Monday, December 8, 2008

Boise Weekly publisher calls for salary cuts

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 10:12 AM

In every newsroom, there is one irony-philic reporter with the unenviable task of documenting his or her own newspaper’s demise.

At the Contra Costa Times, where I worked for three years, that guy was George Avalos. At every one of our dour newsroom-wide meetings, Avalos would sit near the front, taking notes and asking most of the questions, knowing that the meaningless numbers our publisher was parroting from his corporate overlords would mean more empty desks and less news the next morning.

Avalos always asked about corporate profiteering and never got an answer.

I would stand near the back of the crowd, furious that we were constantly treated like cogs in a machine rather than tapped for our collective creative genius. I staged a one-man work slow-down. I called a union-organizing meeting. I quit and moved back to Boise.

On Friday, I sat in the corner at another dour newsroom-wide meeting. Boise Weekly owner Sally Freeman asked us to forfeit 10 percent of our pay for a three-month period to make up for a shortfall in November advertising revenue and a bleak outlook for the coming months.

Just two weeks ago I was writing about how the recession is just so much Wall Street smoke and mirrors. Now it is taking a chunk out of my paycheck.

And we’ve got it good. The same week that Boise Weekly’s 20 employees put 10 percent of our paychecks back into the company coffers, some 2,000 newspaper workers in Gannett towns joined the unemployment rolls. More than 15,000 journalists, ad reps and other inky finger types lost their jobs this year according to one accounting.

On Saturday I attended a media justice summit in Boise and fear I came off sounding like we poor reporters are the ones that need some justice.

But, though it may be depressing, any reporter worth his or her salt will treat the end-of-newspapering story just like any other story, so here goes:

Boise Weekly publisher Sally Freeman on Friday asked the staff at Idaho’s only alternative weekly newspaper to take a 10 percent cut in pay through the end of March, optimistic that revenue would rebound by spring. After the quick announcement at BW’s regular Friday staff meeting, Freeman cried a little and then offered to meet with each of her workers individually.

When Freeman bought the paper with her ex-husband Bingo Barnes in August 2001, she faced an even more daunting task.

“When I first bought it, in one day I laid off 11 people,” Freeman recalled.

At the time, the paper, which she bought from City of Roses Newspaper Co., a small Portland, Ore.-based newspaper chain, had 22 employees and half the revenue it has today. While revenue is up and the staff is nearly at the level it was in 2001—when BW boasted a full-time feature writer who was driven to Eastern Europe after the layoffs—Freeman told Boise Weekly that weak ad sales have rent her bottom line.

Boise Weekly’s revenue was down 4 percent on Dec. 3, as compared to 2007, Freeman said. She came in $90,000 below budget in the last six to seven weeks and projects an 8 percent revenue drop-off by year’s end, based on languishing December ad sales.

In just three weeks time the paper’s financial situation took a nosedive.

“There were already lots of layoffs happening in media before there was any indication that we were being impacted by the economic downturn,” Freeman said.
I didn’t ask about profits, partly because I forget that profits are what matters in business and partly because it seemed rude. Freeman is not a faceless media corporation; she is a colleague whose office door, which I can see from my desk, is usually open. And frankly, I hope she makes a lot of money and continues to send me to Cuba and Denver and buy better paper and ink.

Boise Weekly sustained itself through the first few months of the national recession, in part, because it is a locally owned business that depends on other local businesses for much of its support, Freeman said.

In journalistic terms, that means Boise Weekly is independent in ways that other newspapers cannot be. While working journalists have many filters through which we sieve the unending stream of “news,” we, at BW, are liberated from the corporate filter. That allows our small reporting staff of five, as well as editor Rachael Daigle, to seek the stories that we think will alter readers’ consciousness and to apply our own experiences to writing those stories, rather than crafting them in any particular corporate-culture milieu.

Boise Weekly is also poised to embrace the next generation of news delivery in launching a newly-designed Web site after the first of the year. The design and implementation has already been paid, Freeman said, and will not be derailed by the economic downturn.

I googled George Avalos last night to see what he’s been writing. He is still at the Contra Costa Times. His last story was about how three union activists, two of them friends of mine who were laid off soon after CCT workers voted to form a union in June,  failed to convince the National Labor Relations Board that they were fired for their union activities.

When writing becomes a Manichean battle between the creative classes and the bankers who feed them, our culture suffers. When the publishers draw pictures for our covers and stock our larder with plenty of beer and wine, our culture thrives.

