Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear Blog, Today Im going off the rails on a crazy train


Welcome, blog visitors. Please be advised. Chattering Teeth is a thrilling, high speed, turbulent blog that includes sharp turns, sudden drops and stops. Please secure all hats, glasses, pocket protectors and loose change before embarking. For your safety, please keep your arms and legs within the blog at all times until it comes to a complete stop. In the unlikely event it becomes necessary for this blog to make a water landing, your seat cushion may function as a floatation device.

If you are a democrat, please refer to the picture below for a graphic demonstration on how to engage a seat belt. We know this advanced technology can be frightening at first, especially if you're no Thomas Einstein. Please seek the help of a Republican if you entangle yourself. Enjoy the ride!!!

Speaking of rides, my new favorite TV commercial is that Honda Pilot "Road Trip" spot. It starts out with a family quietly driving down a desolate desert road, Mom and dad in the front seat, 3 girls in the middle and 3 boys in the back seat. The first time I saw this, I expected one of the boys to pull his sister's hair, or the little girl to ask that ageless query, "Are we there yet?" Instead, a male toe head mouths the opening bass notes to Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train".

Bumbum. Bumbum... bumbum... bumbum.

On que comes sister with the "Aiyee aiyee aiyee aiyee..." followed by the random African-American lad on ice-in-the-cup percussion. (NOTE: I wonder how mom explained this birth to "dad")

Then dad kicks in with what I assume to be the lead guitar. I say "assume" because dad's hands never leave the wheel. Even as the entire family rocks out, all we get from dad is a sporadic fingertap. Sure, mom and dad get bonus points for the well choreographed rubber chicken necks, but I hold the bar a little higher than this for a random road trip rock out.

I first realized I had a very unique and special gift somewhere in my middle teens. I would lock the door of my room, put on some vinyl Nugent and practice solo for hours, honing my gift until it reached super hero status. Just a boy, his hands and his instrument. I, of course, am talking about my air guitar.

Wiktionary defines the "air guitar" as "An imaginary guitar that a listener to (usually rock) music pretends to play," but it is oh so much more than that! Anybody can pretend to play an imaginary guitar, but only an air guitar ninja can reach through the dimensional fabric of the space-time continuum to grasp and play an instrument not meant for human hands. My name is DaBlade, and I am a master musi-physician of guitar string theory.

I never entered into any contests, nor did I choose to display and share my rare talent with friends and/or family in my early years as the gift blossomed. I didn't want to cheapen my art by Tebowing it for show and profit. Not only that, but my extraordinary ability made me feel different, and so I hid it away for many years. I remember watching my youthful moves in the mirror one day and thinking, "I AM NOT A CIRCUS MONKEY! I AM A HUMAN BEING!"

And so the gift lay dormant for many years.

Then my 3 boys were born, and at this point I knew I owed it to them to train them in this family legacy coded in their DNA, that they might be able to harnass and shackle this power that is their birthright and inheritance. And so, dear friends, as my boys will attest - nary a road trip has occurred where the driver's window hasn't been lowered to allow dad to perform super-human hand-contourting air guitar fretwork on a seemingly invisible guitar with multiple twisting necks of various lengths and otherwordly wood, razor sharp fingerboards and whammy bars inaccessible to all but the most elite. More than once, cars sharing the road would peel to the side when I hit my zone to Skynyrd's Free Bird - mistaking my flashing arm, hand and finger movements for either gang signs or a health emergency. The devil better stay in Georgia.

This song strangely compels within me a desire to purchase a redesigned 8-passenger Honda Pilot mini van for the fam... OK, not really. But it does demand a little air guitar action, DaBlade style!!

Step off to the right. Step off to the right please. When the blog stops, step off to the right.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Obama golfs while the 99% suffer

The following dramatization depicts scenes of chaos and despair. Reader discretion is advised.

