Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pretty words won't save The Herald

"We have met the enemy and he is us." -Pogo

The Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts has apparently been burning the midnight oil much like a college freshman studying for a big exam. Or has he?

Back on May 7, I asked him a question via his online chat about the newspaper business. I wanted his opinion on the Herald's declining circulation and asked if he had an opinion as to why the Herald was doing so poorly.

He responded that he "didn't have a head for business" and he "wasn't aware of The Herald 'leading the pack' in circulation loss and have no idea why this would be so."

You can read the full text of my question and his answer here.

That exchange occurred about 6 weeks ago.

Today in his column addressing Monday's job cuts at the Herald, Leonard weighs in with loads of opinions on how the newspaper business can extricate itself from the quagmire it now finds itself mired in. Maybe he's been studying. Or maybe not.

Let me stop here and say that Leonard Pitts is one of the better columnists the Herald has.

It goes without saying that he's a whole lot smarter than I am.

He probably lives in a big fine house on a hill up there in the Washington suburbs and watches all his favorite shows on a large flat screen TV as he munches on lobster newburgh or whatever they eat up there in the Washington suburbs.

He's got himself a Pulitzer Prize too.

I'm sure his salary makes a large dent in the six figure range, as it should, because Leonard does his job very well.

He's a columnist and he gets paid to write his opinions. The way he does that is no different than a lot of other fine columnists.

Leonard strings pretty words together that turn into beautiful sentences. And once he has enough sentences strung together he's got himself a damn fine column. And he gets to keep his job for another week.

The Herald is so proud of Leonard that they have these large billboards on their delivery trucks that say something like: "Leonard Pitts drops pearls of wisdom on your doorstep twice a week." I wonder who came up with that? Anyway, I digress.

Leonard's columns are printed in all the McClatchy papers around the country and posted on the Internet. And then all his loyal readers post comments like: "Oh, Leonard, you're so perspicacious and eloquent. I agree with everything you say."

But in spite of all the money Leonard makes and the praises his employer and readers heap upon him, no one should confuse anything Leonard says with reality. They're just pretty words.

Today's column, is a fine example. Leonard tackles the problems of the newspaper business in general and the Herald in particular.

Of the cuts announced last Monday he writes: "...that means 190 jobs throughout the [Herald's] various departments," will be lost.

I guess he doesn't read his own paper because the Herald's John Dorschner said in a story last Tuesday: "The Miami Herald Media Co. announced plans to reduce its workforce by 250 employees -- 17 percent of its staff."

Ok, so Leonard is only off by 60.

Next Leonard tackles the newspaper and the Internet by saying:
"Maybe we should make our websites not simply online recreations of our papers, but entities in their own right, destination portals for those who want news and views from and about a given city, but also for those who want to find a good doctor in that city, or apply for a job in that city or reach the leaders of that city or research the history of that city. Maybe the goal should be to make ourselves the one indispensable guide to that city."

Well, I guess Leonard doesn't look at his paper's own website.

The Herald launched such a site months ago; . It's a portal to all things Miami. It's not very good compared to other portal site for large cities but at least someone at the Herald saw the need for a site like this and got the ball rolling.

You also need people to maintain a newspaper website and right now the Herald has a grand total of two people doing updates on their site during the day. And a promised redesign of has yet to happen despite a top level editor's assurances to me 6 months ago that it was in the works.

Next Leonard advises newspapers to "hire away the bright people who figured out how to make Yahoo and Google profitable and ask them to make our sites profitable."

Well, Alex at Miami and Beyond laughs at that and says:

"This one made me laugh. Leonard, you can't afford them. They can buy and sell you between two sips of their lattes, if they were in the habit of throwing money away."

Leonard also says newspapers should require "online readers to pay for the product, just as our other readers do." Rick at South Florida Daily Blog had a answer for Leonard Thursday on his blog:
"How out of touch are old-school journalists with the Internet and the people who use it? Well, I think Leonard Pitts pretty much showed us with that last sentence."

Indeed, Rick.

Had Leonard burned a little more midnight oil he would have learned that one of the most successful and widely read newspaper websites,, scrapped the pay model last year after they decided shutting out millions of readers and putting content behind a pay wall wasn't worth the 225,000 readers and $10 million in revenue. They opted for millions more eyeballs. The LA Times also tried charging readers for its Calendar section online and scrapped it as well.

So what Leonard offered his loyal readers today was 679 very pretty words but a close reading revealed that once again, beauty is only skin deep.

There really wasn't anything that showed me that Leonard, in the six weeks since he dodged my question about the circulation numbers, has paid much attention to the predicament the newspaper business finds itself in.

What the newspaper business really needs Leonard, are fewer pearls of wisdom and more solutions.

1 comment:

  1. Just a correction: 250 positions were eliminated, but many of them were already frozen and left open.... so 'only' 190 warm bodies are losing their jobs at the Herald.


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