on Midland because it is where my baby boy was created and where he came into this world. Memphis will always be sacred to me because it’s a tough city and living here has made me a stronger person. And also a more grumpy person but I think that would have happened anywhere. Many people don’t see the beauty in a city like Memphis and I’ve had more than one person use my moving as an opportunity to tell me how much they think Memphis sucks. That’s too bad; I think it takes a special kind of understanding of the fucked-up kind of beauty and humor the world can present to really appreciate it here. And the music. I am going to miss that lazy pulse of bass-driven blues when I have to trade it for twangs and fiddle strokes.

I’m sad that Holden will be leaving his first friends, but I know we will be back to visit and I hope our friends feel free to drop by if they find themselves in Middle Tennessee.

It’s scary picking up and starting again when just two years ago I thought I was going to be settled for a good long while.

Which reminds me: Anyone looking to rent a house?

Tera, Tera, no time is a good time for goodbyes


I miss you already, baby. I hate to even have to write this letter but it’s out of my hands. They’re taking you away from me. You and I had our last fling Friday night but on Monday you’ll be gone and I’ll be forced to get to know someone else. Someone who has already been needlessly cruel to me, someone who is unfailingly tedious, someone who is inexplicably difficult to understand while simultaneously being idiotic. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? That’s right. Saxo.

It didn’t have to be this way. You and I are star-crossed lovers, in a way. No one in power understood our love and they wouldn’t listen when we told them how perfect we were for one another. They made a decision to rip us apart for the good of the Scripps family. I hope you don’t think it’s your fault. Because you’re beautiful, Tera. You’re sophisticated and simple, but not in the way that means dumb. In the way that means easygoing, you know?

Tera, I want to apologize for all those times I got angry with you. I didn’t realize just how benign your quirks were until I met Saxo and all his issues. He’s a bit on the crashy side, so I’m pretty jittery around him. And did you know he doesn’t even let me place a jump if someone has a story open? I mean, he just won’t budge, even if we’re in a rush on deadline and it would be helpful to let someone edit a story while I’m laying it out.

And I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but the elements on his pages don’t update automatically, even if you close and re-open them. Not even jumps! So some editor can chop a story in half and, if I had already put it on a page, I would never, ever know that its content had changed until I highlighted it, went to the MWC menu and clicked “update box.” I mean, that’s scary, right? To withhold that kind of information from me and assume that every editor is going to come tell me when they’ve made any kind of change? Or to just assume that every designer is going to be constantly manually updating every box? It was so amazing and simple and sweet that you would just automatically update the elements on my pages if someone made a change to them. I didn’t have to do anything. You just took care of it and it allowed me to quickly and fluidly adjust to content changes. Tera, I never thanked you for that. I was a fool. A fool!

Your quirks kind of seem cute, now that I think about it. Like how every time I’d hit shift + F under a picture to make a cutline, and you’d make the last story I had touched change formats, so that I’d have to go hunt down that story and change its format back. It was like a little game of hide and seek we played. Or like how sometimes I’d have to try to place a jump line, like, three times before it would take. I thought that was really annoying until I accidentally deleted a jump line using Saxo. I couldn’t figure out where it went or how to get it back, and it wouldn’t let me make a new one. So I had to manually build one. That took me fifteen minutes to figure out, and I had to have my boss help me. It was humiliating. And do you know what Saxo did then, as if to rub it in? Froze up for a few minutes and made me just sit there and think about what had happened. He kept doing that all night long. I kind of worry about his health a little bit.

And I worry about his memory. I mean, I have a lot of trouble getting him to find where I have put things. You, of course, had a superfast keyword search function and I could find nearly anything as long as I could manage a decent keyword. Plus I could just search for a slug with a certain date in it or section prefix. Saxo thinks that is silly. He prefers that I search by toggling different sets of eight or so parameters on and off. Sometimes things I make just disappear into the ether and I can’t seem to get him to help me find them. Do you think he is hiding things from me on purpose? Like it’s some sort of weird power play? Or do you think he’s just kind of an idiot?

Tera, I don’t want to embarrass you, but you are really the best CMS I have ever been with. I haven’t been with THAT many, jeez! But I’ve been with enough to know that some are clearly better than others, and some are built in a way that really just works better for publishing daily deadline-driven print media. Here’s a good example: You know how, when anyone would write a story in Ted (your writing/editing program), the copy would automatically generate in the correct body copy font, with the correct leading and optimized kerning and H&J, and how extra spaces between periods and paragraphs would be ignored unless you specifically told the program to honor them? That way, if someone copied and pasted from some random document into our system, it would automatically be styled correctly with minimal effort on our part? Yeah, Saxo thinks that is dumb. So anything we copy and paste into Saxo looks how it was copied and pasted, and we have to go through it and manually remove extra spaces and apply the bodycopy style. And there’s no cleanup script like you have, no button to push to remove double hyphens and turn them to em dashes or turn straight quotes to curly quotes. It’s like Saxo WANTS me to screw up and look stupid. If he really loved me, why would he want that?