I heard someone scream, "INCOMING!," and we dove into the nearest bunker for protection. One second, my friends and I are talking and smiling and enjoying the day. The next second all hell was breaking loose, as the incoming projectiles were crashing all around us. I peeked up to see my friend Mary curled up into the fetal position sobbing, "Why waa waa waa why?," as she rocked back and forth, seemingly to the rhythm of the reports all around her...

The above is a Chattering Teeth dramatization of...
A) A first hand account of Hamas terrorists perpetrating rocket attacks on innocent Israeli citizens.
B) President Obama warms up on the driving range before a round at an undisclosed golf course in the Washington area Friday with his "body man", scattering the pool of reporters with his miss hits.

The correct answer, of course, is "B", as Obama takes in his 30th time golfing this year and the 88th golf outing of his presidency.

Too bad the driving range is not covered by the new state-of-the-art First Divot Deflect System that blankets the actual course. Another stimulus is necessary to fund that degree of coverage.

What? You've never heard of the First Divot Deflect System? It utilizes the advanced technology of the Patriot Missile System. However, unlike the Patriot missile system which is designed to detect, target and then destroy an incoming missile that is typically flying at three to five times the speed of sound - the First Divot Deflect system is designed to detect, target and deflect President Obama's errant golf shots back towards the hole. Compared to the Patriot missile system, the First Divot Deflect System is a much more ambitious feat, challenging engineers and scientists like nothing else since the Manhattan Project.

Here's how it works
Obama's sporadic shots require an elaborate tree-based radar system that locates and measures golf ball location, speed, trajectory, atmospheric fluctuations and ball spin. This data is instantly transmitted via satellite to NASA, where their high-speed computers - normally used in tracking earth-threatening asteroids - are re-tasked to digest, compute and predict where the golf ball would land without diversion, taking into account the numerous expected golf cart and tree caroms.

A measured response is computed that will redirect the ball to the fairway, and the electronic instructions are instantly transmitted back to small fairway-lined air cannons. All of this needs to occur in such a way that will minimize the president's suspicion, since his narcissistic and arrogant personality requires that he truly believe he made these golf shots unassisted.

All of this high-tech hardware and software comes with a hefty taxpayer pricetag in the several $Trillions, a veritable bargain when you consider the cost to this country of a detached and bored Obama with time on his hands.

And now a word from our sponsor...
NEW from Chattering Teeth Toys! Electronic Obama Golf Game!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Abortion Operation the top seller at Chattering Teeth Toys for the third Black Friday in a row!

Abortion Operation Game
A board game that's fun for the whole family social group of individuals living under your roof! Ages 9 to adult (fetuses through 8 don't get to play - HAHAHA!).

Cavity Sam does not return, as he has apparently run off with a hooker from Vegas. However, Sam's big-nosed ex-old-lady is here, and she is carrying Sam's unwanted tissue mass! Lucky for you that Egocentric Sally has decided it's not real convenient for her to carry this tissue mass to term. Pass the forceps, we're going in!

Yes, this is a partial re-post of my personal favorite blog post ever. Click here to see the original in it's entirety.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kindergarten Logistics

I subbed again yesterday at a local K-8th grade Catholic school, this time at the helm of their 6th grade class. Having turned 50 this year, and with the youngest of my three boys now a Junior in high school, the experience reminded me of something I often forget. Namely, the joys of Kindergarten logistics.

It was lunch time, so I began making my way toward the gym, which doubles as the school's cafeteria. Sharing the hallway was the kindergarten teacher, her class lined up behind her single file like a mother duck leading a duckling parade. I stopped and stood idly to the side and watched them pass.

The teacher's goal was to get the children from point "A" (the classroom) to point "B" (the cafeteria). That's logistics.

Now, having led the distribution and customer service functions for a newspaper with a daily goal of getting 100,000+ freshly printed newspapers to individual point B's before they "spoiled", I am somewhat familiar with the concept of logistics. That said, I'm sure the teacher didn't need to consult maps of the school, nor the use of RouteSmart software to determine the fastest and most efficient path from "A" to "B".

