October 3, 2009

October too pink for me

Pink is the wrong color for breast cancer. There's nothing soft about breast cancer, its treatments or its effects. Color breast cancer ashen or bloody or the tint of skin scabs. Color breast cancer the bright red or clear - the color of the chemo drugs pumped through your veins. Color breast cancer white for the sea of white coats that parade endlessly by. Color it silver, or black or ...

Yet, everywhere I look during the next 29 days, I'll see pink as the United States acknowledges October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A sea of pink ribbons sets the theme.

Even before my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, I disliked the commercialization of the fight to eliminate breast cancer. Collect yogurt lids or buy this or ... and the company will donate to this organization or that.

Some agree with me, some don't. The writer of the My Cancer Blog, sees it as a way to heighten awareness.

For another viewpoint, visit Think before you pink. The site also offers some questions to ask before you buy:
  • How much of your purchase will go to fight breast cancer?
  • Did the company put a cap on its "donation"?
  • Will buying the product spur a donation or do you need to do something more like buy something, visit a web site, etc.?
  • Is the money going to the right place? You know, one that spends more money on research or helping then raising money?
The explanation about the pink ribbon is a good read too.

October 1, 2009

'Bait & Switch? Retirees sue news company for unexpected health care changes

Bait and switch - that's what some former newspaper employees who retired early claim is happening in Ohio. They say they exchanged a lifetime job guarantee for lifetime health care benefits that now are disappearing dollar by co-pay.

Some Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal retirees and their union filed a federal class action suit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland saying they gave up lifetime job security in contract negotiations in exchange for an early retirement incentive program that guaranteed lifetime supplemental health care benefits, including "prescription-drug benefits requiring only minimal co-payments." Instead, their health care costs are increasing.

One person said the suit was necessary as her family's co-pays went from $100 a year to $6,000 a year.

BJ Alums, a blog about former employees of the Beacon Journal in Ohio, gives the details in Retirees sue BJ  Black Press over health care coverage. and includes a Cleveland Plain Dealer article about the suit and a press release with the title "Retirees Sue Akron Beacon Journal for "Bait-and-Switch" Scheme."

A Beacon Journal representative said the company is honoring the original agreement that enticed many to leave the newspaper when it was owned by Knight-Ridder.

A judge set the first hearing for Oct. 26 (Interesting comment on why the loss of benefits for on segment hurts many.). BJ Alums also collected comments and reposted them as a blog entry to encourage discussion.

September 30, 2009

Twitter tool makes it easy to follow a group

I've fallen in love with another Twitter application. Like Twibes, 
the application TweepML lets you pull together groups, then subscribe to the group with one click.

But TweepML pulls in the bio of each user and gives you the option to click on or off  the Twitter account you want to follow.  Plus, you can add Twitter names one by one or add a web address and TweepML will scan the list and pull out the Twitter names and bios for you.

It was the Almighty Link that showed it to me first when put together a list of people who frequently Twitter about journalism.
My first lists are for Girl Scout councils and another for Girl Scouts. I'll be adding more.If you're looking for another good list of folks to f

Will Michigan get its act together?

The annual Sept. 30 dance has begun in this household where one person works for the state of Michigan. You know, the state with a budget that begins on Oct. 1 every year, the state that can't get its act together enough to pass a budget so that my husband doesn't have to monitor the news to know if he works tomorrow.

No budget means no funding for employees. A layoff notice in mid-September warned that a no work day or two might be coming. A letter today tells employees to check the state web site or call a number to see if a last-minute deal got a budget, or at least enough money to jump start state government.

I'm 99.8 percent sure that something will happen between now and midnight. Yet, my husband worries his paycheck won't be automatically deposited tomorrow and an agreement won't be reached.

Me? I'm thinking the state legislators need to get their act together and quit wasting all the money and energy that goes into making these contingency plans, that goes into emptying our state parks and other facilities deemed non-essential. I wonder who updates the state web site or records the phone lines that employees call to see if the office is open. I worry that my husband worries.

Beyond my control: Mom with wheels watches daughter in cancer conflict

Today was a day of regrets, silent screams and tears. It was a day to give thanks that I use an electronic calendar, gas is cheaper then a year ago and someone invented heated car seats and blankets, medicines for allergies and multiple sclerosis, and cell phones with mapping and txting.

Medical staff confuse me with the push for a medical treatment and the back pedaling when circumstances steer us to another set of drugs or stopping treatment.. It's a full-court press when you are wanted in a drug trial, followed by assurances that being in the control group is OK too when required randomness places you in the non-treatment set..

Today, I learned that some medical test numbers are like statistics - you can make them say what you want. Last month, a score of 54 halted my daughter's chemo treatments. This morning, a 53 is good enough to resume chemo..Today becomes a day to do the chemo and add another drug to the arsenal, so we rearrange calendars, booking more tests and doctor visits in December, in March, in May in Michigan and others in Tennessee.

