THIS JUST IN: Strange goings on down at that venerable journalistic tool The Arizona Daily Ad Space.
We hear owner Michael Pulitzer, a doddering, inbred troll, has hired a high-dollar consulting company to tell him what to do with his two newspapers (the other is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and a bunch of TV stations.
They're calling the project Odyssey 2,000, the local version of which involves stuffing a room full of $450-a-week reporters, turning on a videotape and asking them questions about the state of the company and how it should evolve.
All answers are confidential, the consultant geek assures reporters, and pay no attention to the two-way mirrors on the walls.
Oh, heh-heh, yes, you're being watched by eyes on the other side, but never mind whose they are--even if four of them happen to belong to the Big Kahuna, Editor Steve Auslander, evidently back in town after giving the FBI a character reference for the Unabomber.
Confidential? Sure it's all confidential. Of course if you're just a regular working stiff, you should probably keep your lips buttoned and refuse to tell Pulitzer's vicious weirdos anything.
The thing about newspapers is that they're really complicated. Normal people don't know this.
They think editors send reporters to interesting events, and the reporters ask questions, scribble down the answers, and then write it up in what we used to call a story.
Ah, but those were the old days. Don't you know, the Star no longer runs "stories." What they do is fill the holes around the ads with canned baloney, the duller the better Oscar, meet Mayer.
The Star employs teams of wall-eyed editors who possess a laser-like ability to spot something interesting, then swoop in and slice it out of a reporter's copy before anyone gets to see it.
Simulated end-of-day editor conversation:
"We were this close to actually putting some interesting information out there. I had to move quick."
"Feels good doesn't it?"
Slinging suit jacket jauntily over shoulder: "Let's go out and have some herbal tea to celebrate."
On the city desk, there's boss John "Dumpster-Gut" Silva, a Jenny Craig alum, who once, several years ago, actually did the following:
He was mightily steamed at a reporter for missing a story the Tucson Citizen published first. He chewed out the miscreant over the phone, then ordered the villainous scribbler to stop and pick him up a sandwich on his way back to the newsroom.
The reporter complied. A hungry Silva is a dangerous Silva.
He's one of the three main reasons why there's nothing in the Star. He's thoroughly un-interested in everything except his cell phone and lunch.
Ferociously insecure. Big ego. Bad fashion sense.
Bobbie Jo Buel, managing editor, is a focus-group-groupie in so far over her head that she has to look up to read the declining readership figures. If she actually came up with a good story idea, the recoil would blow her straw hat into the paper shredder.
She pushes things like gender committees, to make sure the paper is writing about persons with politically-correct body parts, and meetings where everything except stories get discussed.
Pressing issue: What kind of carpet should we install in the newsroom? A shag? A stylish Berber?
The Star--actually, truthfully, we're not making this up--has a carpet committee to weigh in on such matters.
Buel is big on team reporting, too. It's the latest fad in newspapers. Instead of putting one bad reporter on a beat and then not explaining what it is you want covered because you have no idea yourself--you put several.
Everyone's confused, and more meetings result, during which Auslander sits there, Captain Queeg-like, juggling a fistful of hollow-point bullets. He's simply the worst editor the Star has ever had.
For the 10 or so years that he's headed the rag, he's marched in lockstep with Pulitzer's pogrom of budget-cutting, profit-maximizing and talent-dissing.
He belongs in a journalistic witness protection program for weasels who've sold out the home team to the red-tie crowd back at corporate.
Code name: Hush Puppy Boy.
How did he get this job? Prior to becoming editor, his short reporting career consisted of, maybe, seven stories and four corrections.
He can't lead. He's roundly disliked. His personality only occasionally jumps the line and adopts traits recognizable as human, The rest of the time, dung beetles have more charm.
We can't forget Bob Cauthorn. Remember Bob? Used to do movie reviews in which he was always pounding away at how the profit motive rules movie-making, stifling people, creativity and good work?
Now he's standing behind two-way mirrors with the rest of them. Rent Network, Bob, and call us in the morning.
Want to know what talent-dissing is? Here's an example.