At this point I feel it necessary to point out the obvious to you, dear reader, that students are not allowed the use of any personal electronic media while in school. I was never-the-less initially struck by their absense. There were no ipods and ear buds, no cell phones, Bluetooths or Game Boys. Approximately 20 youngsters passing in front of me, and not one of them was checking their Facebook page on an iPad or smartphone. These poor children were left to their own devices, as it were, and efficiency and economy of motion was apparently not a priority for these moving widgets.

Several of the boys were pantomiming as airplanes, zooming and zig-zagging past me with their arms out while making jet engine sounds through pursed lips. A young lady passes, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet while she hums an unrecognizable tune. Another girl is finding the bow in the hair of a classmate fascinating, and the wearer of said bow doesn't seem to mind. Another boy passes walking backwards, never glancing over his shoulder to peak - a veritable collision waiting to happen!

Every passing child was enjoying the moment in leisure inefficiency. Unwinding coils of controlled chaos. Kindergarten logistics.

At this point, for some reason, I thought of a busy intersection in New York at luchtime. A mass of harried businesspeople scurrying this way and that. Some walking with their heads down, opposable thumbs dancing over their Blackberrys in answer to the latest work-related email. Others appear to be talking to themselves, as they speak to a client via Bluetooth hardware clamped on their ear like some 21st century borg. Still others are checking their voicemails the "old-fashioned way" by holding a cell to their ear with one hand while balancing a Starbucks Grande in the other.

All are making their way from point "A" to "B" in the most efficient manner possible. No deviations. No smiles. Expertly avoiding eye contact and any actual human interaction. Adult logistics.

Back to schoolThe children line up to the kitchen window where they receive a flimsy styrofoam plate containing two pancakes and two sausages. From there, they are expected to grab a milk from the cooler before negotiating their way through the salad bar set up in the middle of the gym. Most children opt to balance the milk on their tray between the pancakes and sausages, thereby freeing up both hands to hold said tray. Others try the "milk in one hand, tray in the other" tactic. Both tactics seem to work equally well with the older children, but the superiority of the "two hands on tray" technique becomes apparent by the time the kindergartners demonstrate both.

Did I mention the salad bar? The layout went like this...

* Bowl of lettuce
* Tray of mini muffins
* Containers of cream cheese
* Salad condiments
* Jello
* dressings

A supply chain engineer with a 5-year-old at home will quickly spot the potential raw material faux paus in the above. Sure enough, it didn't take long before a kindergartner made their way to the end of the procurement chain with a tray that contained a muffin smeared with about 6 ounces of cream cheese, topped with about a cup and a half of immitation bacon bits. Is that syrup on his salad? He had a grin on his face ear-to-ear, and I thought to myself, "Why the hell not?"

That's Kindergarten logistics, and I am thankful I was reminded of it. Life is a gift not to be squandered. Not one moment should be wasted in worry over things beyond my immediate control. Why wring my hands together in frustration or ball them into fists of stress when they could be better put to use as airplane wings.

Now if you'll excuse me, there is a donut with maple syrup and my name on it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Goss Press obit

e-mail from a friend and ex-colleague from the newspaper...

The Journal pressmen called it "the hole"....the area where the Goss letterpress pounded out millions of copies of The Flint Journal over the years.

Well, the "hole" is almost empty. This month, the scrapping project for the old press will be complete, leaving another void in the pages of newspaper history.

Yes, it wasn't a real person with a sole...but still it's a sad day for everyone who worked, struggled, sweated and loved the old beast that lived in "the hole."

- Ed McGraw

Great pics Ed. Brings back so many memories of those old Goss behemoths. They remind me of a line of large gray elephants. To think these relics were not originally constructed with color ink in mind. They sure made circulation life exciting every day, wondering if the bailing wire, duct tape and chewing gum would hold!

Of course, Thanksgiving has a whole set of great memories. As a 14-year-old carrier delivering 10 papers at a time because that was the maximum number that could fit in a pair of shoulder bag... As a 18-year-old circ clerk loving the extra hours working the night shift in the mailroom, rolling the Thanksgiving edition in the brown paper and glue for motor route throws...

