Sun-Sentinel Editor Assures Titanic Newspaper Passengers That Ship Is Not Sinking
My first piece of advice to any editor who wishes to reassure his newspaper readers that things are going to improve at his newspaper is to not accompany such an article with the grim visage of a mortician as you can see in this photo of Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel editor, Earl Maucker. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his newspaper. And the words of Maucker, while trying to sound upbeat, are at odds with the reality of a newspaper which has shrunk to a shell of it's former self. Typically the the front section of the Sun-Sentinel weekday newspaper is now only about a dozen pages.
However, Maucker, in response to a reader's question about the Sun-Sentinel's future, performs a rather unconvincing job of reassuring his readers that we will not soon be witnessing yet another newspaper funeral:
Are newspapers really in serious trouble? Is it possible that the Sun Sentinel could become an online-only publication? Is what we're hearing about some papers in South Florida shutting down really true? What's happening?
The mortician editor then attempts to explain why, despite all the signs of imminent death, the patient has many years of happy life left:
The media business, to put it lightly, is an industry in the midst of profound and rapid transition. The culture changes we've experienced have been compounded by the economic recession, which is impacting all businesses.
But no, we are not an endangered species here in South Florida, and the Sun Sentinel expects to be alive and well for many years to come. Ours remains a healthy and profitable company.
Despite all the evidence of the ship sinking beneath us, it will continue happily sailing the seas for many years to come. Mortician Maucker then explains why the patient remains healthy...while applying the embalming fluid.
Like the automotive industry, the banking industry, real estate — you name it — all of us are struggling in one way or another.
The media business and the Sun Sentinel have been hit particularly hard. That's because we face not only the economic downturn, but also fundamental changes in our business model, brought on by new technology and changing reading habits. We have had staff reductions in all departments.
We've also reduced the amount of space in our newspaper, in some cases eliminating entire sections.
Eliminating product delivered is somehow going to improve the newspaper? Next I will be told that the Corvette has been improved by eliminating A/C, windshield wipers, and the radio.
Recently, we announced to the staff that we are going to shut our operation in Havana, Cuba. It was a tough decision, but our limited resources nowmust be focused on more local coverage.
It has been painful. But all these decisions have been made to keep us financially healthy during these difficult economic times.
So, what does this mean for you, the reader?
Stand by for a rather lame but laughable sales pitch.
For one thing, we are relying more on our parent company in Chicago to provide national and international news. Since our sister publications, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, oversee our national and foreign bureaus, we now depend on them for that kind of coverage.
You're relying more on your parent company in Chicago? You mean the Tribune Co. which has filed for bankruptcy? Welcome to Zell Hell, Earl.
While we've cut back on space in the paper for news, we've tried to be as strategic as possible to make sure that local sports, business, city and neighborhood news and features are our focus, and get the most exposure in separate and robust sections.
And while we've aimed to maintain a healthy newspaper, we've dramatically expanded our coverage on our web sites to provide even more content of interest.
We've embraced social media networks in a variety of ways, to build communities of interest and create more interaction with readers.
Have you tried embracing the use of video? The evidence suggests that you continue to shun this "innovation" in a big way. As an example, just in your current sports section, you ran a story about American Heritage high school capturing the Titan Classic baseball title. No video accompanied the account. You don't need a professional videographer on hand at the event. Plenty of fans with video cameras and cell phone cameras were on hand and would have been more than happy to upload their videos to a Sun-Sentinel site, it there were one, so that readers could check out the many recordings of this event. The same thing applies to another sports story about the Marlins beating the Mets with a dramatic two-run single in the ninth inning. Again, no video.
And, next week, we launch an exciting television news show, which will air from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. each weekday on WSFL Television.
And that will somehow attract viewers away from the 24/7 cable news coverage?
With all those resources, we reach an audience of nearly two million each week, more than any other media in South Florida.
Gee, everything sounds hunky-dory over at the Sun-Sentinel. I suppose then that you don't need the input of the space cadet Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer, Lee Abrams.
We realize the landscape changed dramatically for us — and all newspapers — in recent years.
Technology empowered consumers to get what news they want, when they want it, and how they want it delivered.
In short, the Internet has changed us forever.
Oh yeah, that Internet thingy which you only grudgingly accepted in a manner much too little and too late. Back to the drawing board, Earl. And you might start by replacing that glowering mortician photo of yourself with one in which you muster at least a slight smile pretending to radiate confidence.