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Sunday, October 18, 2009

St. Petersburg Homesick Blues ...

The St Petersburg Times (Fla) made a mistake this past week and it prompted me to write a blog that has been in the "to do" column listings for all too long. So, with that said, this column is coming with some advance warnings...

WARNING: If you work in the newspaper business, please think twice before you continue to read this blog.

WARNING TWO: If you work in the newspaper industry and were the editor in charge who abdicated his throne and his professional responsibility to "let" the newspaper hire some young computer science Internet guy to run the paper's online endeavor only because you were too lazy and too insecure in your own small world to dig-in, work harder, spend more time learning new skills and broaden your scope while broadening your own value, please think twice before you continue to read this blog.

WARNING THREE: If you work in the newspaper business and you ARE or WERE the editor who -- in the last year or so -- had to walk into an office and tell one of your best writers and most loyal workers that the "current state of the economy" was forcing you to cut x% of the staff and you were offering a buyout and eliminated some jobs or even worse had to lay-off some good people, please think twice before you continue to read this blog.


I ask all of those editors and dead, wet suits the following question?

Why did you put the final nail in the coffin for your newspaper? Why did you lay-off the guys and gals who make people buy the newspaper? Why did you even think "the in-depth, probing, thought-provoking, long take-outs" are no longer working in the online world of 2009? Why did you follow the pack mentality and its Cameron Crowe inspired, Almost Famous loser mantra "towards the long journey to the middle."

And, I can say very honestly, this blog is not targeted at the people involved in this one decision at this one paper, this one "lay-off" or "job elimination" or whatever the human resources, legal or other influencers want to call it. It is the symbol of the overall incompetence and lack of foresight in the industry. It is the written with the knowledge that so many people in the news industry literally ignored the Internet world for so long a time before it hit them over the head and literally helped push the industry, the very business, right OUT of business.

The old newsmen proceeded to walk right down the path of destruction and into the terrible world of "protect their own jobs" and "protect their own asses" against all of the other incompetent chumps who sit around the editorial board table reminiscing about the "good old days" of journalism and the hey-day, glory years of "putting the paper to bed" and going across the street to "Joe's Pub" to talk about how great an edition you just published with the knowledge that you had another 23 hours or so before the print button had to be hit again. They all would get liquored up and not worry about getting beat for another 23+ hours.

Now, instead, there's only one paper in town or you actually share content with your crosstown rivals, and you stand around the water cooler, scratching your gray hair, complaining about the Internet and the online world we live in where the deadline is always NOW.

Yes, the whole online, Internet, or whatever else you want to call it world changed the newspaper business right before our eyes as so many watched it go by at warp-speed. Yes, they all ignored it all for a long, long while. The editors and old guard hoped it would all go away, like an 8-track tape player. But, it was the ocean of doom for the newspaper biz as we knew it and the brass tried to swim against the under-tow of progress only to be sucked right into the jet stream of death by laziness, complacency and -- even worse -- death by incompetence or ignorance.

The out of work editors, speaking at the seminars preached 'We recommend you the best job you can, work like you always did, put the efforts towards the little things like budgeting, editing, diverse hiring practices, cost-cutting and all of that stuff that the APSE continues to dish out, as they thought the big bad Dot.Coms were just going to go away. They looked at it as though it was a Pink Floyd song named "us" and "them." The old news guys vs. the young, computer-savvy geeks.

Well, you use the old cost cutting lay-off plan on the award-winning writer/reporter Dave Scheiber -- your BEST guy. And now, together with an entire nation of old newspapermen and journalism gurus. you can spend each night watching the TV shows you and your readers gaze at rather than reading deep, insightful stories about the real world. Yes, go watch "Survivor, American Idiot, I mean Idol, Who Wants to Dance with and Imbecile, Deal or No Deal" and all of the other shows that have helped the entertainment industry in its efforts to "Dumb Down" the youth of this great land of ours.

