Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review-Journal Fires Cartoonist, Online Guy, Too

The Associated Press broke news last week that the Review-Journal had eliminated its investigative unit and laid off five reporters. Many, and not in an ironic way, asked: "The R-J had an investigative unit?"

I'll get back to that question -- and the impact of those firings -- in a moment. But first I need to report that the R-J last week also fired its editorial cartoonist of 17 years, Jim Day, and the much-maligned Online Guy, Al Gibes, at right. These are two rather high-profile sackings and comes after, as I reported recently, they also fired the longtime business editor Michael Hiesiger.

The loss of Jim Day fits into a trend of dwindling numbers of staff editorial cartoonists in America's daily newspapers. It was actually surprising that the R-J kept him as long as they did because papers now see resident cartoonists as a luxury. What it means is that from here on, all editorial cartoons on the R-J's op-ed pages will be about national and international topics, not local ones. For that, we'll have to turn to the wonderful Sun cartoonist Mike Smith or that fellow in the View section who lampoons Oscar Goodman. It's a shame; Day wasn't as good or funny as Smith, but the more the merrier. (I would show you a few of Day's panels, but I seriously suspect Righthaven would sue me even though this is clearly commentary, so here's one and another.)

As for Gibes, I do feel badly for anyone who loses their job. I really do. But I also have felt for a very long time that this kind, clueless fellow had no place running the New Media operations of a major daily newspaper or writing about technology. He's that guy in every office who was good with the computer in the early 1990s and who somehow convinced the bosses that he was staying up on things when, in fact, he was letting the R-J fall hopelessly and often hilariously behind. Now they have the chance to bring in someone who can really redesign that horrid website and help the journalists there tell their stories in the more three-dimensional ways that are now available.

I've been torn about what to say about the loss of five "investigative" reporters. A.D. Hopkins was the head of this division and, so far as I could tell, was dead weight to the paper as far back as when I was there in the 1990s. He'd put out a couple of stories a year even then and none of them rocked anybody's world or changed Las Vegas in any perceptible way. Joan Whiteley, who also was let go, was responsible for the building-code exposes at various Harrah's properties and that was pretty solid stuff that was just very, very badly written. (She also broke the Vdara death ray story, btw.) Two others who left were Alan Maimon and Frank Geary, and I don't have any strong views on their tenures.

So while the division that was eliminated was not particularly productive, it's still not good for a newspaper as short-staffed as the R-J to reduce the number of local reporters. They need more. The nation's fifth largest school district, for instance, is covered by one reporter. In most cities this size, the newspapers have teams of education reporters. And that's just one example.

That said, sometimes you have to clear away some brush before you can grow properly. There's a sense of palpable fear among the old guard at the R-J that they could be next, and that's not a bad thing. Complacency is, especially in the current, fast-changing media era. The paper has a new publisher, Bob Brown, and a new editor, Michael Hengel, for the first time in two decades, so there will be blood.

Here's a prediction: Next to go will be Nate Tannenbaum, whose ridiculous daily TV-ish news segments are watched by virtually nobody. The production value is still laughable two years on and you can't embed it on a blog or download it on a smart phone, so the entire effort is just stupid. Nate, like A.D. and Al, is a very sweet guy. That doesn't mean that what he's doing is in any way relevant or worthwhile to the newspaper or its readers.

* * *

P.S. If you think I was wrong about how unceremoniously editor Thomas Mitchell and publisher Sherm Frederick were dumped take a look at how proudly and lovingly the newspaper announced that Geoff Schumacher, parent Stephens Media's director of community publications, is leaving the company to be publisher of a paper in Ames, Iowa. Nuff said. Except: Congrats, Geoff!

7 comments:

Sean said...

Perhaps Stephens is grooming Schumacher to return as R-J publisher one day.

Michelle said...

The newspaper industry isn't what it used to be. Any hopes and dreams of getting to a top ten newspaper or getting the opportunities to do big projects are almost out of reach. I am sorry for the reporters and editors who got let go and I hope they find a good job soon.

AccessVegas.com said...

I hate to pile on a guy who just lost his job, but this was a decade-plus overdue. He should have been let go after he failed to do something noticeable with the R-J's LasVegas.com domain name (Stephens still owns it). After the site fell far (and I mean far) short of its potential, it was leased to the Greenspuns. At the time, rumor swirled that the lease was 7 figures a year. (At this time, the LasVegas.com domain is still owned by Stephens but leased and run by Greenspuns).

I speak from significant experience when I say that if you can't take a primary city domain like LasVegas.com and make seven figures a year from it (plus the added benefit of being able to direct traffic to the R-J, have a city portal, etc. and having a perfect keyword domain) then you don't deserve to keep your job.

Add to that the fact that Gibes has been literally phoning in his columns for well over a decade and that his longevity probably commands a pretty good salary, I'm surprised that this didn't happen a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, you hit the nail on the head with this piece, Steve...

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the much-touted "Road Warrior" who literally mailed it in ... from halfway across the country.

David McKee

Anonymous said...

You are right. Kind-hearted but woefully behind the times. The R-J website is awful and has been in desperate need of updating for years.

Anonymous said...

McKee -- what does Omar have to do with any of the recent layoffs? or could you just not resist another shot at the R-J?