Bad News(paper)

by lizard

Telling people news they don’t want to hear is probably not a very good business model, but that doesn’t seem to be the mistake Lee Enterprises is making. Well, that’s not entirely true. Last year, instead of telling CEO Mary Junck that she’s done a terrible job, she got a half million dollar bonus while the company got busy firing other people. Intelligent Discontent covered that story in a post titled Mary Junck and the Death of the American Newspaper (At Least Ours).

Almost every day I’m reminded of how worthless our local newspaper landscape has become. During the last few days I’ve been watching how the media has been reporting on the devastation of typhoon Haiyan. I don’t expect newspapers, especially our local ones, to make the connection between this monstrous storm and the bigger picture of global climate change, but I was hoping there could at least be some guidance on how to best help those now suffering the post-storm hell.

Instead we get a human interest piece about a woman who started gathering items from friends and co-workers:

June Noel admits she doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

But she’s certainly getting it done.

The Missoula woman, who came here from the Philippines nine years ago, set out Sunday to collect some items from friends and co-workers to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan in her native country.

In the age of social media, news of her effort quickly spread.

By Monday, Noel was scrambling to set up drop-off locations around Missoula for donations, and a Facebook page to help coordinate the information. On Tuesday, she used her lunch break at work to gratefully accept the offer of a place to store all that’s coming in.

Though well-intentioned, sending tangible items, like flip-flops, has the potential to be very problematic. How do I know this? Because people involved in providing relief after natural disasters have seen first hand what can happen. Here is a piece titled Please Don’t Send Your Old Shoes to the Philippines:

I’ve been a humanitarian aid worker for a long time, and have even written a book about my experience. After a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan, I’m usually the person to whom friends and family members turn to ask, “How can I help?”

Wanting to help victims of a massive disaster is a human instinct that should be lauded. But unfortunately, well-meaning people repeatedly get it wrong. And this time around it seems that some are already responding in unsuitable ways. Updates have begun littering my Facebook wall from well-intentioned Americans: “On the way to local Filipino Market. With clothes and food … Come on, go through your closets and make a stop at your market. They need food, detergent, canned goods, soap. They need flip flops. Any old shoes you don’t want.”

The responses are coming in: “Terrific idea. Making my way there now.”

And another: “Good to know. Cleaning out my closet as I write this.”

Americans are exceptionally generous in the wake of an emergency. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Americans donated more than $1.4 billion to relief and recovery efforts; they donated $1.6 billion after the 2004 South Asian tsunami. But often these very humane instincts—to help people after a massive disaster—result in inappropriate donations that can actually do much more harm than good. Here’s why.

After the tsunami, similarly well-intentioned people cleaned out their closets, sending boxes of “any old shoes” and other clothing to the countries. I was there after the tsunami and saw what happened to these clothes: Heaps of them were left lying on the side of the road. Cattle began picking at them and getting sick. Civil servants had to divert their limited time to eliminating the unwanted clothes. Sri Lankans and Indonesians found it degrading to be shipped people’s hand-me-downs. I remember a local colleague sighed as we passed the heaps of clothing on the sides of the road and said “I know people mean well, but we’re not beggars.” Boxes filled with Santa costumes, 4-inch high heels, and cocktail dresses landed in tsunami-affected areas. In some places, open tubes of Neosporin, Preparation H, and Viagra showed up. The aid community has coined a term for these items that get shipped from people’s closets and medicine cabinets as SWEDOW—Stuff We Don’t Want.

Newspapers are struggling for a lot of reasons, but poor leadership exacerbates those problems. What kind of bonus will Mary receive this year as Lee Enterprises continues to hemorrhage money? From the link:

Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Monday reported a net loss of $77.7 million for fiscal 2013, compared with a net loss of $16.3 million in fiscal 2012.

