Man, being a press baron just isn’t the bowl of cherries it used to be. Not that publishers ever were sainted figures in the popular mind, but you don’t have to be a thousand years old to remember the high notes: Katharine Graham backing Ben “we stand by our story” Bradlee; the Sulzbergers going to the mat over the Pentagon Papers; the Bingham family standing staunchly for civil rights at a time when their Kentucky readership didn’t. Of course, all of these folks were publishers, not exactly press barons, but the job description is the same — build, maintain and defend the wall that stands between the newsroom and those who would interfere with its smooth operation.
This is a gross oversimplification, I know. But we’re talking broad strokes here, even caricature. Humor me.
True, you always had Citizen Kane/William Randolph Hearst on the other side, but at least you had a few good role models.
Not so much, anymore. From evil to merely comical, we behold the recent downfalls of Conrad Black and Par Ridder, aka Tony’s boy. I’ve had my eye on the latter gentleman since I worked for the Company Formerly Known as Knight Ridder, which was always crying poverty. No money for raises, no money for travel, no money period! It’s never been this bad! We’re hanging on by our fingernails! No, you can’t have a flat-screen monitor; don’t you know what those things cost? Then I saw an item in a Twin Cities weekly that revealed the check cut to Par Ridder when he moved to St. Paul to be publisher in 2004 — $250,000 for “relocation expenses.” Keep in mind 2004 was the Worst Year Ever in our corner of corporate journalism, at least until 2005 arrived. I guess they formed a human chain across the country and passed his furniture hand-to-hand.
Anyway, if you read the link above, you get a snarkalicious Christopher Hitchens hit piece on Lord Connie, with the sharpest barbs reserved for his wife, Barbara Amiel, who…
…turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it’s at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one.
This comes close, but still can’t top Roger Ebert’s putdown of Lady Barbie, or whatever she’s called. After Black made public a letter to Ebert that revealed the star film critic’s $500,000 salary, Ebert replied:
Since you have made my salary public, let me say that when I learned that Barbara received $300,000 a year from the paper for duties described as reading the paper and discussing it with you, I did not feel overpaid.
As for Ridder the Younger, I think it’s safe to say his career has blown a few tires, left the road, tumbled end over end into the ditch, caught fire and had Tony Soprano pinch its nostrils shut until the bubbling stopped. I mean, when his own staff (or so I assume) is unafraid of mocking him openly — it’s just not a good time to be a scion.
Ah, well, he’s young. He can still change careers. And if he plays his cards right, I’m sure he can squeeze a little more cash out of the company just to go away and stop embarrassing them. Of the two, I’d take Black. You can almost always do better with an arrogant, swaggering prick — even one whose underlings turned off the escalators at the Chicago Sun-Times to save on electricity — than a daddy’s boy so attached to his Excel spreadsheets that he committed career hara-kiri to preserve them.
BTW, I’ve tried to imagine what sort of special sauce I’d have to consume before I’d consider myself too, too rarified to share a bathroom with a pilot, and I can’t do it. Very rich people can be squeamish about excretions; they seem to literally believe their shit doesn’t stink (although everyone else’s does). I recall reading once that Barbra Streisand’s concert rider requires she have a bathroom where she can flush the toilet without having to turn around and risk looking at the contents of the bowl. Of course, Streisand is quite the entertainer, and from what I’ve read of Amiel’s journalism, they’re not in the same league.
Also, it looks as though Rupert Murdoch has finally hammered out his deal for Dow Jones. Most, as in 99.9 percent, of the coverage will be about the Wall Street Journal, but Dow Jones owns other papers, too, and I know some people who work for them. They will almost certainly be sold, which will not be a good thing. Courage, friends.
Bloggage: Some stories from Iraq inspire fury, and others are just depressing. Two of the latter today: A boy who got his parents’ permission to join the army at 17 is killed at 18, and a laundress who went to Baghdad for the salary is paralyzed from the chest down five weeks later.
By popular demand, part three of the Dispatch series on Rachel Barezinsky, the high-school senior shot for the crime of making a crazy man think she was trespassing.
This was interesting: Yes, there is Islamic creationism, and yes, it’s a load of crapola, too.
And that is all, folks. Carry on.
Gene said on July 17, 2007 at 9:34 am
I dunno Nance. I’d take Ridder’s stupidity over Black’s evil. (Kinda like taking a busted knee instead of a dislocated shoulder.) I worked at the Sun-Times during Black’s reign of terror, where his right-hand man F. David Radler laid off five people (allegedly) as retaliation for the Newspaper Guild’s informational picketing during contract negotiations. (The official line was budget cuts, of course.) That was a worst case. More typical was the time we were working on the Saturday paper when the computer system crashed about an hour before deadline, erasing about half of the sports section. Instead of extending deadline by the 30 or so minutes needed to redo the section, the head of production ordered the sports editor to reprint pages from Friday’s paper. That’s one easy way to make deadline.
