Talk about famous last words…
It’s no secret that daily newspapers are having a tough time surviving the Internet. Primarily because the ridiculously high advertising rates they were able to charge for print editions – given their effective news monopolies – are long since gone.
So it is that longtime Lawrence Journal World owner / publisher Dolph Simons Jr. penned his final, boring Saturday column this past weekend, before handing over the reins to the newspaper to the West Virginia based Ogden Newspapers chain.
The money quote in Simons’ otherwise snoozer of a column:
“The sizable number of terminations caused by the change of ownership of this paper is one of the most disappointing and sad consequences of the sale. It is a loss for the Journal-World and Lawrence.”
To which Journal World reader Barb Gordon quipped:
“(That’s) a consequence that you caused, Dolph. We all make choices, but it’s disingenuous to pretend like this was a total surprise. Dropping the ‘this writer’ style and taking ownership of your own decisions would have been an appropriate and fitting end to your columns.”
And truth be known, Simons has laid off more than his fair share of Journal World staffers in recent years.
Not to mention that as Gordon noted, Simons would have undoubtedly been aware of the fact that Ogden would need to make substantial cutbacks to put the newspaper he could no longer afford to own in the black.
“My grandfather and father both stressed that Journal-World readers should have no way of knowing whether the newspaper’s writers were white or black, male or female, Republican or Democrat,” Simons concluded at the end his farewell column.
“Most of your team did a great job. However, I’ve never seen a picture of you anywhere, (but) I can tell you for certain that you’re a white male Republican. I could also tell you exactly which editorials you wrote, whether you signed them or not.”
As for the terminations Simons refers to, without a doubt the biggest name among the 30 or so Journal World staffers to take a bullet is former Kansas City Star investigative reporter Karen Dillon. Dillon’s clock ran out July 31st.
Frankly, that hardly comes as a surprise.
Dillon’s hiring by the Journal World two years ago was far more startling, given the newspaper’s small circulation, meager resources combined and the difficulty in coming up with killer investigative reports given Lawrence’s small size and population.
Case in point:
A Columbia Journalism Review story reporting on Dillon’s departure cited three stories as examples of her “outstanding” work:
“Exposés on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach violating county building codes; University of Kansas officials splurging on private-jet trips; and poor government oversight of construction sites at local schools.”
What the Journalism Review missed however was that those three stories were practically the only significant contributions Dillon made in her two year stint at the Journal World.
The unfortunate reality being that Dillon has always been far from prolific.
Were she to have turned out one or two stories a month of a similar calibre to the three cited by the Journalism Review, chances are she’d still be working at the Journal World. Given Dillon’s limited productivity, her reportedly $56,000 paycheck at a newspaper with a circulation of maybe 10,000 seems wildly high.
Case in point…
A glance at Dillon’s “recent stories” reveals a ho-hum collection of standard issue, small town news; stories about the parents of a baby abandoned in a public dumpster, a collection of fireworks anecdotes by Lawrence Police from last year’s Fourth of July and a story about county commissioners considering whether to limit political signs.
Not exactly cutting edge investigative pieces.
The sad truth being Dillon was a luxury a small town daily newspaper could ill afford.
One bright spot among the Journal World staff cuts was touched on by a pair of readers:
“My biggest wish has been granted by your departure,” reader Chuck Wehner said of Simon’s departure. “And why didn’t you listen to your grandfather?”
And Journal World reader Kendall Simmons lambasted Simons “editorials” for having “too much (of the) same old-same old meaningless whining. No practical solutions. Just repetitive complaints.”
The $64 million remaining question: Will Ogden pulling the plug on the popular 8-page USA Today insert that to date appears to have added little to no revenue to the newspaper’s bottom line?