Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Statesman death watch: A dozen from the newsroom take the buyout

That's the word from friends on the inside. The names I'm hearing are great losses of institutional memory for the Austin American-Statesman and a continuation of the national story of the death of the daily American newspaper.

The unconfirmed (but almost certain) takers include former M.E. and now editorial page writer David Lowery; longtime EXCELLENT features editor Ed Crowell; three genius old-school reporters/editors, Jim Phillips, Bruce Hight, Bob Banta and Laylan Copelan; plus a few of the less-known but very hard-working folks from the copy editing ranks. That's in addition to Ben Sargent and Diane Holloway, whom I previously mentioned.

Good news if there is any? No one from sports is biting (I expected Kirk Bohls to bite) and John Kelso is staying put.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Statesman death watch: Ben Sargent takes buyout

This is unfortunately what I expected to hear when word trickled out about the Austin American-Statesman's early buyout offer for older, long-term employees: Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Ben Sargent and his wife Diane Holloway have taken the buyout and are gone almost immediately. Both are major losses and the beginning of the end for the Stateman's institutional memory. Sargent has been with the paper for 35 years. Holloway at least 25 years.

Here's more on the story with one more early retirement taker in the Austin Chronicle.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bumping into old friends at AWP Chicago

I'm recently returned from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago where some 7,000 introverted writers squirmingly mingled. Saw a couple of my favorite writers including Charles Baxter, Dan Chaon (got to say a quick hello to him) and Steve Almond.

I also ran into some old friends.

Poetry is everywhere at AWP, including in the elevators where poetry videos ran nonstop!

I ran into my former student Cesar Diaz and convinced him not to pose for this photo. He's in a creative nonfiction MFA program in Arizona now.

My fellow former Southwest Texas State University MFAers Greg Oaks, Kevin Grauke and Scott Blackwood convened at Scott's reading celebrating the release of his novel, an AWP award-winner.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I'm stuffed full of Gino's East pizza. Old friends Robert and Lydia (he's from Chicago, but I met them in Texas where he always bragged about the pizza) took me out for pie in Chicago.

Time to dig in...

Robert goes for a slice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cowboy Pickle rediscovers the joy of hats

Nicholas has rediscovered the joy of hats and horses...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Austin American-Statesman sharpens ax

I predicted this a while back, but just now heard of the announcement from a friend who works there: The Austin American-Statesman is offering buyouts to early retirees who are over age 55 and have been at the paper for at least 10 years. They say 130 people fit the bill. Let me list some of the writers you're likely to see flee: John Kelso, Diane Holloway, Michael Corcoran, Kirk Bohls, Brad Buchholz, Denise Gamino... Those last two may not be quite old enough, but you get the idea. Voluntary buyouts are the first step before the bloodletting at newspapers. And they often take away the best writers and the established voices that keep readers coming back for more (see my list).

The Statesman has been largely immune to the staff cuts that have been common elsewhere, but plans by the Cox chain to sell it off apparently have them wanting to get lean and mean in advance. Once the sale goes through, look for larger staffs cuts. It's the same story everywhere as newspapers contribute to their own demises by chopping off their arms and legs. It's a sad story that seems to be unstoppable. The Statesman is a case study in contraction: kill the weekly TV section, nix a separate Sunday classified section for jobs (thanks, Craigslist!), fold the business section more often into the metro section, permanently fold the weekly film section into lifestyles. Slow new hires to a trickle. You get the idea.

I've been saying we'll see major daily newspapers begin to drop their print editions within the next five years. I think that figure may be too generous.

The oddest thing I've notice from the Statesman camp has to do with circulation. They now give away a handful of papers at Austin Community College, where I teach, and have removed the sales rack completely. The free ones are gone by 8 a.m. So they don't want people to buy their paper and are limiting their readers say 10 people? Out of sight; out of mind.