Now this is important for all to know: Dave Scheiber is a friend of mine. He will be embarrassed and, possibly appalled, when he reads this today. He is such a class act that he will ask me to take it down, I know he will. But, I will not. It is very important to know that he did not have anything to do with the fact I am writing this. It was in my mind for a long while now, ever since the good folks at "The National" pulled the plug on a terrific newspaper back in 1991. Then, the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit Times, the Boston Globe and The New York Times all continued the trend and ruined the industry one slow-drip coffee cup at a time. To "Good ole St. Pete" - you are only the straw that broke TL's back and forced me to cry-out to the world via The


Here's a few other 'behind the scenes' notes on the recent lay-off of one man, David Scheiber:

Please see the good-bye by editor Jack Sheppard - who wrote a wonderful thank-you note in the newsroom to his best reporter/writer.

Eric Deggans wrote in his online blog: "So to give a little more attention to a good friend, I figured I'd share the note Dave's last editor, Jack Sheppard, posted for display in the newsroom to announce Scheiber's departure:

"How do you summarize a 31-year journalism career in a couple of pages? How do you measure the impact Dave Scheiber’s work, as a writer and an editor, has had on the readers of the St. Petersburg Times? How do you capture the respect and admiration for him shared by his colleagues, who universally consider him one of the nicest guys they know?

It’s not easy, but let me try.

Dave has established himself as one of the premier sports feature writers in the country, with more than 40 national and state writing awards to his credit. Among his most prestigious honors:
• becoming the first Times writer to win first place in the Sports category of the National Headliner Awards, in 2008 for a collection of five features and issue pieces.
• winning first place in the highly competitive 2008 national Associated Press Sports Editors feature category (as well as first place in the Green Eyeshade Excellence in Journalism Sports category) for a story about World War II vets from the Kids & Kubs softball team playing their Japanese counterparts in a symbolic game near Pearl Harbor.
• winning second place in the 2009 Green Eyeshade Awards for electronic medium, for a collection of the top 25 Super Bowl Greatest Moments that Dave researched and wrote, then flew to Dallas and convinced legendary NFL broadcaster Pat Summerall to narrate (for free).

• writing revealing, in-depth pieces on a wide range of sports notables such as Nick Bollettieri, Hank Steinbrenner, B.J. Upton, Byron Leftwich, Mary Carillo, Don Zimmer and Cooper Manning – a 2004 story about the little-known older Manning brother that elicited more than 10,000 Web hits when Peyton reached the Super Bowl in 2007 and again with Eli in 2008.
•.writing compelling tales about unknowns, like the football dad who lost his ability to read after brain surgery but relearned with the help of his young son (a future Northeast High star). Or the St. Petersburg grandmother of No. 1 NFL pick Matthew Stafford and her excitement on draft day.
• delving into controversial issues like the international epidemic of racism in soccer, concussions in pro sports and a four-part series explaining the drought of Triple Crown winners.

• turning his two-part series about NBA referee Bob Delaney's life as an undercover agent infiltrating the New Jersey Mafia into the 2008 book Covert, which he co-authored with Delaney. The book (recently re-released as a paperback after the hardcover success) reached No. 1 on Amazon's sports biography rankings and was named by USA Today as one of the best books of 2008. The movie rights to Covert have been purchased by Appledown Films/Scott-Burns Productions in Los Angeles, and Ron Shelton (screenwriter/director for Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and Tin Cup) has signed on to direct and has begun work on the screen adaptation.