Speaking of painting elephants... (these are not the old Goss presses)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paper or touch screen?

I was called in to substitute at a local Catholic K-8 the last two days. A 6th grade boy noticed my Kindle sitting on the desk and asked if I liked it. I told him I loved it. He answered back in apparent total sincerity, "I like paper better".

You hear a lot of strange things out of the mouth's of these 12-year-old crumb-crunchers, but nothing threw me off balance more than that.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

GOP Debate Turtle Soup

Re: The CBS News/National Journal GOP debate on foreign policy. We live in a dangerous world and it is getting "dangerouser". We need a president who can effectively deal with the issues that threaten our national security. Namely...

* What to do about that Mahmoood Ackmadeenadude fella in Iran trying to build a nuclear weapon.

* What to do about Chinese currency manipulation,

* While all reasonable people agree that Attorney General Eric Holder should be water boarded for his treasonous role in the "Fast and Furious" gun-running scheme that led to the death of a border patrol agent, should water boarding be used in any other circumstances with other enemy combatants who possess information critical to our safety and security? Or do you hold Ron Paul's view that it was even immoral for the pioneers to torture their textiles using wash boards.

There is nothing more important than the answers to these, and other questions related to foreign policy. If you are looking for a detailed and substantive analysis on these issues, you may have taken a wrong turn on the information superhighway, as my focus will be about turtles.

I couldn't help but watch the debate through the prism of this recent comment made by Newt Gingrich:

“The bunny rabbit runs by and falls asleep,” he said recently. “The tortoise just keeps coming. So hopefully in this game, Mitt Romney will be the bunny rabbit and I’ll be the tortoise. That would all work out perfectly.”

Newt's recent rising poll numbers certainly back up this comparison. He had another great debate last night, and I am sure this rising poll trend will continue.

“But enough about that. The question that nagged me more than any other of those foreign policy queries above was this (Best read in your head with the voice of barbara Walters): If the Wepubwicans were turtles, what kind of turtles would they be?

Newt Gingrich - Newt likens himself to the tortoise, but based on his snarling and attacking responses to some of the idiotic moderator questions, I'm going with the American Snapping Turtle. Characterized by a massive head and strong jaw, watch your fingers if you get too close! That goes for these turtles too. The Snapper is my personal favorite. Turtle AND candidate. Go Newt!

Mitt Romney - A Red eared slider. They are one of the most common pet turtles. Some pet owners have been know to use a non-toxic paint on the back of their shells to distinguish one from the other. Different colors can project a different pseudo-personality, and the colors can be changed for convenience.

Rick Perry - Box Turtle. A box turtle lives most of its long life in a small parcel of land near its place of birth. This area is known as its home range. Perry will be returning to Texas soon.

Ron Paul - The Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle. Why use up valuable energy on hardening that exo-skeleton for protection when we are just going to spend our time on sandy or muddy bottoms eating snails?

Jon Huntsman - Pick any Asian turtle species, since Huntsman was the Chinese ambassador for a time. Get it? Same language and vacant stare. These breeds also have soft shells and the Chinese are eating them into extinction. The turtle, that is.

Michele Bachmann - Diamondback terrapin. OK, it's a stretch, but diamonds ARE a girl's BFF, right? Besides, these terrapin nests have been known to produce as many as 23 hatchlings!

Rick Santorum - Loggerhead. No reason, other than I have always wanted an excuse to say "Loggerhead" on this blog. Aside from that, The top shell (carapace) is slightly heart-shaped and reddish-brown. In the right light, so is Santorum's doo.

Herman Cain - Green sea turtle. "Green" as in the only non-politician in the field. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I love Herman. I love pizza. Green turtles inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses (which is not a recommended pizza topping).

BLOG BONUS: A Walt Disney Production

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11 Means Jobs!