For the 52-week year ended Sept. 29, 2013, the company reported operating revenue of $674.7 million, down 4.6 percent from fiscal 2012, which included 53 weeks. During fiscal 2013, combined print and digital advertising and marketing services revenue totaled $459.8 million, down 7.1 percent from fiscal 2012, with retail advertising down 5 percent, classified down 9.8 percent and national advertising down 18.8 percent, Lee officials said.

Lee Enterprises isn’t the only entity that inexplicably compensates its top executives while degrading its product. The University of Montana is currently doing the same thing, and apparently not everyone is going to just take it quietly.

In a letter to the editor, Mehrdad Kia and 21 co-signors describe their frustration:

The University of Montana is edging ever closer to financial and academic meltdown. The wall of silence around what is really happening at UM resembles the plywood fence around an urban construction site. A passerby can only guess at whether they are walking past a demolition or the beginnings of a brand new building.

Merely a month after receiving significant salary increases from the Montana University System, UM’s top administrators are preparing themselves for a devastating assault on the university’s academic programs. Chipping away at the foundation of a building will eventually cause it to collapse. Repeated attacks on the curriculum and academic programs undermine the very foundation and purpose of a university. Unfortunately, however, such an approach appears to be the crisis management tool most favored by the current administration. The principal target of this latest attack is the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest academic entity on the UM campus. This is not the first time that the current administration has targeted existing courses and faculty positions in an effort to remedy the effects of its own poor decisions. This time, however, the tactics of the UM administration have changed.

Compensating those at the top for doing a shitty job appears to be the trickle down business culture of Wall Street. From the Center for Public Integrity, this piece looks at Ex-Wall Street chieftains living large in post-meltdown world:

Five years after the near-collapse of the nation’s financial system, the economy continues a slow recovery marred by high unemployment, hesitant consumers and sluggish business investment.

Many of the top Wall Street bankers who were largely responsible for the disaster — and whose companies either collapsed or accepted billions in government bailouts — are also unemployed. But since they walked away from the disaster with millions, they’re juggling their ample free time between mansions and golf, skiing and tennis.

Meantime, the major banks that survived the crisis, largely because they were saved with taxpayer money after being deemed “too big to fail,” are now bigger and more powerful than ever.

The Center for Public Integrity looked at what happened to five former Wall Street kingpins to see what they are up to these days. None are in jail, nor are any criminal charges expected to be filed.

Certainly none are hurting for money.

Take Richard Fuld. Five years after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the 158-year-old company he ran, collapsed under the weight of bad investments and sent a tidal wave of panic through the global financial system, Fuld is living comfortably.

He has a mansion in Greenwich, Conn., a 40-plus-acre ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho, as well as a five-bedroom home in Jupiter Island, Fla. He no longer has a place in Manhattan, since he sold his Park Avenue apartment in 2009 for $25.87 million.

The other four bankers the Center caught up with — Jimmy Cayne (Bear Stearns), Stanley O’Neal (Merrill Lynch), Chuck Prince (Citigroup) and Ken Lewis (Bank of America) are also living in quiet luxury.

Poor people around the world will be the disproportionate victims of global climate change, and while that is happening, the people responsible for crashing the global economy are living large with their obscene golden parachutes.

This might not be news you want to hear, but this is the world we are living in. You can either face reality, or you can read the Missoulian. The choice is yours.

  1. larry kurtz

    does this mean you and pogie have made up, liz?

  2. sos

    Sherry Devlin of the Missoulian must rank high on the most-compromised-editors list. Turning an absolute blind eye not only to international tragedies but local issues too, Devlin allows First Interstate Bank, The Missoula Downtown Association and the Realtors’ Association to pretty much call the definition of “news” in Missoula. Betsy Cohen is absolutely the only reporter of integrity left. Junior journalist Keila Szpaller (who referred to the pesticide being used on local parks and playgrounds as “a cousin to Roundup”) would find it difficult to gain a writing position at the local sorority Rush News Unlimited if it were not for Devlin’s endorsement of news-for-sale.

  3. Big Swede

    On papers and universities.