In his first stint in Sports, where he joined the Times as prep editor in 1978 after working as a copy aide and prep writer for the Washington Post, Dave also served as the Rowdies beat writer (’79-’82), the Bucs beat writer (’83-’84), covered the NFL at large (’85-’87) and was part of a two-year, heralded investigation of violations by coach Charley Pell at the University of Florida that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

In between his Sports assignments, Dave also made his mark during 17 years in the Floridian department, as an award-winning writer and as the founding editor of the Weekend section.
As a general assignment writer for Floridian, he wrote human interest features on such names as Bo Diddley and his life on the the farm in Archer, Fla.; Clarence "Big Man" Clemons helping the underprivileged in his home near Singer Island, Fla.; a two-part series on a local Holocaust survivor in "The Voyage of Hilda Stern;" his first-person romp through Fargo, N.D., tracking down the Rolling Stones at a bowling alley; "The Baby Bunch" piece about life as the dad of six kids; and "Music Lights a Fire," a look at the mysterious genetic condition of Williams Syndrome, which produces mild retardation and a deep passion for music – a condition with which his brother was born.
For his writing, Dave won three awards in the prestigious American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors contest in six years.
During his 11 years as Weekend and Entertainment Editor (1987-1999), Dave developed Weekend into a nationally respected publication. For the cover of the 10-year anniversary Weekend section, he convinced the inaugural cover subject, Jay Leno, to pose on the Tonight Show set in 1997 while holding a copy of the first issue.
Dave’s work also regularly appeared outside the Times, most notably as a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated for five years. His portfolio included profiles of athletes such as Chris Evert, Jerome Brown, Deion Sanders, Andre Agassi, Mary Pierce, Mike Veeck and Laura Davies, with cover stories on Vinny Testaverde and Jennifer Capriati.

While Dave’s journalistic accomplishments are impressive, anyone who knows Dave knows of his devotion to his large family – wife Janie, five daughters Valerie 24; Laura 22; Mollie 19; Julia 13 and Emma 11; and son Davey, 8. And they know Dave and Janie from their two decades together on the local music scene, sharing the stage in an array of groups, for the past 10 in one of Tampa Bay's busiest party bands, Ocean Road.

Please join me in congratulating Dave on his immeasurable contributions to the St. Petersburg Times, and on wishing Dave and his wonderful family the best as they embark on the road ahead. We’ll find a time and place in the coming weeks to celebrate Dave’s accomplishments, so stay tuned."

So, as I often do, I try to find a set of lyrics to back the feelings I have deep in the back of my mind. This one is tough, because there is some anger, not focused on any one person or this one personnel decision (as I have now stated more than once), it is focused on the newspaper industry: So, to them, I recommend the lyrics in this song...

Johnny's in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin' for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin' that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone's tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D. A.
Look out kid
Don't matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don't try "No Doz"
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You're gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin' for a new fool
Don't follow leaders
Watch the parkin' meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don't steal, don't lift
Twenty years of schoolin'
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don't wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don't wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don't work
'Cause the vandals took the handles


So, to the good folks at the St. Pete Times and papers everywhere who have taken the newspaper industry and worked hard, ignoring the trends to navigate their livelihood right towards the "Black Hole" of destruction, irrelevance and financial disaster, I dedicate to them two great songs, one song by the band "R.E.M," which was inspired by Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues:"
That's great, it starts with an earthquake,
birds and snakes, an aeroplane - Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn -
world serves its own needs,
Don't misserve your own needs.
Feed it off an aux speak, grunt no, strength no.
Latter starts to clatter with fear fight, down height.
Wire in a fire, representing seven games in a government for hire and a combat site.
Left of west, was a coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped.
Look at that low playing! Fine then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common food, but it'll do.
Save yourself, serve yourself.
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed.
Tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right - right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in Foreign towers.
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn.
Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood running.
Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate.
Light a candle, light a votive. Step down, step down.
Watch a heel crush, crush.
Uh oh, this means no fear - cavalier. Renegade and steer clear!
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.


LAST THOUGHT: The St Pete newspaper's loss will be a gain for so many people when Dave takes a 20-second time-out, organizes his life and family situation and rolls back into action as one of the TOP two or three writers in this country. Dave is THAT GOOD.

Dave is not taking the high road.


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