Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Smoking Gun...

Ahh. The Sad State of the Local


by Nap

The interim editor of the Chestnut Hill Local seems intent on appeasement; editing or omitting letters that she perceives would offend the powers that be in hopes of becoming permanent editor (hah… fat chance). She barely knows how to send an email or save a file, let alone run a newspaper. The direction of the Local seems to be heading towards a recipe swap and household hints newsletter.

The other week, just a couple of days prior to press, a special advertising section that had been planned/pushed/sold for months had been completely forgotten. No content ready for it whatsoever.

In every edition there are typos and typos and typos. A date in the calendar section is for 2005! An editor printing out e-mails & attachments to be typed in. And that’s just off the top of my head.

All the moaning and groaning about the current paper, although for the most part legitimate, overlooks basic facts. The emotional politics surrounding these events have resulted in departed Local staffers rising to a martyr-like status!

The truth is the Local has been going downhill in content for years. I never thought I would miss Katie Worrell. Jim Sturdivant is an excellent writer and was an incredible asset to the paper his first go around in that capacity. The truth is however, that when he returned as editor he ceased writing. In a paper as small as the Local, editors still write stories. Except for editorials, which were usually top notch (perhaps a few lacking in judgment, but from a writing standpoint second to none) he wrote NOTHING.

Things under his byline were pretty much verbatim press releases. He spent all day surfing the internet and subscribing to just about every internet news list under the sun.

His main contribution to each weekly edition was his editorial, and playing with fonts and reverse headlines on top of photographs as if he had just taken "Quark 101 - Fun with Layout.” Although the current Local is as bland as milquetoast, at least it doesn’t look like an 8th grade graphics art project.

Michael Mishak had talent and great promise. Unfortunately in his early days, he lacked strong leadership and someone to show him the ropes – where the “do-not-cross” line was. His early stories while fun to read, seemed as if he wanted the Local to be the New York Post, and he was a bit quick to print without significant fact checking, and any serious attempt to obtain a comment from the subject of his stories. He tended to cross the line in his stories from news reporting to editorial. The lack of objectivity was apparent. Jim had the experience and strength to give him guidance, and Michael’s maturation as a reporter over his last year there was clear.

Here’s the problem. The Local is more than just a paper, it’s also a business. It’s got to bring in enough to cover its costs. The sad truth is that under Jim it was run as neither. No one handed out assignments to cover stories. The editor didn’t give a rat's ass over things like: Dropping Circulation; Decreasing Ad Revenues; Inefficient Layout Practices; A Brand New Database Not Being Used.

NO ONE WAS IN CHARGE! NO ONE IS IN CHARGE!

Maxine Dornneman isn’t qualified to lead anything (although she gets a much worse rap here than what she deserves - people here tend to give her evil sinister motivations. It's more just plain incompetence), much less than a 50 person board. She’s a mediator by training, for Christ’s sake (and supposedly a good one – although you could never tell by the factions that the association has splintered into). Being a mediator gave her a style of "Managing by Consensus," which is not leading.

Besides, consensus of a 50 person board is impossible.

The publishers committee is for what exactly? Under the bylaws it has no power, it does nothing.

I look at the posts on this blog and I laugh… so many people know so little. Most of the people involved think that the world revolves around the CHCA and them. I’d be willing to bet that a significant percentage of the Local's readership had no idea until lately that the CHCA even owned the local, and that the vast majority of them are sick of 50 percent of the front section content being dedicated to narcissistic preening of people with a lot to say that no one wants to hear.

Ahh. I could go on for ever, but work beckons.

In future pieces I’ll lay some real juicy tidbits on you all… really blow some minds. I just wanted to let you know where I’m coming from. I’ve got no political axes to grind; I’m not personally invested in one side or the other. I’m just trying to keep it real.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post - as an outsider who does not get all the insider comments, your views on moving on make sense. But even I can tell the editing stinks and I am often surprised by the # of writing errors. Then again, all papers have them; ours simply has a lot more.

The CHCA and paper need to move on. If some people need to step aside to clear the air and make that possible, then they should. That's how someone puts an organization above themselves. Take the Nixonian path, not the Clintonian path.

Thu Feb 16, 08:53:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I read Pam Waters letter in the Local correctly? It appears she has rather seriously charged Lawrence Walsh with sexual harassment (of whom, she does not say). That's a damn serious charge and not the sort of thing to be bandied about lightly. I hope someone takes her to task on this.

