Pi-Press: meet the new boss
Here's a summary of some of the things he's said on the record about newspapers and the business of journalism:
"You want to know how I cope with downsizing?" said Thom Fladung, managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. "I try to get better at my job. It's the only way I know."
Fladung managed through one of the longest and most wrenching strikes in newspaper history at the Detroit Free Press and later through a series of buyouts and layoffs at the Beacon.
"My first recommendation with downsizing is deal with it," he said. "It is what it is. How does any of that affect your ability to copy edit that story that's on your screen? Or to write that headline that you have to write for tomorrow morning's front page? I'd argue it does not. You can still be a better journalist."
I think it's extraordinarily shortsighted (and typical) for journalists to blanche at the idea of circulation folks in their news meetings. Circulation representatives always sat in on news meetings while I was at the The Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, and frequently do so here at the Detroit Free Press. I wish I could make it "always" here as well.
But let's be clear on the mission: The circulation folks are there to learn what's going into the newspaper, not to tell us what's going into the newspaper. And guess what? Sometimes they have ideas on what stories are interesting--ideas that come from out on the street, where they do their business, rather than from inside newspaper buildings, where editors do theirs.
Keep circulation folks out of news meetings based on some bizarre notion of ethical purity? Sure, good idea. Because we certainly wouldn't want to sell more newspapers and have more people read our journalism.
Detroit Free Press Managing Editor Thom Fladung recently had proposed a redesign of the paper to take place early next year. With circulation falling, Mr. Fladung sent reporters out to interview random people about why they didn't read the paper and what they liked and disliked. They found the demographic that was leaving the fastest was "women between diploma and diapers" -- unmarried women with college degrees.
Mr. Fladung often compared the Free Press to Detroit's ailing car makers, saying it would be like them if it didn't make a dramatic change. Even the idea of becoming a free paper was kicked around. Another concept was weekly inserts of women's and men's magazines.