Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that "full of doubt" look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!
Put on a happy face
Put on a happy face!
It is a scene that has been played out quite a bit recently. A newspaper publisher delivers a grim announcement of yet more employee cutbacks in the newsroom. So how should the remaining employees react when asked about the cutbacks? According to the former publisher of the Palm Beach Post, the employees should simply put on a happy face and deliver the type of fake upbeat response that the same journalists wouldn't tolerate when investigating stories about corporate layoffs.
The Broward-Palm Beach New Times alternative newspaper sets the scene in a fascinating article about the rapid decline of the South Florida newspaper industry:
Things got even weirder last winter, when Cox sent a fresh-faced 34-year-old publisher named Alex Taylor, nephew of CEO Kennedy, to run the Post. The new boss seemed a tad insensitive to a staff that had just been unceremoniously chopped in half.
Last July — one year after the buyouts — Taylor announced that another management shakeup and job cuts were on the way. This time, there would be layoffs, not buyouts, meaning workers had no choice in the matter and received just one week's pay for every year of service.
Taylor chose this moment to send out an email urging staffers to brush up on their customer service skills and not act so glum about the death rattle of their industry.
"If someone says to you, 'I hear things down at the Post are tough. How are you doing?' you could say, 'Yeah it stinks, no one knows what's happening,' (not good) or you could say 'It's a fascinating time to be in the business. Things are changing quickly and dramatically and I think it's exciting to be on the leading edge of how media is evolving,' (good, positive). Two ways of looking at the same thing, but one is just a lot more uplifting."
And how would a Palm Beach Post employee put on a happy face on this shocker:
At one point, a memo went out saying the paper would no longer provide free coffee. After mass protests, this directive was rescinded — but employees still had to buy their own creamer.
"It's a fascinating time to be drinking coffee at our newspaper and I think it is so exciting to have to pay for our own creamer."
However, bad as things are at the Palm Beach Post, is it really any worse than what employees of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel have to endure? They have to suffer through reading bizarre memos from the Tribune Co. chief innovation officer Lee Abrams which, although funny to the rest of us, must be incredibly annoying to journalists whose jobs are being threatened with the ax:
Meanwhile, a new brand of electronic cheerleading was invading the Sun-Sentinel's newsroom. Lee Abrams, Tribune's new chief innovation officer, had begun sending out "think pieces" designed to help usher in a new era of profitability.
These memos are long, exhaustive, seemingly steam-of-consciousness missives littered with Abrams' catch phrases like AFDI — Actually F---ing Doing It.
One famous "think piece" told people to evaluate their offices and rid them of "traits" that make them "average" such as "UPTIGHT/PARANOID: You know the drill. You can FEEL the fear."
Another suggested adding more "man on the street" segments to the company's TV news shows. He considered this concept a revelation:
"Every day, an average person is interviewed about top stories," he wrote. "We've heard what the experts think, let's open it up to REAL people. This could be red hot. What the average citizen's take on the topics is."
These memos were not exactly welcomed in the newsroom. In fact, they made some people wonder why the Tribune spent money to hire a memo writer. "We found the memos absurd," says one ex-Sentinel employee, who did not want to give his name. "To me, he [Abrams] wasn't grounded in reality."
Meanwhile the situation at the other big South Florida newspaper, the Miami Herald, isn't any better. They are actually pinning their hopes on the sale of their parking lot for which they hope to earn $190 million to keep themselves afloat:
At the Herald, some measure of chaos had been brewing for years. McClatchy Co., a small California-based publishing chain that owned a dozen dailies, including the Sacramento Bee, bought the Herald when it swallowed all 32 of Knight Ridder's papers in 2006. But the height of the real estate boom was a terrible time to buy papers in the housing-bubble states of California and Florida. McClatchy's stock price fell from a high of $63 in March 2005 to 49 cents in February of this year. Buried under $2 billion in debt, McClatchy is now trying to sell the Herald's ten-acre parking lot, which looks out on Biscayne Bay. But a deal has yet to close.
I'm not sure which is a greater sign of desperation: praying to an artificial Santeria rooster to keep your newspaper afloat or hoping to close a multi-million dollar parking lot sale in the current lousy real estate market.