Today's date, as it would hypothetically appear today on overdrawn checks I would write - if I had a checkbook, is 11-11-11. What does that mean, and should I curl into the fetal position and sob uncontrollably just prior to 11:11 AM Central time?

Well, if you're like me... as opposed to what?

I myself am not particularly superstitious, and find no significance with today's date 11-11-11. For example, I've never thrown a pinch of salt over my shoulder after spilling it. Nutmeg works better in staving off evil spirits. I know it's counter-intuitive, but I've tried all the various spices, while then measuring degrees of visitations and voices in my head.

Then again, some numerologists believe you should be afraid. Very afraid!:
In medieval times, numerologists — those who searched for the mystical significance of numbers — believed all numbers had both positive and negative aspects … except for 11. In the words of the 16th century scholar Petrus Bungus, 11 "has no connection with divine things, no ladder reaching up to things above, nor any merit." Stuck between the divine numbers 10 and 12, 11 was pure evil, and represented sinners.
If evil spirits like this number, and 11-11-2011 is unlucky, then you have to figure that 11-11-1111 was really nasty, right?

Historians are in agreement that this was the most boring day out of the most boring year, so go back to sleep. My Mayan calendar is never wrong.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

This is only a test!

Dear Blog,

How was your day?

I know it's been a while seen we met regularly around this digital holodeck of a simulated kitchen table to discuss our days, but I promise to do a better job keeping you updated on the really important issues of the day from here on. I meant it before when I said that "You... complete... me" in my Paperboy's tale of unrequited love back in January, 2010. For the record, I take a contrarian view to singer, song-writer and part-time philosopher Lee Ann Womack, and hope that you do not dance.

Like most afternoons, I find myself curled up on the couch and wrapped in a comforter, drinking warm milk and eating popcorn while tuned to the Weather Channel (after retrieving the remote from my son's 3-month old German Shepherd's water bowl). With my boys at school and the wife off to work, Koda is the only other warm body around, so it is left to me to train her. I will break her of her many idiosyncrasies just as soon as I become fluent in German.

For future reference, if she hears the command "Ya vol", she will offer her paw to shake. I believe she is just pre-occupied with the current economic crisis in Europe.

Yesterday was apparently a day of failure, and I am not even counting my daily unproductive scouring of the job boards in search of Flint area employment. For those few of you in these parts who were not in front of your TVs watching the Weather Channel at 2PM yesterday, you will be shocked to learn that the planned Emergency Broadcast test didn't go so well.

My attention level was at a fever-pitch as the weather jockey stated coverage was NOW breaking away for this 30-second test message. The screen went dark for a moment, and my rapid-fire popcorn ingestion picked up speed in anticipation. What appeared a moment later was a weather map of the United States with unexplained squiggly lines interspersed with block letter "L"s and "H"s.

Had this been an actual emergency, I take solace in the fact that I will know the 5-day forecast on judgement day.

It could have been worse. I found out later that some DIRECTV subscribers were subjected to a clip of Lady Gaga's song "Paparazzi". This did not happen to me, and for that I am thankful and feel that my local cable carrier and the Weather Channel should be commended.

Speaking of failures, there is that painful-to-watch 53 seconds of stuttering
by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP debate last night, when he was grasping for a coherent thought. This would have been an excellent time for him to break out in song with his version of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi". Not only would this have been a great save, he wouldn't have looked crazy at all standing so close in proximity to Ron Paul.

BTW, I read that Reggie Love, a key member of the Obama "posse", was bolting from the White House. No reason has of yet been given for his departure. If I had to guess, I'm betting there was a little in-fighting between Love and Obama's top fluffer - a story I broke here.

Maybe Obama has re-tasked "Buddy" love as the new Emergency Broadcast System Czar in order to get to the bottom of this latest test failure. I think we all can agree this should take precedent over some namby pamby White House subpoena to release Solyndra documentation. What's a loss of a measely $500 Million of tax-payer dollars from a fake green company to bankruptcy when we have a rampant Lady Gaga problem in this country.

