Friday, January 30, 2009

No, No, and a Thousand Times, No.

I used to work for the Dallas Morning News. I went in knowing I'd only be able to work there a year on the meager compensation I was going to be getting, but I also took comfort in things like a 401K plan, insurance, etc. Let me make this perfectly clear. Journalism is not a lucrative career path. It's a downright spartan existence if you work for even a big metro daily, unless - of course - you're A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd. Robert Decherd just announced today that he would be laying off another 500 A.H. Belo employees. He also blithely announced the company would no longer be contributing to employee 401K's, and that they'd also have to pony up some money to park at work, or for their DART passes - each were previously a benefit. It may seem small to be miffed that it's gone, but when you're making less than $30K a year, paying $40 a month for parking adds up fast. And yet, Robert Decherd got a raise. Sure, it was after taking a pay cut before, but he got a raise nonetheless. Let me tell you about my last raise. I had to work for about 18 months at a job where I pretty much had to excel every day, then beg, to get it. People get raises for work well done. Decherd gets his for running the company into the ground. Now, yes, other newspapers are shuttering, too. It's a bad time in general for the journalism world. But I lump him in with the other CEOs who fail to do a very important part of their jobs - stick a finger in the air, and see which way the wind is blowing. As I've said before, the newspaper industry suffers from failure to thrive because it failed to plan. It suffered - and actually, still suffers - from delusions of onipotence and chose to see the Internet as a fad. It failed to be an early adopter of the Internet and missed a huge opportunity to train its audience to use it in conjunction with newspapers. It failed to demonstrate early that newspapers have value, and that value can translate to the Internet. The sea change in journalism didn't start two years ago, or three years ago, or even a decade ago. As a bastion of innovation, the cruel irony is newspapers failed - there's that word again - to see the potential of the Internet at its earliest for what it was then, and what it could be later. Don't say nobody could know that - because there are men who have gotten very rich knowing exactly that. But let's circle back to the original point - Robert Decherd's complete failure to appreciate his employees, and who actually needs to be relieved of a job. From the faux obsequious "Dear colleagues" right down to the insistence that everyone needs to tighten their belts, Decherd's memo to employees is just Ipecac in prose form. Considering his wages alone would pay for at least 12 employees, possibily more, when will the board of A.H. Belo realize that the fat that needs trimming is at the head, not the rump?