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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Banished to the real estate section

I see that the O is bouncing their Portland City Hall reporters off that beat. In fact, all sorts of writers at that paper are reportedly having their jobs re-defined -- again.

Like most Advance (Newhouse) newspapers, the O is always shuffling its reporters around. Just when they start to learn the subjects on which they've been writing for a few years, off they are sent to some new, unfamiliar, and often heaven-forsaken assignment. One day you're covering Portland City Hall, the next day you're writing up the doings of the Gresham fire department. One day you're covering First Thursday, the next day you're an urban renewal expert. It's like term limits for politicians, only a lot shorter and less predictable.

Why do they do this? I have several theories. First, it keeps everyone in the organization constantly on the edge of their seats, thankful that they have a job in the wonderful Newhouse family, and ever mindful of what can happen if they don't do as they're told. Thoughts like "You want a start a union?" are replaced by "Do your kids eat a lot?"

Second, the constant, mindless rotation ensures that the reporters are never smarter about their beats than their editors, which effectively prevents the writers from developing their own angles and perspectives on stories for a long time. If the folks in the field don't know what they're doing, they'll have to call for help from the mothership on Broadway, which will always feed the approved spin.

And third (a related point), it enables the local political and business leaders to pull the wool over the newly reshuffled reporters' eyes. This comes in especially handy when the writers are about to identify the fallacies in the positions adopted on the publication's editorial page.

Overall, the game of musical beats keeps the paper nice and dumb, which is the way the Advance organization seems to like it best. Our sympathies to all the journalists who are being needlessly displaced -- and misplaced.

Comments (34)

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Thoughts like "You want a start a union?" are replaced by "Do you kids eat a lot?"

That nails it. Keep 'em guessing and keep 'em quiet.

Exactly correct.

The dissections of their motivation finds more thoughtiness than they show in any other facets. Such as performance, reader satisfaction, advertiser results, ...

Have you considered simply: Ineptitude.

Narrow-minded news for a nonexistent audience.

I dunno. On my relatively rare bus ride today, I sat next to an elderly gal who was deeply engrossed in her copy of the morning O.

Meanwhile, another source tells me that both Portland City Hall reporters requested that they be taken off that assignment. Interesting.

Unfortunately they haven't (to my knowledge anyway) rotated Betsy Hammond from her PERS beat. I know this is a tough battle, but in my opinion, Betsy Hammond is the most thoroughly inept, stupid, and incompetent reporter the "O" currently employs. She's the only person who can take a court ruling that's crystal clear and twist it up and make it unrecognizeable on the front page of the Metro section or, worse, the 'O' front page. If I weren't a student of the court's rulings on all things PERS, she could convince me that the most recent Court ruling concluded that PERS should simply rob, at gunpoint, all current employees to pay for current retirees. I could not believe what I was reading. Nor could any of the attorneys for either side or the Judge in the case - all of whom have gone out of their way to inform their clients that Betsy Hammond must have been writing about a case decided in another galaxy. She's that bad. She should be writing obits.

You are spot on, Jack.

I would add that the O needs to add "experts" like economists,
planners, attorneys, etc. when they delve in to those topics; even if the reporters weren't shuffled so often, because I have found many of the reporters covering city/region issues lacking research, knowledge of the issues they are reporting.

Also the O should consider the merits of reporter longevity. The history, nuisances of issues many times are left out because of a reporter's short life or experiences with the subject matter.

And Jonathan Nicholas moving to the editorial staff, as announced in one of his recent columns...who thought that was a good idea?

Really? Editorial, as in reporter? Wow, I hope Quarterflash's retirement plans are considered hard news.

No, I see it's that he'll be writing editorials. Just when I thought they were as out-of-touch as could be!

Well, you found an exception to my post regarding longevity. Nicholas is an example where longevity at the O has created a total mindset-beyond reporting and seeing both sides of an issue-and likely not a good addition to the editorial board. But, probably with these kind of credentials he'll fit right in.

Whatever the Stickels want, I'm sure...

Could be they are mostly Interns working to build diverse work histories and buy the O's constant shuffle as an effort in helping them achieve their goals.

When the newspapers bounce back (which could happen any day now) the dupes will have first position in the Newhouse Nutworks.

I don't remember any staffing reshuffle as widespread as this current round, but it's always been common for The Oregonian's beats to shift regularly. Ambitious reporters like to move up, reporters like to go where the action is (is it City Hall these days?), editors like to mix things up and sometimes people are exiled to beats or bureaus not of their choosing.

