Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Money, That's What I Want

In an article for D Magazine, editor and publisher Wick Allison suggests that the Dallas Morning News dumps staffers, cuts paychecks, and otherwise shape up or ship out in an effort to become profitable again.

Allison's five steps for saving the paper are widespread: clear the clutter, go local, cut deeper, ditch marginal customers, and talk to advertisers. He writes thoughtfully but abrasively, and simplifies his changes in an Etch-a-Sketch-style shakeup.

Some of his points are viable. Many newspapers, like the DMN, are resting on their laurels and have lost direction - both editorially and business-wise. So his reconfiguring of newsroom and advertising policies - find a voice, yank the contests, and play your strengths - is spot-on.

But some of his unhinged backlash is well-deserved.

While Allison seems to have a good handle on the media business, he's striking down too hard on one thing - pay cuts. Allison recommends cutting down on pay for copy editors and others in the newsroom. But you know what? If a staffer survived a 200-person firing, they should be compensated accordingly. Not only that, but if the DMN wants to attract the best copy editors, pay them better and hire only the best.

Allison, it seems, has forgotten what the word "incentive" means. When most of your newsroom friends have been hired, what's your incentive to stay? A $15,000 pay cut?

To boot, Allison's simplicity in fixing things is easier said than done, and he's got to realize that he's messing with more than just a paper - he's messing with lives and a reputation. The ends may justify the means, but will they really when readers abandon the paper because, after constant pruning, the staff aren't cohesive or energized?

It's true that cutting out AP wire stories and New York Times reruns and offering original content by going local is to the paper's advantage. But Allison, it seems, has been too comfortable in the publisher's chair and forgot that he's an editor, too. Would you be willing to take a deep cut in your own paycheck, Mr. Allison?

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