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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tone-deaf McClatchy exec invites wrath of blog commenters

Posted by on Thu, Sep 4, 2008 at 2:43 PM

Howard Weaver, vice president for news at The McClatchy Company, tried to go for a punchy lead in his blog post about how the press should handle the many stories swirling around the Republican vice presidential nominee.

"I believe I’d fire any reporter who wasted a chance to question Gov. Sarah Palin by asking a single question about pregnancies, DUIs or thuggish boyfriends."

Weaver's point is pretty simple: Reporters should be asking Palin tough questions about the economy and foreign policy; the personal stuff is a distraction.

Problem is, the post came the same day McClatchy announced more imminent job losses at its daily newspapers across the country. The News & Observer, for instance, which is owned by McClatchy, announced it is offering buyouts to 320 employees, including every full time newsroom staffer. This is after a long summer of buyouts, layoffs and wage freezes.

You'd better believe McClatchy's rank-and-file employees read Weaver's blog, Etaoin Shrdlu (named for the most frequently occurring letters in the English language because the phrase was used as filler by Linotype operators, back in the day when newspapers were making money hand over fist).

The lead itself became the story, thanks to a long collection of mostly anonymous comments. A sampling:

After these buyouts, there are no reporters left to fire....

Most idiotic column I've ever read. Firing a reporter for asking a question? Were you ever a reporter, or have you been a do-nothing executive all your life. It's the sit-back-and-do-nothing attitude like yours that has brought the newspaper industry to today's low point. How do you think your organization's reporters feel when executive threaten to fire them for asking simple questions readers want answered?

Howard, did you fly on the McClatchy jet to Juneau? Just wondering, I mean with the buyouts announced today and the salary freeze last week [...] maybe you fellas at corporate should take a whack at your end there at the "top" and not hack away at the core of the papers, the people actually doing the work.

Not all of the old order is gone at McClatchy. The omniscient tyrant editor who micromanages from afar is regrettably extant.

Weaver's defense was that he intended the lead "to be read as emphasis, obviously intended for effect rather than literal warning. Guess not."

No word yet on who might be taking the buyouts in Raleigh.

Karen Mann, interactive news producer at The N&O, told readers of her own blog, Mann's World, that she would take time off posting to "look over some paperwork": "If you know what I do, and follow the news, you know what I'm talking about."

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