The same flakiness of the numbers is echoed in what my daughter wants me to do - listen or advise; drive or ride,sit in the lobby or wait with her in the doctor's office, fetch warmth or chase the bad guys, grab a bagel or make it a muffin. Choices on a day when I would prefer no decisions, no movement, no breathing, even. Yet, even in pain of heart and body, I want every minute possible with her as if it will make up for the time spent working when I could have been playing dolls or building castles.

I'd already started wondering at what point do all the drugs and the tests to monitor the drugs cause more harm then the cancer in a woman's body. The waiting room Time magazine on the progress of cancer treatment deos little to fix my fears.

The odometer keeps rolling, rolling, rolling - more then 230 miles today - as we add a new, but available, infusion center into today's lineup to fit in a chemo treatment and flu shot before she heads back to her job 600 miles away. We arrange routes on the fly as we bounce into detours, laughing when the multiple sclerosis mush makes it impossible for me to remember, much less distinguish directions. As the hours slip away, I rearrange my plans and send a silent prayer of thanks for the heated seats, portable ice packs and steroids.

Even the rest break - sandwiches and warm soups on this unexpected cool day - turns stressful when I see the overwhelming fatigue in my daughter's face and realize she's about to spend the next eight hours alone in airports and on roads on her way home. She gets mad when my eyes glisten with tears.

On the way to her first airport of the day, I'm shocked by spots and flushing on her face, too tired to mask my face so I scare her. By the time we reach the airport, her face is improving but the post-chemo fatigue kicks in. Still, it makes no sense for me to do more then drop her off - I can barely walk today and wouldn't be allowed past the security check. She plans to find the gate and rest. I promise to call, or at least txt her, to make sure she boards this plane and the next.

I hit the highways - more detours again. I pull off for txt breaks, but finally home.

Today, I regret deciding medical school was impossible. At times, I regret being a mother. All day, I regret being a mother whose daughter has/had breast cancer. Each regret pushes the refrain from Tom Rush's "No Regrets" through my brain. .
"No regrets. No tears goodbye
Don't want you back, we'd only cry, again
Say goodbye, again."
Over and over, I have to say goodbye to our daughter, let her grow up, let her be when I want to protect, make her whole, make her well. Through the evening and through the night, I txt until finally the one that says "I'm home" dashes across my screen. The 22-hour day ends.

Scary report looks at on how newspaper pensions doing

Mark Fitzgerald publishes a frightening look at pension plans of U.S. newspapers in his latest special report on Editor & Publisher.

Reading the report re-emphasizes why the Newhouse newspapers froze its defined pension plan in May, opting for contributions to employees 401k plans instead.

Fitzgerald explains why publishers are worried about the pension plans and why that has been a backburner issue.

Related posts:
Why May for pension changes?
Pension is frozen, not terminated

E&P follows New Jersey's decision to retire

Trade magazine Editor & Publisher talks to a Newhouse about Jim Willse's retirement from the Star-Ledger in an article following Monday's announcement.

There's information on the timing and the selection of his replacement. It leads a number of bloggers to conclude what this post claims: "buyouts, cutbacks didn't push Wilse into retirement."

Agreed - no one pushed or forced Jim out, but I think he could have worked much longer if the past year wasn't so painful or the upcoming one looked to be one that allowed an editor to concentrate on journalism, not numbers. The fact that he helped select a replacement and lined up the journalism course to teach shows the plan has been in the works for awhile.

Willse told Editor & Publisher he always intended to stay for another year past the 2008 buyout cuts:

I think it's healthy for an editor not to stay too long at the party. Considering the economics of the business, it is a time to have a change in leadership."

September 29, 2009

Site claims link to next editor of Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey

The "local" web site jumped in with a different message on upcoming changes at the New Jersey Star-Ledger by telling all new editor Kevin Whitmer grew up in the coverage area of Lehigh Valley Live. The site did a quick turnaround so neighbors of the new guy could learn more about Jim Willse's replacement.

The article contains this nugget:
"He began his career answering phones in the sports department at The Courier-News in Bridgewater, N.J."

showing someone remembers or knows how to use the archive system.

Does Star-Ledger editor retiring mean less news coming?

Another goodbye at an Advance Publications was announced to staff Monday at noon and I don't think it's the last one.

Jim Willse, editor of the Star-Ledger, announced today he's retiring in October - a quiet sendoff, please - and that managing editor Kevin Whitmer, 42, will take his place.