I spent 4 years at The O (many years ago) and worked three different beats. On the flip side, I've been working for Portland Public Schools for less than three years, and this will be the third set of reporters covering us. (We've had new reporters covering us from WW and The Trib, too, not to mention a revolving cast of characters at many of the TV stations).

I don't have much insight into the current round of assignments (my husband generally lives in his TV writing bubble on the 5th floor). But I know both reporters covering Portland schools asked to be taken off the beat, for good professional and personal reasons (or maybe they were tired of me. . . ). We'll miss Paige and Scott -- they had done their homework and knew where to look for stories, people and the numbers -- but I have no reason to expect the new reporters are anything but pros.

As far as "keeping everyone on the edge of their seats" and thankful to work for the Newhouses -- I'd guess newspaper reporters reading the wires on massive layoffs at urban newspapers around the country are already on the edge of their seats. The O's reporters, however, do take comfort in publisher Fred Stickel's promise not to lay off any fulltime reporter for economic reasons. That promise is about as rare in newspaper newsrooms these days as a non-union shop.

I rest my case.

Jonathan Nicholas, plagiarist at large, writing editorials? Beautiful.

Non-union newsrooms = clerks writing news stories and not getting paid reporters' wages.

Pay inequity sucks. When women reporters aren't paid as much as their male counterparts, this also sucks. Unions are helpful in this sort of matter.

Then you have Tom Hallman and his parking spot, paid for by the subject of one of his puff pieces. Yet he doesn't lose his job over this.

Then you have reporters who only leave the building for press junkets, otherwise they're in the Velvet Coffin with their telephones.

I comprende the plight of papers, and the 'news industry,' facing the fullspeed internets bulldozer levelling their redoubts indubitably; but, their lust for power of ruling news control, beyond council or conciliation, offered and opportune, now is suffocating them in their sans serif, unrelieved, and no mercy comes paying them forward.
The world was theirs if they had shared and shared in it; now they're not the world's.

Call it like you see him, but I like Jonathan N.-nuh-nuh-nuhnn's snap crackle period. The one time we met dodging left-right-left-right going opposite ways through a doorway, I stopped him and asked why he came to this Oregon place, I was born here, what's his excuse? And he's the only one who ever answered it my way, as if it's the most casually obvious thing -- and it is: "Because of the land, just look at its greatness and spirit." See, nothing about 'the people here,' although that is logically sequitor.

Talk of B. Hammond, the house organista, reminds me of another tale. She worked there, and a mainstay, quite a while and one time put a 5,000-word trompe double-truck on a topic, (I won't disclose), and she left some things out. Deep deep background things I happened to know -- by magic, (believe this word 'magic' or you're lost). She was very well versed, and completely stunned when I offered her verses she had left out. So we confabbed a half day(!) -- extraordinary, and she queried less what I knew than how I knew it. If she'd believed in magic from the get-go, we'd have finished in short half-an-hour. Her byline, and presence in the building, was never seen again, from that day on. Years later I realized she had been victim of surveillance recording the conference room, and had overqualified herself for servile silence by talking to me. I'm sorry, Miss X, I was partly to blame and I never had got that remorsed.

It goes on. The beat that beats-all is the new rave in The City, a tickling trick Willy Week might right steal from the old dogged blue Village Voice: Ask a Mexican!

Ya' gotta love comedy: How the News Works. Funny papers.

Really? Editorial, as in reporter?

Reporters writing editorials...sounds like the standard for the Oregonian news pages to me.

Every day thousands of scared, uneducated folks struggle to bring unions to their work place in an attempt to improve their situation. Do you think maybe the reporters ought to pull their suspenders up and fight for themselves.

Union! Union! Union! (all Norma Rae here...)

Unemployment! Unemployment! Unemployment!

Oh, right. There's that.

I posted some suggestions for Thee O's reporters on my blog. And gave you a shout-out.

The Oregonian: where sexual harassers are rewarded with better jobs, decent reporters are banished to the burbs, plagiarists are promoted to the editorial board, cub reporters are brought in at higher salaries than experienced staff, and columnists don't know how to do Google searches.

If ever there was a workplace in need of a union, this is it. (Some long-time Portland residents may recall the brutal history of union busting at the O.)

And now comes the Portland Public Schools PR flack flattering the next batch of reporters (who she hopes will be as amenable to her spin as the last batch), sucking up to Mr. Stickel on behalf of her husband, and disparaging unionism all in one broad stroke.

