Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cincy | Publisher Buchanan's boss orders a re-write

TO: Margaret Buchanan
FROM: One of your readers
SUBJECT: Your column for Sunday

I'll be candid: I'm very disappointed, especially after our recent conversation about elevating your work so we don't have to put you on a 90-day performance improvement plan.

First, didn't we agree that you would avoid jargon and buzzwords? Also, what about details, details, details?! In business news columns, we expect hard numbers to support trends. This piece fails on numerous counts.

And proper names? Are you checking them online? For example, it's the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- plural, not Circulation. These sort of sloppy errors really undermine your credibility.

I've highlighted just two paragraphs that need a lot of additional reporting/rewriting -- and fast. As you know, it's Wednesday morning, and we desperately need this piece in shape because we have so little copy for Sunday. Plus, as you should know, the new Design Studio needs even more time to prepare pages, given all the staffing cutbacks. Here's what you wrote, with my notes in CAPITAL LETTERS:

Graph 1
We're pleased that a recent report shows our Sunday Enquirer circulation ("CIRCULATION?" JARGON! IF YOU MEAN COPIES SOLD, SAY THAT) is up. A report from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (AGAIN; SEE MY NOTE ABOVE ON SPELLING), the organization charged with independently verifying newspapers' circulation performance, shows Enquirer circulation on Sunday, both home delivered and single copies purchased in stores, has increased (BY HOW MUCH? 1%? 20%? AND FROM WHAT BASE? 100,000 COPIES, 200,000?) for the 26-week measurement period ending Sept. 25, 2011 compared to both the prior measurement period and the same time period last year. It's not detailed in the report, but we know from our own data ("OWN DATA?" AREN'T YOU MIXING APPLES AND ORANGES?) that home delivery circulation is up over September 2008 (AGAIN: WHERE IS THE SPECIFIC NUMBER?), reversing any declines among those who choose ("AMONG THOSE WHO CHOOSE?" WHAT'S THAT MEAN? ARE THERE READERS WHO GET COPIES AGAINST THEIR WILL?) to receive the Enquirer at their homes over the last three years. (IS IT MISLEADING TO COMPARE 2008 TO THIS FALL? WASN'T 2008 A LOW POINT BECAUSE OF THE RECESSION? WHAT WERE THE FIGURES FROM FIVE YEARS AGO?)

Graph 2
Sales of the Monday through Saturday editions of the Enquirer have declined in the same 26-week period. (WHY? FROM WHAT NUMBER TO WHAT NUMBER?) We expected this. (WHY?) We started by focusing on improving the Sunday Enquirer -- this is the edition more people read, so we are able to affect more people with these positive changes. (WHY COULDN'T ALL THE EDITIONS BE IMPROVED SIMULTANEOUSLY?) But we've also been working to improve the daily papers (THIS CONTRADICTS YOUR PREVIOUS SENTENCE.) At the same time we redesigned the Local and Business sections, we redesigned the Friday Weekend section. This section is bigger (MORE PAGES? BIGGER PAGES? BE SPECIFIC; AGAIN, DETAILS), bolder(???) and brighter (HUH? THE PAPER IS BRIGHTER?) than it ever has been (HYPERBOLE. COMPARED TO WHAT?) Reader comments about the change have been very positive (YOU SHOULD INCLUDE REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLES OF COMMENTS. AND HAVE THEY ALL BEEN POSITIVE? SURELY THERE HAVE BEEN CRITICS. THIS NEEDS MORE BALANCE.) And last week we introduced a redesign of another reader favorite -- the Thursday Healthy Living section. (HOW WAS IT REDESIGNED? APPEARANCE? CONTENT?) This section brings you news related to you and your family's health, advice from leading professionals, and every-day tips to help you live a healthier life.


  1. Wow dude, I thought only I went off like that.

  2. I was a business news editor for many years.

  3. What a joke. Want to improve your service to the community? Hire some people to produce the news. Or at least, stop laying them off.