And finally, I was saddened to read this status update on Facebook from an ex-colleague of mine:

"My garbage can of 15 years blew away tonight. Seems like a long time to have a garbage can"

I offered him what comfort I could in commenting:
"I'm sorry for your loss. You didn't judge it by it's rough exterior shell, rather, by the contents of it's innards... I'm gonna spend more quality time with my can starting today."

But don't worry Blog. This will not take away from our time together.



KODA!... Where's the remote!?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance Convenience

Effective February 2, 2012, home delivery subscribers of The Grand Rapids Press, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, and Jackson Citizen Patriot will have their delivery schedules cut from 7 days to 3 days per week. This plan is a bit different from what was done on the east side of the state with the Bay City Times, Saginaw News and Flint Journal back in June, 2009, and using the MLive Media's FAQ page - I will clarify some of these differences.
3) Q: What will happen to my subscription to my local paper?
A: All subscriptions with the exception of Sunday Only customers will automatically be converted to the new 3-day home delivery and 7-day electronic service. “Sunday Only” subscriptions will remain Sunday only.
"Wait just a minute!," you might be thinking. "Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself!"

That's right! You'll be BETTER off! You see, Mr. and Mrs. Core Subscriber, you currently only receive ONE paper per day, for a total of 7 measely copies per week. Come February of next year, you will receive 3 print newspapers AND 7 e-editions (one per day of exact electronic replicas, complete with the same typos, misspellings and clunky story jumps to which you have grown accustomed) for a total of TEN "papers" per week!

This e-edition represents one of the differences I eluded to in the above. When delivery frequencies were cut on the east side of the state, we did not yet have an e-edition in place to back-fill the lost publication days and allow us to "count" these e-editions as "paid" copies with the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

The biggest difference in strategies, however, is the decision on the west side to print and distribute single copy editions to selected stores and gas stations on the non-home delivery days. This is more in line with what was done in Detroit with the News and Free Press, and a strategy I had wished we would have been allowed to do in the east. (Tuesdays have since been added back, and I expect the other days will follow suit shortly).

Why? Because there is revenue to be had with single copy as opposed to home delivery. For example, the newspaper carriers for the Flint Journal had to drive almost 7,000 miles per day collectively to deliver to every subscriber in Flint, Genesee County and the portions of the surrounding 6 counties of the distribution footprint. Let's assume each vehicle achieved 20mpg (if you were ever in the backyard while trucks were loading, you know I'm being generous here). Let's further assume the price of fuel per gallon is $3.50 for the sake of easy math. Fuel costs with those numbers in a 7-day delivery model comes to just over $447K per year (not counting vehicle maintenance expenses). Yes, carriers are independent contractors who have to use their own vehicles and buy their own gas. But if enough money is not built into their rates for these purchases, how long would they deliver do you think? Single copy, however, has minimal delivery expenses with their bulk drops, making for almost pure profit to the company.

"How much," you ask?

Let's say that the retail price of a daily single copy edition is a buck, and the company pays a dime per copy to the distributors that plop them in bulk at the stores. Let's further assume sales of about 15,000 copies per day for these daily editions. That equates to a profit of $2.8 Million annually to the company (90 cents * 15k sold * 4 daily editions * 52 weeks) LESS Dealer, production and other costs associated with printing these 16-page newsletters, still leaving a healthy profit.
You might be asking yourself, "If that's true, then why didn't the east side immediately print single copy editions for the other four days?"

To answer this, you have to travel back... waaaay back to the days of the infamous Newhouse job security pledge. A pledge that Advance Publications repealed on February 5, 2010 - one day prior to my February 6, 2010 layoff coincidentally. Weird.

If my memory serves, the pledge went something like this:

"We provide job security to all full-time, salaried employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. This means that no full-time, salaried employee will lose his job because of new equipment, technological advances or lack of work. Once you have satisfactorily completed a probationary period, you will become a permanent employee. Then, this unique job security pledge applies to you as long as you continue to perform your assigned tasks satisfactorily, do not engage in misconduct and this newspaper continues to publish."

