Nothing to read here, folks. Still only $1

The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison’s newspaper of record, is not covering the biggest story in town. That would be, of course, the blood-letting in the State Journal’s own newsroom late last week.

Six writers given pink slips — four of them involuntarily — and a seventh reporter not being replaced. Credit to my old editor at Isthmus, Bill Lueders, for breaking the story in his old newspaper.

It’s like the empty desk in high school home room after one of your classmates proves teenagers are too immature to drive. They’re just not there any more. And no grief counselors.

Gone are columnist Doug Moe, sports writers Andy Baggot, Dennis Semrau, and Brandon Storlie, higher ed reporter Dan Simmons, and books editor Jeanne Kolker. And we’re told that investigative reporter Dee Hall is not being replaced. Total: 7.

I have a directory of State Journal staffers dated July 1996; it bears 95 names. Frank Denton was editor, Tom Still wrote blistering editorials with the help of Sunny Shubert. Joe Jackson and Roger Turner were crack photographers; Jeff Mayers covered the capitol, and Bill Wineke wrote religion. Religion! Imagine!

The newspaper’s roster I found online today lists 60 names — the seven departed have not yet been scrubbed. So make that 53 staffers today compared to 95 two decades ago. Cut almost in half. Still the largest news staff in town, still worth reading, but indisputably diminished. Wasting away in full view.

Mothers, don’t raise your children to be journalists.

This is a story being writ in city after city — only not by the newspapers themselves. Even The New York Times is hemorrhaging; the corporation is said to have a capitalization of only the value of its Manhattan real estate.

Blaskas bottom line The one constant is change.

Back in the day, I marveled that the international news editor could review the world’s events on his green screen, a dumb terminal attached to a mainframe. I had not the wit to imagine that everyone would someday have similar machines — only 10 times more powerful — in their homes and now, on their belts. The news business is changing. (Three networks on television?) Hell, the world is changing.

Even Mt. Everest is moving a few feet each year, in a northeast direction, propelled by continental drift. The Nepal earthquake actually jolted the mountain back a few feet.



That’s life in the big city

Got to think Lee Enterprises needed more revenue to paper over their disastrous buyout of the Pulitzer chain. (La plus ca change.) Reminder to our liberal-progressive-socialist acquaintances: Nobody enjoyed emptying those desks in the newsroom. It’s not about fairness or “economic justice.” (Just ask Mitch Henck, now at the MIC 92.1 FM.)

The question is not why but how.

The shock is that Doug Moe was let go. Mr. Madison. A franchise player. Could he have been that much more expensive than some of the survivors? Yet, this is the newspaper (under different editor and publisher) that pushed out Susan Lampert Smith, an entertaining columnist who captured the warp and woof of life in Wisconsin. A newspaper that continues to deny George Hesselberg his still fondly remembered column. (How did he survive the cuts?)

I will also miss Andy Baggot and his “first impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree” sports columns. Always idiosyncratic.

Blaskas other bottom line Newspapers are entertainment first and foremost. Maybe not The Financial Times or Barrons but all the rest. The Wall Street Journal understands that. Yes, even the murder story, the sensational jury trial, the tornado coverage.

The other question: should the State Journal have covered its own story? Should publisher John Humenik have addressed the cuts? What?! Announce that you are reducing the product but not the price? It’s not done. Now 10% less candy bar for the same old price!?

But newspapers sell (wait for it) news. This is news. Could Humenik have explained the financial realities? The thinking that went into Moe but not the likes of Rickert? Strategies for fortifying the product? No comment.

The news source that broke the story, Isthmus — no stranger to staff layoffs — is following The Capital Times by not accommodating reader comment. You can still do so in this space. WISC-TV 3 has a lively comment section on this story as well.

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