I'm surprised Willse has stayed as long as he did, yet grateful that he did. The 65-year-old editor told staff he plans to travel - I hope he gets to sample more of his favorite jazz, Celtic and world music, and Celtic first hand. He also said he will continue teaching, becoming a visiting professor at Princeton University where he's taught and spoken numerous times since coming to the New Jersey newspaper in the 1995.

Willse is a great Scrabble opponent so I hope there's time for that too.

It's been a painful year for Willse who came to the Star-Ledger when hiring was possible and watched about 200 people leave his newsroom in the past year. At a Princeton University symposium on Newspapers in Crisis in May, Willse recalled how Dec. 31, 2008, the day 150 walked away with buyouts, was one of the worst in his professional career, almost a "mass funeral."

Some wrote off any hope of the news organization recovering from losing so many experienced reporters, editors and employees. Yet as noted on his DNA2009 bio, the organization has morphed into surviving organization. It has taken changes, including revising the Ledger Live video program, hiring replacements at a  wage that even Willse agreed was not good and sharing political coverage with other New Jersey newspapers.

I think you get a hint that more bad times are coming if you listen to what Willse says to editorial interns, at symposiums, in video, on podcasts, and online. There's always a cautionary intro that no plans are made, are solid but I think the three-days-a-week publishing schedule of the Advance Publications in Bay City, Flint, and Saginaw, Michigan, is likely to happen in New Jersey and other cities with Newhouse newspapers.

At a  lunch with interns, Willse echoed what he said at the Newspapers in Crisis symposium: Nearly all of the advertising revenue at the Star-Ledger comes from three days -- Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. He drops hints that a news company could still effectively inform its readers by  printing three days a week and relying on a news website on other days.

In May, he warned that newspapers need to get out of the printing and distribution business and restructure the newsroom. One report quotes Willse saying
“Of our 330 journalists, half were involved in processing the news as opposed to generating the news. We have to concentrate on journalism that matters, and on good writing.”
You know that's why he was pleased to bring back a political reporter in time for the governor's race.

Willse, who grew up with a father who shared what he read, always knew the type of news organization he wanted - shocked that when he came the Star-Ledger did not have its own photography department, pleased with the Pulitizer Prize that came once it did. (See After the Fire. a project that Willse credits with helping to build morale in the newsroom in his interview with The Digital Journalist.)

Willse carried the torch for watchdog journalism.

“Newspapers find things that people don’t want the public to know," he said at the May symposium. "It’s hard. Sometimes you get a story, sometimes you don’t.” 
A dogged reporter like Dustan McNichol (who also speaking that day), “would read stuff that no one else would read.” With the buyout, Willse said, “all that went away.”"

That same day, Willse related that he had just hired 24 reporters at $700 a week, prompting an audience member to ask where Willse thought those reporters, making $36,000 a year, might live — in a pup tent?

After the laughter stopped, Willse agreed that the new hires are “clearly not a long-term solution. We can’t survive by indulging in child exploitation.”

He has many ideas for the 400-level course, Inside the News Business, on the spring 2010 schedule. The description promises to help students to understand where news comes from; why it matters; the digital revolution, citizen journalism; the economics of news; and where it is headed.

Willse can teach that because he hasn't stopped learning, recently a fellow for the Knight Foundation's Transforming news organizations for a digital future, on Jeff Jarvis's Guardian Media Talk USA podcast discussing the CUNY New Business Models for News recommendations, and elsewhere.

He thinks about possibilities - and is willing to discuss them, then change his mind. Remember a joint community guide? Or these projects?

It is not surprising that he's returning to Princeton, where he has been a short-term fellow at Princeton, including in 2001-02 when he taught "Documentary Journalism" as the Harold McGraw '40 Professor of Writing and the current Ferris Professorship of Journalism and Public Relations.
A video of the presentation, Newspapers in Crisis in the Region, is still available at Princeton. Or watch the video below, when Willse talked with The Star-Ledger's Brian Donohue about the future of the paper in October 2008.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping Jim will have time to drag out the virtual Scrabble game once more.

Ledger Live - 10-08-08

I've written about the Star-Ledger before.

Some want to go and cannot

It's a hypothetical story that rings true ... an employee who wants to leave but doesn't get the buyout offer while some who want to stay get the offer.

September 28, 2009

Oregonian employees weighing new buyout offer

A week after employees at The Oregonian said farewell to its publisher, many employees received a buyout offer and warning of layoffs.

A story with a byline of Peter Bhatia, executive editor, was posted on OregonLive.com early Friday afternoon, with a copy of the  letter and the buyout agreement sent to employees posted on Oregon Media Central.

The buyout, less generous then previous offers, was offered to all news employees and some employees in the advertising and circulation departments. The offer gives employees two weeks of pay for each year of service, plus health care for an equivalent period, capped at six months. Employees also will get compensation for unused sick and vacation time. In August 2008, about 100 employees took a buyout that offered up to two years of pay and health benefits.

