Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Joseph Pulitzer, Then & Now

1847-1911. Sixty-four years was the life span of Joseph Pulitzer. A stalwart right leaning Republican, Pulitzer was home schooled. Did not attend high school or college. He went from a high society Austro-Hungarian family, to a street person in St. Louis Missouri. Speaking very little English, his first job in the newspaper business was with a German language paper.

Pulitzer rose to the top of his profession, more as a publisher, than writer. This might suggest that it takes less education to be a newspaper publisher, than a writer. The reason that I wrote the above paragraph was to illustrate a glaring difference in the business as it is today, and as it was then. In the late 1800's, Pulitzer backed the right wing Horace Greeley against the other Republican, Ulysses S. Grant. He wasn't much for unions, as that was before their time, but he wouldn't have embraced one anyway, because he was a fervent believer in talent over longevity.

Would that this rule prevail today. In a market that is rapidly shrinking, in a downhill spiral, we may someday soon, see the Spokesman-Review, and others, sold at check out stands, along with the other shock rags now available. One of the reasons, I believe is that union control over who a paper may retain, doesn't recognize ability or talent, or retainability. It just wants the senior members retained, even though they may have attained the legendary "Peter Principle." That of one who has risen to the highest point of their mediocrity. We aren't suggesting that the folks now working at the paper are mediocre, just that management can't depart from seniority, to retain the best and the brightest.

Unions, as I understand them, were formed at a time that many employers were essentially robber barons, keeping the masses in poverty. Seniority served two purposes. One, to keep management from showing favoritism, and to keep long time union members in their positions.
All of that had a purpose way back when. It doesn't now. With union rules determining the quality, or future lack thereof we are looking forward to a declining industry, with declining quality, with declining circulation and with declining advertising. This slippery slope will go on, until the paper closes it's doors, and sends everyone home, including those loyal union members.

During the current crisis at the Spokesman-Review, Editor Steve Smith consistently refers to the union contract as the (unstated) rule maker here. My opinion is that the paper would be well advised to break the union now, before it breaks them. ...

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