Thu Feb 16, 08:56:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To say that Jim Sturdivant didn't write anything is a real dumb thing to put out there. He wrote more than YOU or anything that current joy of an editor writes.

People buy the product because the product has something of value to it. In this case, a newspaper, has to have news, events, stories, INTEREST for the people to find in it to BUY - TO KEEP THE BUSINESS GROWING. In your case, its the revenue created to pay your bogus salary.

Did we take Business 101? Does the supply equal the demand? How do we create demand?

Innovation takes the willingness to come up with new ideas, not recycle old criticisms.

Thu Feb 16, 10:58:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Germantown Cruiser said...

It seems to me Jim DID write a fair number of stories during his tenure. However, when the wolves are howling in your office and board members are sticking the nose in all aspects of the newspaper (see When All Else Fails, Rework The Truth...), you get diverted from a continuity of thought. More to the point, juggling all the balls the current directorial crop threw at him seemed to hve consumed too much time. And to whose advantage was this?

Thu Feb 16, 12:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Just another Nappy Head said...

Ahh... feedback/criticism to the nappy one! Let me take on this jive BS one point at a time.

Jim Sturdivant did write much more than ME... I'm not a writer for the Local.

If you think my comments "dumb" (Imaginative adjective. I love your command of the English language -- you must work for the local -- and to think people criticize ebonics), point out some articles he wrote while editor, other than editorials that weren't fluff pieces copied verbatim from some press release.

(It's ironic, that while that was Jim's main concern with the possible direction of the paper - becoming a PR rag for the CHCA - a concern that I agree with, he chose to regularly run almost verbatim stuff that PR flacks for other people sent him)

Absolutely the paper needs something interesting to sell papers. That's one of the unspoken points of my original post... that the paper's really lame... people in the street don't give a shit about all this crap. They do care about the Commerce Bank debacle etc. BUT NO ONE IS ASSIGNED TO WRITE STORIES! Not since Katy Worrel has there been any consistent effort to assign stories to writers.

I'm very amused by your "bogus salary" crack. It's actually accurate, although not in the manner you intended.

Bogus
bo•gus - adj. -
1 - not genuine
2 - incorrect

What makes you think I draw a salary from the Local? I don't!

I have no idea what "courses," business or otherwise, all of "you" took. You create demand by putting out an interesting paper that people take seriously and want to read!

So... where are your "new ideas?"

Thu Feb 16, 12:41:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I recall at the December CHCA board meeting, it was reported that the economic news about the Local was good -- it was in the black. Rumor is the paper finished up for the year. Yes, it's a business. But more importantly it was a trusted information source, a source now tainted by the actions of the board and their three insiders who instigated the attempted management coup in November. We can only hope when the new editor is chosen, it is someone with a good feel for newspapers; a journalist and not a a PR stand-in.

Thu Feb 16, 07:32:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

‘Dumb’ is the appropriate word used for what I think of your criticisms. You lack the intelligence to know any better. You disrespect others, if only to make yourself feel vindicated at some level. The ‘NOTHING’ that Sturdivant wrote is just your negatively biased opinion. There is no truth or fact to that statement. What you really mean to say is that anything that Sturdivant had produced was of little or no value to you, as an opinion.

For you to admit that he:
A. wrote much more than you and
B. confided to us that your not a writer for the Local, you ruin your own credibility on the subject.

“He spent all day surfing the internet and subscribing to just about every internet news list under the sun.”

AND What makes ME think that YOU draw a salary from the Local? Well when you state things like the above, you put yourself in the office somehow. How do you know what he was doing on his computer? Were you recording his activities? A fly on his wall surveying him at every angle? Up his ass at every intersection?

Your blog is a waist of eye movement if you will. Its defaming and slanderous, the spread of a lie told as a fact.

It seems that people have a hard time discerning fact from opinion when dealing with the Local.

Ps. I’m glad you know how to use a dictionary, but a computer can’t assume an intelligent thought for you.

Fri Feb 17, 12:33:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about you are a FORMER Local staffer who worked there under Katie Worral and John Lombardi? How about you are the reporter who once wrote an article about how difficult it is to get a good haircut? (Your moniker does suggest an above-average interest in hair.) It doesn't really matter who you are, but presenting yourself as the ultimate insider is bound to invite speculation.

Fri Feb 17, 03:54:00 PM EST  
Blogger Just another Nappy Head said...

I guess the Nappy one knows how to stir the pot! :-)

Boy is the CH gumbo cooking these days! (John must love the spike in hits)

Some things I know, some things I hear, some things I see.