Tera, I’m scared. My short relationship with Saxo so far has been nothing short of a nightmare. He’s belligerent, constantly beeping angrily at me and bombarding me with these long, prison-letter-crazy error messages. He is persnickety, crotchety, he doesn’t respond well to change, and he moves so slowly that I fear for the sanctity of our deadlines. But most of all I fear for my sanity. Because every time I try to do something simple and it takes me an extra six clicks and a couple of superfluous drags, I am going to think of you and how easy you made my job.

I miss you already. I hope we can rendezvous again some day.


Hey, a rant! About social media marketers! And newspapers!

So we’re having a little fun over on Twitter parodying Chris Brogan’s Memphis visit with the #fakebrogan hashtag. It came about because my friend Leslie mentioned being annoyed by all the Brogan tweets and retweets that were flooding her timeline thanks to this Brogan dude being in town and presenting to a bunch of marketing/PR people who were listening to him and tweeting (and retweeting and reretweeting) his soundbytes.

I’m not trying to be a jerk or anything, but so many of the soundbytes I read ranged from the silly and obvious (“First thing to do in social media : do something you like”) to the completely insane (“Instead of collecting recipes, try opening a restaurant… just do it”). Obviously a lot of people got something out of the seminar because there are hundreds of tweets about it, so hooray for that and hooray for them.

But when I see things like “Social media humanizes the web. People do business with people!” and then I watch the echo chamber that is these marketers who are clogging up the tubes with this worthless pablum talking at other marketers who also are clogging up the tubes with the same pablum, I want to punch Social Media in the mouth and tell it to come correct or I am going to quit it. Can we give marketers their own private internet so they can talk to one another about marketing and how awesome it is to talk about marketing away from the rest of us?!

Here is what terrifies me: These people, these SELF-MADE SOCIAL MEDIA GURUS, are being looked to in some circles as tastemakers, as the people who have Something Important to Say about the future of publishing. And that is absolute and complete insanity. I’m sure Chris Brogan is a nice dude, and I bet he’s sharp as a tack (he’s made a career out of telling people things about the internet they likely already know), but for him to utter ANYTHING about the direction print media need to go in order to “make it” makes my blood absolutely boil.

Someone tweeted that Brogan said, “For paper media: Circulation is out. New model is content integration.” I’m sure that’s paraphrased.

But what the crap does it mean? No, really. What does that mean? Why would content integration need to exist independently of circulation? Is he using “circulation” to mean what it means in the news business?

Here’s a fun fact for those of you who don’t generally give two shits about newspapers but who like to pontificate about what newspapers need to do to “survive”:

People are content-hungry these days. People are consuming more information than they ever have before. People are reading the news that papers put out, and newspapers are struggling to keep up with the demand for relevant information while having their staffs gutted by short-sighted corporate overlords who refuse to look at anything other than the bottom line.

People are reading news on news websites. Yes. And people are discovering news via social media outlets. Yes. But newspapers aren’t making substantial operating money off of the web yet. They are making operational money — STILL — off of their print run. Specifically, the ads in the print run. Sure, it’s not boatloads of cash like those golden olden days, thanks in part to this tanked economy in which historically reliable major advertisers are being tight with the purse strings, but it’s enough to run an organization and put the paper out every day. Web ads do not bring in enough money to run an organization (unless you’re the L.A. Times, which is the only major newsroom I know of that claims its payroll is supported by the website). They just don’t. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the ad pricing model, maybe it’s the community being slow to want to advertise on the web, maybe Google really has fucked us, maybe we are not thinking outside the really annoying web ad box, maybe it’s a hex placed upon the future by the first person to ever witness a Blue Screen of Death. I don’t know.

But people want content. They are desperate for content. And we are fighting with all our might to give it to them, but the goal posts keep moving based on the whims of these random social media daydreamers.

If we keep monkeying with the way we treat content (blurring lines between advertising and news, cutting newshole way down, burying important yet unsexy stories, etc.) because we think the content is responsible for the lack of money made in our industry, we are dooming ourselves. I am not saying that the way we do content is perfect or doesn’t need work. I am saying that it’s possible — nay, likely — that in a better economy (that didn’t also hit at the same time as a total paradigm shift in information transmission), we would not appear to be in the throes of death. Because people would be advertising as robustly as ever, people would have extra cash to spend on internet experimentation, our space wouldn’t be shrinking and therefore making it look like we don’t have things to put into the paper, etc. etc. etc.

Looking to social media and its cheerleaders to make up for and fix what we have lost AND take us forward to a better place? Absolute madness. And, mind you, this is coming from a person who is all over the social web and has actively campaigned for greater newsroom attention to and interaction with the useful parts of social media. But let’s keep some perspective and not treat social media or its mavens as the publishing panacea, okay?

Oh, hell. Don’t listen to me (you weren’t anyway, I know). I am a dinosaur and I don’t know how to fix anything. If I did, I would have already fixed it and saved myself and my co-workers years of turmoil. And I’d finally have that goddamned intern I am always talking about.

What I DO know that it is absolutely criminal to be parroting some nonsensical wonkspeak about how the circulation model is out. That is not the reality of the situation in this moment and it smacks of intense ignorance to even float that idea. It’s not even radical; it’s just stupid.