Wednesday, April 1, 2009

EDITORIAL: Intell / New Era finally merge

"That was to be expected" was the response of most astute Lancastrians in seeing the Intell headline this morning "Intelligencer Journal, New Era will combine." The marvel is that it took so long in coming about.

But that was representative of how Lancaster old money has been squandered by a generation of inept managers and custodians of the wealth generated by others. This has lead to dreadful misdirection of community efforts and the enrichment of opportunistic business interests.

The Intell quotes Jack Buckwalter, Chair, as saying: "This is a very difficult decision for all of us, but we believe it is a necessary one in this current newspaper publishing environment. We know of no other market in the United States where the same ownership publishes morning and evening newspapers with separate editorial staffs."

But making "difficult decisions" is what top management is supposed to do in a timely manner, not being finally pushed into actions by the entire trend of print media throughout the country and by repeated criticisms and admonitions publicly from NewsLanc and undoubtedly privately by others. The article goes on to tell how sweeping is the change, even greater than had been anticipated.

"As part of a work-force reduction related to this change, Lancaster Newspapers will reduce its workforce by about 60 full-time and 40 part-time employees, representing about 20 percent of its employees, by the end of June. These numbers could be affected by retirements and normal attrition." Not to criticize but to interpret, we assume "retirement" means accepting some sort of pension; "attrition" means receiving a severance check on the way out of the door.

The article explains: "The day-to-day publishing process of the expanded morning combined edition will be under the direction of [Ray] Shaw, as is currently done for the Saturday and holiday editions. [Ernie] Schreiber will oversee the New Era's editorial page and a new investigative reporting team."

People say that Schreiber was a very good investigative reporter before unwisely being elevated to editor of the New Era. In their one lunch together, Schreiber impressed NewsLanc Publisher Robert Field as one of the most irrationally suspicious individuals he had ever met. (Schreiber kept on insisting that Field had some sort of business motivation for his activism. That is what comes from Schreiber hanging out with bad company.)

Ironically, if indeed Schreiber is to investigate, he should start with the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. and explore whether they were involved in a criminal conspiracy concerning the Convention Center Project and whether Ray Shaw is fit to be the editor given his complicity with the actions taken by Intell reporters concerning illegal access to a confidential State web site. (To his credit, Schreiber editorially blasted the Intell and indirectly Shaw for its involvement at the time.)

One other good piece of news is that the circulation of the combined morning and evening newspapers has grown a bit. The stand alone morning paper should be stronger due to the added features from the afternoon edition. Whether circulation will shrink, stay the same or conceivably even grow (although unlikely) remains to be seen. Cost savings from the consolidation should extend the life of the Lancaster print media for years and perhaps even two decades.

There are three more actions that need to be taken by the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc if it is to fulfill the long held goal of the Steinman families of benefiting the community.

Both Buckwalter and President Chip Miller need to retire and bring in younger and smarter successors from outside Lancaster. And before leaving they should apologize publicly through a major front page editorial for their violations of journalism ethics concerning the Connestoga View investigation / witch hunt of the former commissioners and their self serving propaganda and pernicious misrepresentations on behalf of Penn Square Partners.

When that is done, the stable will have been swept reasonably clean. Integrity and wisdom will have been restored to a deeply damaged Lancaster City and County. John Steinman and others predecessors from that distinguished and generous family can rest in peace.

Moreover, the public will once again have newspapers in the Intell /New Era and Sunday News in which it can place its confidence.