The link above falsely quotes that the pledge "applied only as long as the newspaper 'continues to publish daily in its current newsprint form.'"

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the caveat after "continues to publish" was added after the fact (if my memory serves).

Don't worry! I didn't lose my place. To answer the question above regarding why Flint didn't produce single copy editions for the four lost home delivery days, it is my understanding that the revenue left on the table was worth the talking points that could be used in court if the breaking of the pledge were challenged. A touchy subject the west side need not concern itself with, apparently.

But I probably don't know what I'm talking about.

To be continued...

The latest from our Daffy president

You're fed up, Mr. President? We have to deal with YOU every day!

I couldn't think of a cartoon character to represent Joe Biden's own open mic gaffe that was more ridiculous than the man himself. Any ideas?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Re: Asteroid 2005 YU55
Scientists will be tracking an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier as it flies by Earth tonight at 6:28PM Eastern.

I located this asteroid last night while drinking beer and playing with the kid's telescope in the backyard. I spotted a herd of dinosaurs living on this satellite. Not sure why this isn't being covered by the mainstream media, but I really found it strange.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Phone call bookends from father and son

UPDATE: I had meant to link "that Smith character " to his Free From Editors Blog. Only fair, considering all the traffic he is sending here. Obviously fixed now. Thanks Jim!

It was one day in October, 2005, when the publisher for the Flint Journal called my desk phone and asked me to come up to his office...

By that time, I had been the Circulation Manager (CM) for a little over 4 and a half years. As CM, I was second-in-command in the department, and the Circulation Director (CD) I worked for was the finest gentleman and brightest administrator I have ever had the pleasure of calling boss. As I look back on it, anything I did right I owe in part to his leadership and mentoring. I also might add that I had (and still have) the greatest respect and similar warm fuzzies for this publisher. They demanded nothing short of your absolute best, and held you accountable, but both did it in such a way that inspired loyalty and desire to give them nothing less. Both of these fine gentlemen retired just prior to Flint's conversion to a 3-day publication in June, 2009. Now as CM, I had been given full reigns over leading the distribution and customer service efforts of the department. Exceptional customer service is a total team effort, and I couldn't be more proud of the dedication and professionalism of that team. We must have done "OK", based on the findings from MORI, an independent market research company, who stated they were "blown away" by our customer's responses in rating satisfaction levels. In fact, this company stated we ranked a very close #2 in customer service out of all the newspapers they researched across the country.

...Long story short(ish), I was offered a promotion to CD, as my boss was being moved upstairs into an expanded building-wide administrative role. I remember counting in my head the 5 other CDs I had worked for up to that point and quickly realized (not counting my immediate predecessor) that the job "life span" of those CDs was a very short few years. While I can't say that I knew the severity and speed with which the business would melt down, I did recognize treacherous waters were ahead, but I had confidence in my abilities, coupled with my belief that when the time came for my departure, the company would reward my efforts for leading the vanguard charge up the hill. So like a dummy, I accepted.

Reader's digest version of my tenure as CD.
2006 Publisher mandate: Grow circulation and do it now!
Circulation response: In 2006, daily and Sunday home delivery averages realized year-over-year gains, reversing decade-long trend of negative growth. 2006 was the second year in a row of daily home delivery growth. In Flint.

2007 Publisher mandate: Ad revenue is tanking, so you need to re-invent circulation and slash expenses now!
Circulation response: Saved almost $350,000 (not including salaries, wages, and commissions) during 2007 and doubled again the following year. Revenue growth and expense savings led to more than doubling the Circulation contribution margin (from 15.7% to 40%) over 3 years.

2008 Publisher mandate: The owners have weighed in. Build a 3-day and a 2-day model from the ground up - with no historical data or models to guide you. I need a complete revenue and expense budget, complete with a departmental re-structure, subscription pricing, new trucking and distribution costs. Do it without help to retain secrecy so that Smith character doesn't get wind. Oh, and have it on my desk next Monday.
My response: Well, except for the department re-structure, you've seen the rest. It was pretty much to a "T" what I put together over that weekend.