  4. I am not a journalist, but even I could tell that was a poorly written piece.

  5. Good editing, Jim. Why don't you take a look at this one, too:

    You can ask, for example, how this year's campaign compares to those of past years. A hint: (The Gannett Foundation used to be the matching entity but has dropped out.)

    You also might ask how successful the campaign has been over the years, compared to last year's $2.66 million. Here's a hint: (That year, 2007, was nearly $3 million. So, it's falling, sadly, at a time when there is the greatest need.)

    Context is so important to good journalism, and it's missing from this appeal for donations.

  6. The jump page headline…

    to you

    and her close, “I’d love to hear what you think” made me laugh out loud as she’s well known for doing quite the opposite.

    And perhaps that explains why publicly quantifying how much they’re “up” was left out as surely someone editing it must have asked the same question. If not, then that doesn’t speak well of the transformation and staffing changes she’s leading.

  7. Not defending the piece at all, but the post here by Jim was confusing. Must be a slow news day.

  8. What a self-serving, self-promoting advertorial disguised as a column. The Enquirer pads its circulation numbers with various promotional schemes. Are we really to believe that the Sunday circ of one of the worst big-city newspapers in America has gone up when most have gone down?

    Buchanan all but admits that editorial independence means nothing at the Enquirer. She writes that the paper will "continue to connect local businesses with their best customers." In other words, promote the heck out of good chamber of commerce members, even if they're screwing their workers, customers and shareholders.

    And, no, Buchanan isn't committed to giving dedicated readers the news they want. We will never forget how the paper took a pass on investigating state Rep. Mecklenborg's dalliances with strippers. And, no, she doesn't love to hear what anyone thinks other than her superiors in Northern Virginia.

  9. Buchanan and her toadies, Carolyn Washburn and Julie Engebrecht, are not beacons of enlightened journalism. Washburn loves to hear herself talk and immediately came in and started cutting people, including reporters, something Tom Callinan would not do. The newspaper's reporting ranks are so decimated that routine jobs, weekend coverage, back up police coverage, obits etc., are shared by city staff on a rotating basis. Suburban news is covered in Enquirer online by weekly reporters in tiny burgs. Engebrecht is just awful. No journalistic chops, but don't mention the word meeting because she'll start salivating and rush right off to it.
    By the way Carolyn, stop telling your staff in meetings that the capital of Vermont is Burlington. It isn't. It's Montpelier. You make that mistake repeatedly and to the geographically correct members of your staff, it always bring guffaws and shows you how little you really know. Yes, it is a little point but does nothing to increase your credibility in the newsroom.
    Can't wait to see what you next jouralistic effort is.
    By the way, ask Margaret to share the Sunday circulation numbers. If they are up, tell readers by how much. A little context please. Can't be up by much or she would have shared them.

  10. Over 130 comments on Marvelous Maggie's piece in Sunday Enquirer. None compliment her or the Enquirer. Most see right through what's happened in Cincinnati with the wholesale layoff of top editors and good reporters.
    This comment appears to sum it all up.
    "I turn to The Enquirer frequently as an online news source, and certainly appreciate its presence. I find that the hyperlinks embedded in many stories (i.e., an address that immediately pulls up a map location when clicked) are an amazing tool, and that the stories appear in a timely manner, ensuring that I have fresh news available to me as the day progresses.
    My appreciation, however, is frequently marred by the sloppiness of the written product I view on the page. In the face of improper synonyms (I recall a story about a bicycle event in Hyde Park where your writer used "peddled" rather than "pedaled" in three separate paragraphs), dangling participles (which would be uproariously funny had they been intentional), and outright poor grammar, it genuinely makes me wonder how some of your writers managed to graduate High School.
    Whether this issue is born of reporters with poor command of their language, the electronic devices they are employing to transmit their work, or simply lack of editorial oversight, the results are certainly less than favorable to the credibility of The Enquirer, and unworthy of Cincinnati. I both challenge and beg you to address this aggressively."

