Friday, March 20, 2009

A limited defense of management

In comments and a couple of e-mails, people are blaming the Belo bosses for where we are at. One reader writes that management actions in the past few years had been like boring holes in the bottom of a leaky boat to let the water out. We still remember CueCat.

But if our problems were mainly management, wouldn't better managed papers be in better shape? Are there any examples of that out there?


  1. I would like to know what criteria they're using to lay off workers: how long an employee has worked here, or the amount of salary their making, or are they using performance reviews, etc. to make decisions...

  2. While management cannot be blamed for advertising decline, only management has control of the balance sheet and planning for the future. If a business leader doesn't consider worst-case in his planning and manage debt for revenue declines, then what is he there for? Even more, why is he paid 10x the average employee?

  3. The question is still: Who did better?

  4. The Washington Post Company's bottom line has been helped tremendously by the addition of Kaplan, the test-prep service, which it acquired 10 years or so ago. In contrast, the pre-split Belo had the Food Channel and sold it -- I'm still not sure what they got for it. But that wasn't forward-looking. Also, when we were making 30 percent profits year after year in the 1990s, we invested it in more newspapers and broadcasting. We ignored the old mantra for big or small investors -- diversify, diversify, diversify.

  5. I think this is an excellent point.

    Worst-case scenario is that the paper folds. How do you plan for that? I think all newspaper management is treading water right now. I don't get the feeling that AH Belo is any worse than others.

    And when you ask anyone what, exactly, management has done wrong, the answer is always Cue Cat. OK, yes, Cue Cat was a debacle. But that one (albeit egregious) error is not what will make or break this company.

    The Food Channel is another misstep, I'd agree. But shouldn't the newspapers be able to stand on their own without being propped up by other non-newspaper enterprises? If the answer is no, we're in worse trouble than I feared.

  6. There are many examples of Newspapers being challenged by market forces and technological changes. What makes DMN different is the frequency with which this Newsroom staff has been subjected to the stresses of layoffs and ill-conceived knee-jerk ideas. Cue Cat, Circulation fraud, Quick anyone? Al Dia. The hiring of “focus groups” which caused the paper to change the Living Sections, Travel, Religion, High School Football and Metro Sections dozens of times. Only to end up with a product that readers don’t even recognize anymore. A lot of money was squandered and readers alienated by these ill conceived managerial decisions. The Newsroom staff is at a breaking point.

  7. I think the most successful companies in the world try lots of different things, and fail often. Cue Cat honks, but big deal. At least we tried.

    My concern is that we've stopped trying new things. Sure, we're doing little things here and there, but nothing really new or risky.

    We had a couple of years to figure out this new media landscape, and we squandered that time by thinking way too much and doing way too little.

    Now, we're in survival mode. There's no money to try new things.

  8. Much was spent to make the experienced go away, then more to overpay consultants with shiny MBAs to help a rookie publisher transform the family business, and even more to bring on some of those consultants as VPs and directors to apply recommendations while learning how and why a newspaper is different from a bank.

    The culture values those who supervise the work far more than those who actually sell, report, design and edit. Here's hoping it's still not too late to turn things around, but the track record for this family isn't good.