As for the departmental re-structure, I was originally given no goals for FTE absorption. I can't remember the exact number I submitted, but it was something like an absorption of 3 full time positions. I felt like this would make us as skinny as possible while still being able to achieve the levels of customer service we had always demanded. I plead guilty to trying to save as many full time positions as possible.

The publisher was not happy. "If you were starting a distribution department from scratch, you wouldn't submit THIS plan!," he said.

I agreed, and responded, "these aren't FTEs on a spreadsheet to me. They are my friends."

He slid the folder back to me and simply said "re-do it. This time do it with part time positions."

Fast forward to March, 2009. I was charged with calling in the full time staff of district managers individually to communicate their future lay off date and present them with their separation papers. I originally balked and told my boss that I wouldn't do it.

"I grew up with these people. They're my friends".

My boss empathized with me and I knew he felt the same way. He told me that my refusal wouldn't stop this from happening, and all it would accomplish would be a pre-mature end to my career while they found someone else to swing the axe. "Besides," he stated. "It is better they hear this news from someone who cares about them."

I grabbed onto that last bit of advice like a lifeline. It felt almost bearable believing my motives were somehow altruistic and not selfish job preservation. When I was alone that night, I cried like a baby.

Fast Forward to
June, 2009: Daily delivery discontinued and the 3-day delivery of the Flint Journal was launched. By this time, the publisher and most of the rest of the other executives I had worked elbow-to-elbow with over the last few tumultuous years were gone. "It's time I tried something else," they would say. One at a time through the door, and heck, there was a cake each time! Of course, I know they quietly received the enhanced executive buyout, and I don't care if you don't agree with me - it was well deserved. If you don't understand why I believe this, then I failed in my explanation above.

September, 2009: All the full-time DMs were gone by this time, except for the few taking the part time positions. "By the way, why am I being ignored by the new publisher? All these new faces meeting upstairs secretly, and me with no invitation? Last I knew, I was the CD. I wonder what's up?" I never loved meetings anyway, so I poured my energies into making this new reduced model actually work.

It was one day in late January, 2010, when the new publisher for the Flint Journal called my desk phone and asked me to come up to his office...

I liked his dad's call better. I'm curious to know if any other severed employees from the director ranks in this latest round were demoted without their knowledge - without any communication (neither verbal or official) so the company could avoid the executive buyout (think "original buyout offer made company-wide, with several other "kisses")... or am I still the only one who's desk and red stapler were simply moved to the basement before the axe fell.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pulp fiction

Did you know that newspapers were made from recycled pulp fiber?

By the way, clicking the above hyper-link of "recycled pulp fiber" will lead you to the new MLive Media Group team. I hyper-linked "recycled pulp fiber" instead of creating a separate link from the words "Here, take a look at the new MLive Media Group team and worship at their altar of greatness" for expedience sake, and not to make some kind of back-handed insult to this very white collection of media pioneers. Really! That would be a petty cheapshot. As regular readers of this blog knows full well, I am all about being concise and to the point, without throwing around a lot of unnecessary vebosity and rhetorical flourish to make a point. I am not here to waste your time or mine so just stop with the unsubstantiated innuendo and cheap personal attacks!

BTW, I personally have never been in favor of racial quotas and have been a firm believer in the spirit of Dr. King's dream that folks will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That said, I find it peculiar that there is not one African-American of the 18 team members in MLive's gallery.

On a different and unrelated subject, according to wiki:

Bleaching of wood pulp is the chemical processing carried out on various types of wood pulp to decrease the color of the pulp, so that it becomes whiter. The main use of wood pulp is to make paper where whiteness (...not exactly the same as "brightness") is an important characteristic.

Stay thirsty my friends.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The newspaper implosion continues

More sad news for my friends still in the newspaper business.