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Monday, December 15, 2008

Trib implosion continues

As we've expected for a while now, Phil Stanford has left the building, along with the paper’s top designer and copy editor, Denise Szott. And with that, the great hope that once was the Trib has officially come to an end. Ah, well. It was a great gift to Portland while it lasted.

Of course, here's hoping that the stripped-down version of the organization limps along for a long time. It's better than nothing.

Comments (15)

That is a real shame.

In its hey day, the Trib dug deep into stories the other papers didn't want to dig into, yet didn't necessarily involve backroom BJs.

Phil Stanford is a treasure. I really liked his punchy prose and his ability to distill complex issues into soundbites digestible to the masses like me.

Tribune management couldn't find snow in a blizzard.

They played it safe and hedged their bets from Day One, rather than dare to be exciting. They acted like the paper was required reading, and it wasn't. The Trib will always have a place in my heart, but the frustration of the untapped potential made me grouchy for most of my 150-plus columns there. We needed an old-fashioned newspaper war and we got a bunch of bosses whose motto could have been, "Dare to Be Fluffy." Rather than go after the competition, even when the WW was taking shots at us, the Trib bosses took the staid, dignified route. We were simply too classy to engage in such skirmishes with the competition. Ridiculous. Didn't they see, "Front Page"? What would have been wrong with some excitement? The executives acted like they were positioning themselves for their post-Trib careers, rather than taking on the traditional role of the 4th Estate. Their mantra seemed to be, "Play it safe. The organization you criticize today, may be hiring you tomorrow."

Here's my personal favorite example of the insanity: We were supposed to be competing with the Oregonian, right? Well, I would take lines that they would not let me print in my Tribune column and sell them to Leno. Then they would be reprinted in the Sunday Oregonian.
So I was supposed to compete with the Oregonian and my lines were in it - not in my own column. That is the definition of nuts.

Pamplin did a great thing here - he could have blown the millions many different ways but he chose to spend them here in this city. Unfortunately his management team made the Detroit Lions look fierce.

For Phil Stanford, it's just another chapter in a very interesting life. The Miami years alone would make a great movie. It's a tough time to lose a job but Phil will bounce back. Let's put it this way: I like his chances far more than the Tribune's.

I am sad. Phil is a real treasure of this town and he was instrumental in getting the word out first about a lot of bad stuff, including the Home Dept fiasco a few years back.
Thanks, Phil. You will be missed by many of us, but maybe not for long...is there a blog in your future?
I am beginning to really believe that in the not too distant future newpapers will only be on the Antiques Road Show.

"Phil Stanford has left ..., the great hope that once was the Trib has officially come to an end."

Perhaps, 'has stupidly come to an end' is more precise without Stanford. The Trib officially ended in a face-first nosedive falling below the interest-radar of me and most others, the day Bill McDonald stopped working there.

Thanks a lot - losing that gig was a pain but I never stopped writing for other clients so it didn't finish me off. I'm confident Phil will be okay. I told him, "Welcome to the Portland Tribune Alumni Association."
For me the definitive bad-ass thing that Phil Stanford did was land on the cover of the Willamette Week in an oil painting commissioned by them just for that issue.
If you are writing for one media outlet and another is having paintings made of you to put on the cover of their publication, you have crossed into legend.
The Tribune without Phil Stanford? Good luck.

I looked forward to reading Bill McDonald's column and was pissed by the same ol' same ol', not knowing it was not Bill's fault. No explanations coming forth, per norm for Portland. The same is true of Phil Stanford. I became wary when nothing new was the norm for Phil's column, same that had happened to Bill.
I had so hoped the Trib would be what the Big O isn't. WW has become a Zero, also.
Another city without a real newspaper..so sad.

Kiss that rag goodbye. Phil was the only reason I looked forward to grabbing one each Thursday...and checking on line as well.
I give that s*** paper 6 more months...maybe.

One of my favorite Trib stories was the time I said in exasperation, "What do you want me to cover next? Juggling?" I was only kidding, but next thing I knew I was on my way to Reed College to cover a juggling class. They even threw in a photographer on that one.
Look, I'm not bitter about my experience there. They gave me a real break hiring me so you have to factor that in. My frustration was with the potential. I got the job by writing Pamplin directly and he wrote back. I thought that was a classy move and though he lives in a different world than most, I always felt like I owed him personally for the break and that we should make his investment of many millions pay off. I felt he was less than impressed with the Oregonian so why not attack them? Why not mix it up a little?

Instead, I encountered a bunch of bosses who were on a hopeless ego trip - who would run off for to a leadership retreat but who wouldn't really lead. The first meeting I attended was at a swanky law firm, and they were drinking imported beer and talking about who would play them when the movie about the Trib came out. Really.

After 9/11, I felt they had an opportunity in me. I mean yes, I was a national comedy writer but I also had been born in the Middle East so I was unusually informed about the places everyone was talking about. They did let me write a little on the subject but then came the War in Iraq.
The person who told me it was over said that I had "pulled the tiger's tail a little too hard on Iraq." With the invasion a few weeks off, I warned of unintended consequences and suggested President Bush didn't know what he was doing because he had used his connections to avoid Vietnam.
That did not go over well, but I always felt like I had kept the faith. I mean Pamplin should be proud that at a time when the NYT, the Oregonian, and most other papers were selling the White House line, the Tribune actually had some independent analysis about Iraq. I was told that is why I was fired, and I can live with that. Hell, I'm proud of it. They'd probably deny it went down that way, but that's why I kept the emails.

Speaking of unintended consequences, I wonder if they factored in what happens when the last friend you have at a place gets fired? Sort of frees you up to tell the real story. We can only hope that Phil decides to share what he knows about all things Portland now that he's unencumbered by the fluff machine. That would really be interesting.


I enjoy your Middle East posts on PortlandFreelancer. They are real breath of fresh air. (I use present tense, because they are still available for all to read.)

I have to admit that I thought you were pulling our legs about the juggling piece in the Trib. But there it is ...

But look at the bright side. If the Tribune goes under, then maybe Jim Reddin will revive PDXS. *ducks and runs*

Texas: You spell about as well as Jim Redden does.

Sorry about that, Talea: working for him fried large expanses of my brain that I'll never get back. If the Tribune survives much longer, I'm going to buy him an "LEE HARVEY OSWALD ACTED ALONE" T-shirt, just to watch his head explode. Turnabout, after all, is fair play.

Texas, I don't get it. Jim's work at PDXS over a decade or so led, by a more or less straight line, to the arrest and conviction of Larry Hurwitz, who had murdered a college student in cold blood. It also featured an excellent boxing column by Katherine Dunn.

It wasn't exactly a general interest paper, but it never pretended to be. If I had to pick a favorite Portland publication, PDXS would likely top the list.

Bill, I agree with you about the missed potential of the Portland Tribune. (You probably don't remember, but I was at that law firm meeting too. Those were some pretty heady days.)

I consider Phil a friend, and have enjoyed his column and his book. But of all the various personnel changes at the Trib, it's hard for me to see his departure as the thing that spells doom for the paper.

The Tribune still occasionally comes out with a story that exposes a different view than you see from our other news outlets. The existence of an independent mainstream paper -- no matter how bare-bones -- should not be underestimated. Not many cities have a truly independent paper at all.

Let's not forget that at least the Trib archives all its news stories online -- providing a fairly comprehensive overview of Portland news in the 2000s that the "paper of record" in this town can't be bothered with.

Yesterday, a designer who has been doing a lot of the copy editing recently also was laid off, as was a features editor and a features writer.

With that, the Trib officially has no copy desk.

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