Among the position eligible are sales assistants, prepress systems operators, dispatch messengers, and imaging specialists in the advertising department and circulation zone managers, The positions and age of the person now in the positions are listed in the buyout document,   but the company can reject the agreements if too many accept by the Nov. 9 deadline. Interim publisher Patrick Stickel also warned that if enough people do not accept, the likelihood of layoffs increases when a longtime company pledge of no layoff due to technology or a bad economy ends Feb. 5, 2010.

(I can't figure out if The Oregonian employee who wanted a buyout in 2008 and sued is eligible. Can you?)

Any employee who the company agrees can go will be gone by Dec. 26, 2009, although the last date of employment is up to The Oregonian. Most people expect they would be asked to stay through mid-December as the weeks leading up to Christmas are among the busiest for most newspaper advertisers.

Those offered the chance to take a buyout won't be replaced directly. Instead, Stickel said the work will be reassigned or done in a way that will save the company money

The company froze its defined-benefit pensions in May and reduced most Oregonian employees' pay up to 10 percent this year. Also, the company began using unpaid furloughs - now 10 days - as a way of controlling expenses. Editor Sandy Rowe's pay was cut 15 percent, the same cut that the two Stickels, Fred and Patrick, said they were taking.

The Oregonian is part of Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family.

I've written about The Oregonian before.

Catchup: More on the Newhouse job pledge, Alabama lawsuit, Birmingham Eccentric, The Rapidian

Let's clean out my inbox which is filing up because my daughter returned to Michigan temporarily for some cancer checkups and my friend MS decided to remind me who is boss despite my three-day booking at American Sewing Expo.

AdvanceInternet is moving closer to getting its new community features working. Still, I had to laugh when I tried to read  blogger Andrew Heller's "I'm back and that's a good thing, right?" on mlive.com. He starts:
"After a week away, like MacArthur, I have finally returned. Believe me, this mini blog vacation was not my idea. Mlive, bless their Mlivey hearts, decided to upgrade the look of its blogs, and in doing so they gave we bloggers a brand new updated upload interface. That didn't work. At least for me."
See, when I clicked on the headline in Google Reader I got an "404 Not Found" error page. I navigated my way to Andy's column, read a few more lines and then tried to get the "full story." Ha. Ha.

I noticed that a few news sites are admitting problems - see the Grand Rapids Press' Trouble logging into Mlive accounts?  - and some are writing their own versions of explaining the features. Check out how Niki Doyle, social media editor for The Huntsville Times, explains to use the new tools. Or read The Jersey Guy's "Welcome to the new, improved NJ.com" for a big picture view.

I'd comment on any of the Advance Internet sites, but still seem to run into trouble with authentication. (Update: The password recovery page is working. I think my problems are due to being a former blogger as I start at mlive.com and end up at nj.com or the blog login site.)

In 'Newhouse Pledge,' Job Security, Now Relics of Once-Thriving Newspaper Industry, a  former Advance Publications employee reacts to the soon-to-be extinct Newhouse no-layoff pledge and an ex-publisher cites the ending of the pledge in his lawsuit.

Mark Holan, now a freelance writer looking for work and working on a book says that some  Mobile Press-Register employees told him that Howard Bronson is a hero for taking on Newhouse, but others worry that they'll face more financial pain and job insecurity if he prevails.

While we are on the suit, Lagniappe had a followup post to the the suit in Bronson takes on P-R. Rob Holbert quotes Howard Bronson's lawyer, shares that some employees are expecting the Newhouse newspapers in Alabama to consolidate, and that longtime Advertising Director Larry Wooley has retired. Holbert also reviews the lawsuit again, pulling out details about Bronson's improvements during his years as head of the news organizations and plans such as reducing the size of the newspaper page.

So, how about a happier ending - a community winning its fight to keep its community newspaper going. Gannett wanted to close a Michigan weekly - The Birmingham Eccentric - but the community objected.
InVocus Media Blog has an update on the effort, which just passed another deadline. Katrina M. Randall also shares how the newspaper staff is changing its efforts as a result of the community.

Over on the west side of Michigan, a new citizen journalism effort officially launched. Thanks to Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University, there's been a healthy discussion of some of the coverage of the opening of The Rapidian. There was praise for a Grand Rapids Press editorial:
"This is an exemplary editorial from the Grand Rapids Press welcoming @TheRapidian, a citizen journalism site, to the local news scene. No snark, no hostility, no insinuation that the "only the pros know" and a sense that in the rebooted system of news such sites will be a valuable part of the ecosystem."
That followed discussion prompted by an NPR piece.  Did the piece - Take That, Citizen Journalism! - miss?

I plan to write more about The Rapidian . Meanwhile, enjoy checking out the site.