Restaurant critic Colette Bancroft, a good writer, is ridden mercilessly, month after month, by features editor Debbie Kornmiller, a mean piece of work in sensible shoes.
Kornmiller has the best job in American newspapers, because the Star no longer publishes locally-based features. What's to do then, except read the wire and go to the bathroom?
Anyway, Bancroft can't be tolerated because she has talent, and Kornmiller rides her until she quits. Happens all the time. Dozens of examples.
Bancroft's pals in Accent pitch a fit, including M. Scot Skinner, who, when he hears the news that Colette's leaving, takes to storming around the newsroom, waving his arms and shouting epithets until smoke can be seen curling off his goatee.
He and other unhappy Accenters, which is all of them, march into Buel and render their grievances against Kornmiller. Buel is clueless, has no idea about the tensions that had been building.
This touches off a new round of meetings, after which Kornmiller gets a long probation period. But now she's back, hunched over the summer camp listings, and another skilled writer is gone.
Meanwhile, mind-boggling editorial decisions keep piling up. Like sending reporter Joe Salkowski, comedian Al Franken's mentally challenged little brother, to cover the Iowa political caucuses.
The wire services only provide about 7,000 stories on an event like that, written by reporters who cover national politics and know far more than Salkowski ever will.
Why in the world spend money to cover Iowa when you don't even cover downtown Tucson?
But, then, there's no space for anything anyway. It's gotten truly embarrassing. That tiny sound you hear every morning out on your driveway? It's not a spider fart, it's the Star landing. They both carry the same weight.
Here's a message to Michael:
Take the cash you're spending on this nut-job consultant and use it to find a story somebody might like to read and put it in the fucking paper.
In case you didn't hear, Pulitzer recently fired his long-time editor at the Post-Dispatch in a manner that says all you need to know about Odyssey 2000.
William Woo was returning to town from a European vacation and was met at the airport--by St. Louis TV reporters, asking him for comment on his unfortunate job loss.
That's right. He didn't know he'd been issued a toe-tag. Welcome home. This is what he gets after working as Pulitzer's editor for 10 years. Too long Woo.
The New York Times--a real newspaper--says Pulitzer kung-fooed Woo because he wanted a "more business-oriented leadership."
Woo is quoted as saying he figured something was up when he spotted all those talking-hairdos from TV swarming around, then his minister was on the phone telling Woo he was praying for him. That should've been a clue right there.
"Daddy, are you being fired?" Woo's kid wanted to know.
Yup. I'm melba toast. I'm cross-hair man. It's macaroni and cheese for us, boy.
"It was not the most elegant way to release the news," said Nicholas G. Penniman 4th, publisher of the Post-Dispatch.
Penniman, the 4th, has come to Tucson (after getting his shots) a couple of times and met with the staff and editors at the Ad Space.
He's a blue-blood in a blue suit, a hatchet-honcho with a $50-haircut who knows how to bottom feed a bottom line, almost as well as he can talk out of three sides of his mouth.
He has good teeth. He probably flosses while watching Letterman and trying not to wet himself. It's guys like this and their red-ink-basso-nova that gave Pat Buchanan a good run at Bob Dole.
"In the last five years we have saved our way to prosperity," Penniman told The Times. "At some point, you have to go out and get more readers and more advertising dollars."
Wait a sec. More readers? Did he actually say, get more readers? He's done exactly nothing to get more readers. The huevos.
But you have to hand it to him, he's slick, in a greasy sort of way. Penniman's a dangerous man.
The Times also wrote "that broadcasting is where the money is these days."
Yes. Cut more. Slash. Burn.
Start with Pulitzer's medication bill, then move on to Penniman. From now on, Nick, baby, you take the bus to work, no more company lunches, and that Valvoline you put in your hair comes out of your own pocket.
Now, does all this mean that Auslander and Buel and Silva will be hustled off to Missouri as the Post-Dispatch's new editing team?
Hey, could be. We'll organize a conga line out at the airport to see them off. Ammo clips and straw hats for everyone. They could use some of that $30 mill to pack and ship those trusty, two-way mirrors.
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