So I’m sticking around, but I want my dime bag back in April, Ms. Sally.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fulcher challenges Stegner

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 7:43 PM

Sen. Russ Fulcher, of Meridian, took a brief stab at becoming Senate assistant majority leader Wednesday during Republican leadership elections at the Annex, but Lewiston Sen. Joe Stegner retained the position.

Not that we saw these proceedings or anything, as leadership elections take place within the GOP caucus meetings, which in one of the perennial First Amendment battles of the Idaho Legislature, are closed. (We're not sure if the Democratic leadership elections were open or closed, but their caucus meetings have been open to the public; at least the Democrats sent out a press release with the results of their elections). 

But Senate majority leader Bart Davis said that Fulcher took a "dignified" and "classy" approach to challenging Stegner. And Davis said that Fulcher still got some fine committee assignments, despite his stepping to Stegner. (No, Davis did not use the word "step".)

"We don't have an attitude of retribution in the Senate," Davis told citydesk.

Davis retained his position as did Senate speaker pro tempore Bob Geddes and majority caucus chair Brad Little.

Also in the Senate chamber today: Lt. Gov. cum Sen. Jim Risch, who told citydesk he is not really moving to Washington, D.C.

"We come home every weekend, you know," Risch said. The Risch's have rented an apartment in the Nation's Capitol, however.

The House Republican leaders also remain unchanged, and, according to another source, went unchallenged, though there is speculation about retirements or some other shakeup to the House leadership in two years' time.

House speaker Lawerence Denney, majority leader Mike Moyle, assistant majority leader Scott Bedke and caucus chairman Ken Roberts will still run the show.

One question is still hanging out there: Who will the governor tap for Risch's office?

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dems elect new House leader

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 9:37 PM

After a decade of leading Idaho House Democrats, Rep. Wendy Jaquet relinquished her position to Lewiston physician Rep. John Rusche on Wednesday night.

Reached by phone late Wendesday, Jaquet told citydesk that she was very pleased and that she would be taking a seat on the Join Finance-Appropriations Committee, which holds court every morning of the Legislative session, pouring over the minute details of the state budget.

Backing up Rusche as assistant minority leader will be Pocatello Rep. James Ruchti, whose name sounds quite different than Rusche's when pronounced, though both are frequently butchered by the linguists with microphones that rule the Annex. Boise Rep. Bill Killen will serve as Democratic caucus chair, rounding out the minority leadership team.

On the Senate side, Sen. Clint Stennett remains minority leader, with Sen. Kate Kelly and Sen. Elliot Werk i nthe number two and three positions.

No changes were expected in the Republican leadership teams, but citydesk is enroute to the Annex to find out what happened. Yes, we broke out the sport coat today, though we can't find out brown name tag.

You can watch today's organizational session live on IPTV:

The streaming is much improved over last year, by the way, and even works on the citydesk G4 now!

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Boise chamber thanks Larry Craig

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 9:38 AM

The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce is hosting an evening with retiring Sen. Larry Craig on Dec. 16.

From the invite: 
Let's thank Larry! Join the Chamber as Senator Larry Craig reflects on his career in the U.S. Senate.
The program is from 5 to 7 p.m., Dec. 16 at the DoubleTree Riverside. $30 for members, $40 for nonmembers and $400 for a table. 

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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Greatest Memos Department

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 3:11 PM

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter announced this morning another holdback in the current year state budget, bringing the total cuts to 4 percent spread across every state agency, or $130,767,700, including some cuts beyond 4 percent in a few agencies.

In preparing our report on the latest holdbacks, citydesk came across the memo of the week in which Otter budget chief Wayne Hammon tells Otter budget chief Wayne Hammon how he intends to make the cut.

Though barely visible in the pdf above, Hammon pledges to "eliminate hardcopy printing of budget publications, performance reports and economic publications..." among other things. Perhaps Hammon would consider preparing searchable pdf files of the above and posting them on his Web site, rather than the 130 MB image file provided to citydesk on CD containing agency plans for the cuts.

Hammon also proposes eliminating 85 percent of staff travel and terminating some subscriptions and association memberships, a route proposed by several other agencies. In September agency heads prepared 1, 2, and 2.5 percent reduction plans. This week they are working on 4 and 6 percent cuts and will report their ideas to the governor.

Another gem in the September stack (which we just got around to requesting): Department of Administration director and Otter pal Mike Gwartney, a public servant who works for no pay, is taking care of his agency's 2.5 percent savings in one fell swoop: Gwartney's potential $100,000 salary will cover it, thank you very much.

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