  11. As a cincy resident, I wish she would commit to showing more nightclub pictures as the main story on the web site. 4 days a week of cleavage and gay bar openings is not enough! I demand more meaningless nightclub photos! There is nothing else in this town, ignore the story lines behind some of the most interesting and scandal-filled politics in the country, some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the country, 17 fortune 1000 companies. forget all those, i want more pics.

  12. Jim, on your original post: too much coffee dude. And remind me again what your (seemingly constantly moving) rules are about what kind of language you allow and who you will allow to be abused?

  13. Must be "new math" at work in Buchanan's vanity piece, because - for the life of me - I cannot see how the "bigger & bolder" 12-page broadsheet WEEKEND section can be larger than the 64-page WEEKEND tab that readers were getting from fall 2005-2008. A section that Buchanan oversaw the improvements on when the expanded version debuted.

    In my world, when you convert 64 tab pages into broadsheet ones it equals a 32-page broadsheet section. Actually, even more since the pages have shrunk in size since then.

    Isn't making that statement tantamount to lying? Or maybe it's long-term memory loss? What a brazen spin ...

  14. To 12:06 p.m.

    Buchanan loves to put her spin on things like the Weekend section. For the past five years, she has been cutting the heck out of the section which explains why a major metro daily has one reporter and symphony, theater and food critics in its weekend and life department. As Bugs Bunny says: "That's all folks."

  15. The number of comments from readers have topped 160 and I only managed to find one that said nice things about the Enquirer.
    Most were like this:
    "Reprinting whole pages from USA Today is why I will never again waste money on the Enquirer. The reporting is routinely awful, the writing is worse, spelling and grammar are of juvenile texting quality, and the lack of local news coverage is a clear indication that this Gannett mouthpiece is about advertising. I know enough of history to know that newspapers in this country have always been political advocates and reporting the news has been slanted since the beginning of time. I've no problem with that. But cut and paste whole pages from Mcpaper?

    Cincinnati no longer has a local newspaper worthy of the name, not since the demise of the Post. I'm sure that the many talented reporters on the Enquirer's staff lament that fact. Lazy editing and incomplete reporting has replaced professional journalism and with no local alternative there is little to indicate any improvement is forthcoming. Ms. Buchanan's 'letter' seems to promise more of the same. Pandering to the suburbs and strip malls is not producing a city newspaper.

    Newspapers once had a voice that spoke for and of their region. Breslin in New York, Royko in Chicago, Shirley Povich in Washington. What have we? Ads for furniture fair covering the front page?"

    Well, Margaret, you wanted to hear from readers. You have. What do you say now?

  16. And to top all of it off, Carolyn sent out an email telling news staff to watch their typos, etc. She said:

    "I am getting a growing number of complaints from readers about sloppy copy, online and in print. Misspellings. Poor grammar. Poor sentence structure. Margaret heard some of that today in reader responses to her column."

    Where were her comments about complaints regarding the lack of real news content -- a campaign that she has driven with the help of corporate. Or criticisms about the lack objectivity over one of Ohio's most important battles over union job security. Many commenters said they canceled their subscriptions over that.

    No, Carolyn. It was just all about the mistakes your reporters and editors make. Way to raise morale.

  17. Carolyn couldn't raise newsroom morale with a jack. Margaret heard more than "some of that" if the comments are any indication of how frustrated readers are with that product. You cannot cut all the good people that have been cut from the newsroom without a serious decline in quality which is what has happened.

  18. I wish corporate would hurry up and promote MB to headquarters. Publisher material she's not. She's not even a good manager. Hard to be one when you don't like people and view them as cost centers. She'd be happiest being in a room by herself, reviewing reports, sending out email directives and receiving visitors only to take fresh coffee, lunch and dry cleaning.

  19. She does come across as cold and anti-social. However, I don't think she'd be happy in a room by herself because then she would have no one to belittle or lord over.

  20. 8:19 asked: "Where were her comments about complaints regarding the lack of real news content..."

    It's easy to blame the copy desk. It's much harder to fix the other stuff.


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