    Liberal rot.

  4. We have guns for a reason, and it’s not to kill kids in schools. When you’ve got corporations taking over the government those guns need to be used.

    I’m so sick of people bringing their protest signs to Washington when they should be bringing their guns. Put your money where your mouth is all you 2nd amendment wingbats! These people need to be killed and new people need to be put in place.

    • lizard19

      um, no, absolutely not. aren’t you a history major? how did the French revolution turn out?

      during OWS, there was a big discussion about the role of violence. my opinion is once you resort to violence, the full weight of the police state will be mobilized.

      instead, we gotta win hearts and minds.

      • Worked great in Vietnam, didn’t it?

        Lots of people coming to Montana think like that. I got a bit carried away, I admit. But when you can’t join the legislative process without selling out your principles just so you can get in the game? There’s something wrong there. And you can’t get in the game unless you’re taking big money from corporations.

        Public officials were always caught taking bribes or kickbacks, or offering them, while I was in China. Six months later those people would be killed. Not all of them, but a few unlucky folks had to be made example of, mainly so everyone else would put it a bit more under the table.

        What are the consequences here? A slap on the wrist and a better spot at the Wall Street fundraisers? I can see why so many people are clinging to their guns.

        • lizard19

          yes the national legislative process is totally corrupt and yes the consequences, when there are any at all, are barely slaps on the wrist.

          I think local politics is different, meaning not totally corrupt and still accessible, even for someone like you—well, maybe before that second to last comment ;)

          abandoning all political engagement is essentially giving ground to really unhinged people who, for all their hatred of government, seem drawn to it like crazy moths to flame.

          as for consequences, I hope some cosmic mechanism like karma exists, because the misery that’s been created by the sociopath-friendly predation of unrestrained capitalism is something most of us won’t be able to ignore, and that’s because we can’t afford billion dollar islands with miles of oceans functioning as 21st century moats to keep the lords and ladies safe from the raging hordes.

          on an unrelated note, as someone who has self-published, what do you think about lulu? I’m waiting for a few trial editions to arrive to see what they look like.

          • Bottom line is I shouldn’t respond to any blogs, forums, or anything for at least an hour or two after getting up, which for me is around 1 to 2 PM since I stay up working for people until 6 AM or so.

            I don’t go through Lulu mainly because I had all my books on Amazon before then, and put most on Smashwords in March.

            Smashwords takes care of all that distribution stuff for lots of retailers for me, although I only get paid quarterly as opposed to Lulu, which I believe goes once a month. Smashwords is also very slow on updating things via their distributors, such as Sony, which seems to take a month or more to change prices.

            Mainly I’m just too lazy to take down 20+ books and upload them somewhere else, especially when I won’t get them back into the prime catalog for a month.

            If I was just starting out I’d probably go with Lulu, although I find working direct with Amazon easy and fast enough, and that’s where the bulk of eBook sales are coming from, for now.

        • I would note, Greg, that the Chinese policy of periodically executing corrupt officials does not seem to have been very effective in diminishing corruption – merely in giving people in power an exclusive right to corruption and an excuse for getting rid of officials who crossed them in other ways. If you introduce capital punishment (or even life imprisonment) for a crime everybody commits, you basically give yourself legal cover for political purges. Just another way the Chinese Communist Party has mastered finesse in a way the Soviets never did.

          • Yes, every time I’d read one of those stories in the Shenzhen Daily I knew I wouldn’t read another one for a couple months. Kind of like cutting the grass in summer; you’ve got to make the lawn look good and not grow out of control. The neighbors might complain you’re making theirs look bad. But it’ll grow back just the same.


            I’m writing this novel now that has elements of the ’73 Hong Kong police corruption scandals surrounding Peter Godber. By the time they did all the investigations they figured that 77% of the force was on the take and they’d have to just give blanket pardons to the whole damn thing. Now they’ve managed to get it cleaned up somehow. But that’s not the mainland.

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