business news in context, analysis with attitude

It was sobering for both Michael Sansolo and me to read this week in the New York Times that Gannett-owned The Journal News in Westchester County, New York, told all 288 of its employees – editorial and sales – that their jobs are being eliminated. Now, not all of those people are going to be without jobs. They’ve been told that all of their jobs are being “redefined,” and that each person has to reapply and be re-interviewed for new positions.

In all 70 jobs are expected to be gone, on top of almost 60 people who were laid off just a week ago.

Michael and I have read this news with a certain amount of empathy, since The Journal News is where we both got our starts back about 30 years ago. (I’m a little older than Michael and got there first, though I worked in Rockland County and he worked in Westchester, first for the Daily Times and then for the Reporter Dispatch, papers that were later folded into the Journal News for efficiency reasons.

Not efficient enough, apparently. Revenue is down by double digits, and it strikes us that readership is just a fraction of it was three decades ago.

Much of this can be attributed, I think, to a growing sense of irrelevance. For years, Gannett has specialized in hiring young reporters and paying them peanuts (I made less than $7,000 my first year there), and then doing nothing to keep them engaged as their salaries increased. This meant that the papers were often being written by people who had no sense of what it was like to pay taxes or raise children in a community, which cannot help but lead to coverage that isn’t as good as it should be. (Michael and I often have said that we’d be much better daily newspaper reporters today than we were then, but neither of us can afford to work for $7,000 a year, or whatever they are paying these days.) Eventually, these papers face a kind of editorial irrelevance… which is compounded by the fact that these are paper-and-print products trying to survive in an increasingly digital world.

Michael and I both have the same reaction to this news: “There but for the grace of god go I…”

It points to something that every business needs to do, and that every businessperson needs to do, on an ongoing basis. You have to keep being relevant, have to keep challenging yourself, have to keep figuring out what might be around the corner, and then preparing for how to embrace those new challenges and raise the level of your game.

Or you end up being redefined. Out of work. And irrelevant.

BTW…I saw a study, released by the Newspaper Association of America, the other day that said that almost six out of 10 adults identify newspapers as the most critical advertising medium they use, with 73 percent saying that they use newspaper inserts, and 82 percent saying that they have acted on something they saw in a newspaper insert in the last month.

I’m afraid I’m not buying it.

I’m not doubting the numbers, but this survey strikes me as the worst kind of self-congratulatory news that the newspaper industry can be publicizing. I don't know who they are surveying, but it isn’t the young shoppers (anyone under 30?) who don't even read newspapers and get most of their information from the Internet. Or “The Daily Show.”

If people in the newspaper industry take these numbers seriously, it prevents them from dealing with the reality of their situation. Which is that they are on the Titanic, and the iceberg is dead ahead.

And one other point on this subject…

I just got an email from the New York Times because, in an effort to develop new revenue streams, it is starting a wine club.

According to the email, the club will offer members a selection of wines at two price levels, $90 or $180 per six-bottle shipment, and customers can choose to have wine delivered every one, two or three months.

I’m not saying that this is a bad idea. However, I am saying that it says something about the newspaper business.

Okay, it was weird enough that a bunch of companies decided to keep their television commercials featuring Bill Mays on the air, even though he’d passed away. I guess they felt that his ebullience and high energy couldn’t be easily replaced.

But now that the autopsy showed that cocaine use may have been linked to his heart problems, all that antic energy seems, well, a little suspect. And the commercials seem a little ill-advised.

You may remember that sometime last year, the MNB community came up with a list of the nation’s great burger joints. This was particularly pleasing to me, since I have an enormous affection for cheeseburgers…and the list serves as a kind of informal guide as I’m traveling around the country.

Well, it is with real pleasure that I’d like to report that when the Brooklyn Paper the other day ran a contest for the best burger made by residents of the borough, my nephew, Kyle Huebbe, was the grand prize winner for a burger described as “80-percent ground beef, 20-percent fat patty, seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper and cooked perfectly in a cast-iron pan, topped with a garden tomato (not store-bought!), cheddar and a horseradish sauce, and piled onto a Portuguese muffin.”

Kyle used to cook at a series of places in New York and New England, but currently is working in real estate…but is looking to once again don an apron and get behind the stove. I don't know about you, but that burger makes my mouth water…and I guess I’m going to have to trek out to Brooklyn one of the days to try one.

Interesting story over on this week, reporting on a “new study from researchers at the University of Florence, Italy, (that) found that women ages 18 to 50 who drink one or two glasses of wine a day have better sex than those who don’t drink at all. In fact, this is one area where two glasses will give you higher sexual satisfaction than one!

Cue the music…Bottle of red…bottle of white…

But wait a minute…there also was a story on the this week saying that “the results of a new national study by a group of scientists at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina recently confirmed that young adults who enter a long-term live-in relationship—and especially those who tie the knot—gain weight and significantly increase their risk of a clinical diagnosis of obesity compared to those who remain uncommitted.

“While men are extremely vulnerable to weight gain in the first 12 months of married life, they do better over time, whereas women just keep getting fatter and fatter. Perhaps not surprisingly, the prognosis is worse for women. Both men and women increase their risk of becoming obese when they move in together, but women seem to be even more susceptible than men. While men, according to the new research, are extremely vulnerable to weight gain in the first 12 months of married life, they do better over time, whereas women just keep getting fatter and fatter.”

So what’s the lesson here? It seems to be that you’re ultimately better off – and will have more fun – if you avoid commitment.

Sounds reasonable to me…except that after 26 years of marriage, I’m still having a pretty good time.

Discovered a new brewpub this week: the Appalachian Brewing Company, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania…where they make a great Chesapeake Chicken Cake sandwich with chipotle lime mayonnaise…and the Purist Pale Ale can’t be beat.

What’s playing on my iPod?

Right now, it is the new album by Mac McAnally, ”Down By The River.”

My favorite song: “Blame It On New Orleans,” which is just kickin’.

Two terrific white wines for you this week:

• 2007 Jezebel Blanc Oregon White Wine, a delightful blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, and Riesling.

• 2007 Bouchard Père & Fils Bourgogne Blanc 2007 from France, a Chardonnay that’ll knock your socks off.

Great stuff to enjoy as the last days of summer pass by all too quickly. (Guys, you may want to buy several cases for your wife.)

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: