Cuts and boosts

Last time we checked our résumés, none of the crew here at News Hits was claiming to have an MBA from Wharton (at least not legitimately), so it's not like we're exactly qualified to question the moves being made by all those highly paid executives calling the shots for the Detroit News and Free Press.

Then again, a lack of expertise has never prevented us from spouting off in the past, and we see no reason to let it stop us from pointing out now what we perceive as a possible flaw in the business plan the geniuses running things at what's known as the Detroit Media Partnership have come up with.

First, the financial whizzes drastically cut back on their product, reducing the size of papers landing in news racks on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays — days with no home delivery — to the point where they have all the heft of a Kleenex. Then, as if that weren't enough of an insult to readers, they turn around and ask us to pay more for their depleted product, doubling the weekday price from 50 cents to $1.

It's like a deranged take on the Miller Lite "tastes great, less filling" ad campaign: Half the information for twice the price!

It seems like a less than winning formula to us. Maybe we're wrong — and we hope that we are — but it seems to us that, although 50 more cents isn't really a big deal, plunking down a buck instead of two quarters is something a lot of potential readers will balk at. 

We hope they don't.

As much as we here at this rag like to stick it to Detroit's dailies, those of us on the editorial side at least (we can't speak for our comrades over in the advertising department) are anything but elated at the prospect of seeing our rivals at the dailies self-destruct. Corny as it sounds, we really do believe that a vigorous press is one of democracy's linchpins, the final check in the system of checks and balances our founders devised. 

The news media inform, explain and expose. The exposing of wrongdoing, especially, can be particularly satisfying — and crucial. Last year in Detroit provided clear proof of that: There's no doubt that, were it not for good investigative journalism, Kwame Kilpatrick would still be fleecing the city. But investigations take time, and cost money, and the corporate bean-counters with an eye on today's bottom line don't always see the long-term payoff investing in reporting can bring.

And so they continue to scale back.

Last week we received an e-mail from a Freepster who wanted to pass along a couple of recent memos. 

One was issued by Susie Ellwood, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, which handles business operations for the two dailies. Like a missive from the Grim Reaper, Susie's message could have been trimmed in black, announcing cuts and more cuts. "As you are aware, staff reductions occurred throughout the Detroit Media Partnership on Thursday. This incredibly difficult decision was necessary because of deep economic downturns that continue to impact almost every advertising segment.

"We have also asked union leadership to come to the table next week to discuss several cost-cutting measures, including job reductions."

The other announcement came from Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Gannett-owned Free Press.

"Along with the DMP, the Free Press must explore our own difficult next steps," Anger wrote. "There will be DMP meetings next week with union leadership to discuss further cost-cutting, including more job reductions. The Free Press will be part of that process."

Instead of giving us more, we get less. There is one thing, though, that the Freep certainly isn't scrimping on, and that's coverage of star columnist and great humanitarian Mitch Albom and his new book, We're not certain, but it's possible that the paper might be edging toward an all-Mitch, all the time format.

As long as the lovable imp with a heart full of molasses keeps churning out books, the Freep will never be without a seemingly endless fount of feel-good copy. The love parade began on Sunday, Sept. 27, with a nearly full-page photo of star columnist on the front of the Entertainment and Travel section, followed by a lengthy question-and-answer piece inside talking to the prolific Albom about his new book, Have a Little Faith. It is the story of how Mitch's "spiritual journey, and the two men who guided him," we're told.

Then came Thursday's paper, which featured a big front-page tease and an inside feature about a fundraising book-launch event Mitch held with the terminally ill, much beloved broadcaster, Ernie Harwell. Splashed across the top of the page was a photo of Mitch and Ernie onstage at the Fox Theatre, a copy of Mitch's new book perched helpfully beside him. 

Apparently fearing that readers remained in need of more Mitch-centric copy, this Sunday's paper featured a column by Albom about the magical night spent with Ernie, plus a lengthy excerpt from his new book.

We get all squiggly inside just thinking about what a paragon of goodness Mitch really is. If only he hadn't ever scabbed his way across picket lines during the bitter strike at the News and Freep, the guy might be in line for beatification. 

Our only concern at this point is for his comrades at the Freep. We're afraid that some of them might be in danger of gagging on the load of Saint Mitch and his new book.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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