Anyone at the O who trust's Stickel's "promise" better make sure their resume is in good shape.

I don't quite get that. By tradition, reporters, who get out in the real world with real people, where travel is broadening, exposure to various cultures and different ways and idioms, so then are more experienced and know more, than stick-in-the-mud if not dog-in-the-manger curmudgeon, then gruff, editorial writers.

Example, the editorializer whose "yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," has harped on grandparents' heart strings with sentiment strokes, over a century -- schmaltz max and pure poppycock, but reverie of 'the way it should be that I'd like to remember,' so contagious among aging consciousnesses. Whereas, Virginia's parents or any cub reporter, about the same age and a younger generation, if asked about Santa by the kid, would whack her with rude tough-love truth -- 'no, kid, there ain't no Santa, get over it and get to sleep, or else you'll get a stocking of coal for your Santa sass, what, do you think gift wrap grows on trees?'

Or, second example of reporter turning into editorializer in a single person, is Mark Twain. He had his chops when he had fresh material, piloting up and down the mighty Mississip -- too thick to drink, too thin to plough. Adventures aplenty, ferrying Civil War gunpowder and mortars up and down, boatloads you hope don't explode, dodging zinging rifle balls from shoreline snipers. Then he gets old and all moralistic, how slavery is inhuman and war is never right: ideal editorial lecturing candidate.

It's to be hoped reporters may write editorials -- they flex, they know more and are accurate. After too long preaching to the buyer, editorialists get set in their legends in their own mind -- witness: the dunkirks on Broadway, brain-stale biscuits for Bush, still fighting the last war; or, witness: me, I suppose.

So here comes neighborhood bicycling Nicholas, here comes hope, I hope. If anything, his fault might be nuance where nagging's the need. Pioneer raw-landed types talk and take rough stuff, not lyrics.

Besides, Nicholas ain't no reporter. He's a gossip and gwendolyn, griffyn and gayday, if he goes to stone it's the gargoyle's gout. He doesn't endorse candidates, he endorses democracy in its idyll idea. Much butter, no peanuts -- smear without the crunch. It's a wonder he can rope and ride, he's probably one of them there whisperers.

And besides all that, why the gaffaws? He sure can't do no worse. Newspapers are dead and gone, anyway, it could be fitting a couplet to rhyme on the headstone.

'I don't quite get that, for Jon's reprise of Jack's remark: "Really? Editorial, as in reporter?"'

"nuisances of issues "

Freudian slip, Jerry?

It does seem that many can't be bothered with parsing issues.

And I agree that independent experts are needed. The way it is now, a compromised cop, judge or prosecutor can control conversation for years and years, becuase whistle blowers are attacked and discredited and the folks at the O don't seem to care about doing the research that will yield the real story.

In the words of Randy Leonard,
"I don't want to alienate myself by taking a principaled stance"

I frimly believe our local "journalists" are petrified of being alienated should they accurately report and clash with the ,,,shall we say official agenda?

I don't know if it's just me; but does anyone else find it amazing that someone as irrelevent as Johnathan Nicholas is going to write editorials for the "O"? I've always wondered why they even employ this guy. And who reads him?
Oh - and let's not forget the ECONOMICS of newspapers these days are going down the tubes. Just today, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that many real estate brokerages are shifting their advertising dollars to the internet. Kiss that sunday real estate section goodbye in the "O" in months to come. Especially with a growing number of homes on the market in this area and lower sales numbers.

"... someone as irrelevent as Johnathan Nicholas" Actually, most of the entire "O" is irrelevant and has been for some time. I haven't subscribed to the O for 5 or 6 years.

While Fred Stickel tries to keep the "O" afloat most of society is moving on. And as long as they continue their consistent presentation of biases, and denying that they exist and not changing, more and more readers will abandon the "O" habit.

In the early to mid 20th Century, the railroad tycoons didn't grasp the simple concept that their industry was about transporting people and materials, NOT about being a railroad. Otherwise, they would have seen the need to adapt to the new technologies emerging at the time (see Trucks and Airplaines).

What's so hard about giving us the NEWS in a daily NEWSpaper?


All I was trying to say is that reporting the news and giving your opinion (editorializing) are two separate things. Some O writers routinely editorialize outside of the op-ed page...and that distorts the real news.

Roger that. Maybe we're seeing Truth in Labeling starting?

Cynthia: "nuisances of issues", sorry I don't spell check, but I like the Freudian Slip better than the intent.


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