One of the things I can see with my own eyes, is the lack of any news stories written by Jim during his gig as editor.

Contrary to your assertions, the things Jim wrote had great value to me as an opinion -- to use your own words.

I loved Jim's writing. Most of his opinions I agreed with, in a very few cases I disagreed with his opinion; either way his written opinions had great value to me. I don't dismiss opinions that don't agree with my own.

My statements of fact are, that as editor of a small paper, where historically the editors have helped out in writing actual news articles, Jim didn't!

Please... go through the archives, either paper ones or on line, and show me one significant news story - not opinion - under Jim's byline that wasn't much more than a copy/paste of a press release.

You're right... this nappy head wasn't up Jim's ass while he was surfing the internet... that's just what I've heard. I've also heard at one point the email server was at it's capacity limit -- with a major culprit all the newsletters he subscribed to. Do I have positive knowledge of this? No... but it's of more validity that 50% of the allegations on this blog that I know are false!

One thing I do know, because I read the local with my own two eyes. I know that he wrote no hard news stories, and had minimal interest in making sure someone was assigned to cover known events of significance to Chestnut Hill.

He was a great writer; he wasn't a horrible editor; he was a nice guy, and didn't deserve to be treated like he was. He wasn't and isn't the perfect godlike martyr that people in this forum make him out to be.

Fri Feb 17, 08:18:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Scott Alloway said...

As a staff member of the Local with knowledge of the servers (mail and inhouse) and their capacities, I can address the e-mail issue. It was loaded with mail, yes, but not to capacity. Individual staff had high-load storage issues, but I don't recall anyone maxing out. It's hard to get people to delete their material after saving it to disk.

Sat Feb 18, 06:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger James Sturdivant said...

I am no longer surprised to hear egregious lies dropped like leaflets on the heads of a disinterested public, but this cavalcade of character assaults is both disgusting in the extreme and an embarrassment to the poster.

Nap seems to think that by slamming a wide spectrum of individuals, any one criticism will appear more credible. Didn't work. Nap appears to be looking out mainly for Nap (and how Nap hopes to get his/her ducks in a row regarding future career moves at the paper or elsewhere) in everything Nap posts. In this regard, Nap is probably cleverer than I was in announcing to the board exactly why I left. Casual slander is a key survival tactic at 8434 Germantown Ave. and Nap has apparently drunk deep from that well.

Where do I begin? Not writing stories? I wrote one almost every week. I could pick dozens of examples, but, for simplicity's sake, let's just look at the last month I was at the Local. Ask the people at the Wissahickon Skating Club or Morris Arboretum if I took press releases and put my byline on them. Ask Stewart Graham about the article I wrote on Chestnut Hill recycling. Ask the Friends of Pastorius Park. The Jenks Home and School Association. Ask anyone I came into contact with professionally -- except, of course, Nap.

Not assigning stories? Of course I did. Mike and I also hashed out story ideas together. Weekly, and at length.

Newsgroups? Didn't belong to any. Internet surfing? Not much (how would Nap know, anyway? I had a private office). I had my favorite newspaper sites and WFMU (freeform radio that way it ought to be) streaming live on Monday evenings, when Mike and I were at the office sometimes until 9 or 10 p.m. Nap must have me confused with folks in the office who spent way too much of their time dialing up show tunes and scrolling through pictures from their last vacation.

Frankly, Mike and I worked our asses off. We were dedicated and downright fussy about the slant of stories and look of the front page. That little paper kept me up nights on Monday and Tuesday. It was a high-tension race to the finish line each week, what with our small staff and commitment to being NW Philly's newspaper of record. Some weeks were great; others fell short, sometimes gut-wrenchingly so. I was far from perfect, but I did a mighty good job with what I was given.

How dare you, Nap. I'm sure you know better.

Tue Feb 21, 06:32:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Nappy, do the initials P.M. mean anything to you? If they don't, please say so. I wouldn't like to defame the above individual, since your post -- while more moderate in recent comments -- seems unfair, unkind, increasingly inaccurate and more than a little egotistical. It does seem to be all about the napster, doesn't it?

P.S. You're attempt at ebonics is silly.

Wed Feb 22, 09:45:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nappy, you contradict your views.
your not true to one iota of fact, fiction or opinion. give up those fighting gloves. your round is over.you have no hook, swing or punch.

Thu Feb 23, 12:56:00 AM EST  

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