I also worked for the Company That Called Itself Knight Ridder But Really Wasn’t near the end of its run, and while it was incredibly cheap and understaffed and so stuck in its ways it couldn’t alter any approach without a six-month focus group followed by six months of suits hemming and hawing, at least the top editors and publisher tried to present a decent product.
All of which makes me glad to work for Gannett (which says something about this screwy business).
nancy said on July 17, 2007 at 9:39 am
Well-said, Gene. God, you’re giving me a headache. The memories, the memories…
4dbirds said on July 17, 2007 at 9:41 am
Poor Barbra. She must faint when traveling in Germany where toilets have a shelf/landing in them and one’s ‘product’ sits waiting to be admired before a forceful flush pushes it into the pipes.
John said on July 17, 2007 at 9:53 am
Not mention the German industrial strength toilet paper (splinters are visible).
LA mary said on July 17, 2007 at 9:55 am
My friend Harry Spetnagel told me that Germans are incapable of flushing without taking a good look at what they’ve deposited in the bowl. My German grandmother certainly would have proved that point. Defecation was very important to her.
Dave said on July 17, 2007 at 10:12 am
Meanwhile, a Scripps newspaper, the Cincinnati Post, announce their coming demise.
brian stouder said on July 17, 2007 at 10:26 am
Dave, that was a very interesting (and pretty depressing) story you linked to.
The end of Cincinnati’s Joint Operating Agreement (between the Post and the Enquirer) may happen here in Fort Wayne at some point
Colleen said on July 17, 2007 at 12:01 pm
RE: rich people and bathrooming….while on vacation last week, we toodled out to The Hamptons. I must say, the bathroom at the Starbucks in Bridgehampton was about the filthiest, most disgusting bathroom I’ve seen in a long time. To a “how would someone actually accomplish that?” degree.
RE: rich people crying poor when they deny themselves nothing. Yeah. No room for raises, but a 20 grand wedding ring for the CEO’s wife. Mkay. At what point on the ladder do people forget everyone below and think they really do deserve excessive reward at the expense of the underlings?
Julie Robinson said on July 17, 2007 at 3:07 pm
Nancy, were you in FW the year that Knight Ridder announced there was no money for raises? And then a couple of months later, trumpeted how they had spent $30,000 on fancy plants “in order to create a more positive work atmosphere”, or some such nonsense?
nancy said on July 17, 2007 at 3:21 pm
I don’t recall the plants, and, to be sure, there were always at least a few pennies for raises, but they were insignificant and didn’t pace inflation (and inflation was pretty low then). By the time I left, they were so small that they were always eaten up by the health-insurance rate increase, and everyone was going backwards unless they were getting big promotions (which no one was getting, either).
The screwed financial priorities of KR were too numerous to count, but the one that really set me off was Clean-Up Week. After years of letting the building get grimier and grosser, they finally announced that 600 W. Main St. was going to get a sprucing up — BY THE EMPLOYEES. They tried very hard to make it all jolly good fun, but I think the last word was spoken by Alan when people were being recruited to go weed the ivy patch out front:
“I’ll put on a Fort Wayne Newspapers T-shirt and go paint some old lady’s house, but I’ll be goddamned if I’ll pull weeds for a company with $4 billion in market capitalization.”
Julie Robinson said on July 17, 2007 at 3:46 pm
Actually, I don’t think my hubby ever told me about that one; he might have thought that would be the day I was finally going to lose it and call whichever muckety-muck they had installed in the front office with a real piece of my mind.
On the business side though, they had to give up their weekends to entertain advertisers at the hockey games. They were supposed to schmooze and pour drinks, yet make sure no one got in an accident on the way home. The only thing about Ogden that hubby appreciated was the no-alcohol policy.
basset said on July 17, 2007 at 10:43 pm
None of you ever worked at a Bahakel television station, that’s all I can say…
mine occupied about two-thirds of an abandoned Kroger store.
In Terre Haute.
don’t get me started… but I do remember the general manager mowing the grass out front…
Dorothy said on July 18, 2007 at 7:01 am
Every time I read about what you all have gone through (and continue to go through) about your positions at newspapers, I’m thankful for the good job my daughter has in Virginia. She called me last week to tell me she got an 8.1% raise, and was told she had been due for one in January but it was looked over. So they are back paying her at 4% for that time period. I am not bragging, but just very glad that she got the Down Jones internship her senior year at Penn State, and then The Pilot hired her part way through the internship period. I sure hope her good luck continues. I know newspapers are changing all the time these days.