Friday, November 30, 2007

Head Rolls In News-Press Web Mix-Up

It figured there would be a price to pay for the mix up that put an ersatz farewell message into the opening paragraphs of Dr. Laura's Sunday column that appeared on the News-Press website at the beginning of the week. The only question was, who would pay the price?

We now have an answer. Cliff Redding, who had been interim chief of the copy desk ever since Charles Bucher left the paper, has been fired as a result of the incident.

Described as a hard and dedicated worker who spent "eight days a week" working at his job on the paper, Redding's attempt to maintain a long-time newsroom custom, giving co-workers who are leaving a mock-up of a newspaper page, has gotten him canned.

The fake intro to the Dr. Laura column was part of a mock-page printed
out and presented to Lara Milton, the departing copy editor, as a going-away memento.

It's a newspaper tradition; you make up a newspaper page (usually page one) with
fictitious stories making fun of the departing employee.

So for Lara Milton, someone did a fictitious "Dr. Lara" column with Milton's photo in place of Dr. Laura's. The tone of it was meant to be a parody of Dr. Laura's writing style.

But what someone apparently didn't realize is that if you then use the same text file for the real Dr. Laura column, you have to delete all the mock material; any text left in the file will end up on the website, even that part is separated from what is "flowed" onto the real newspaper page. It was a total accident that it ended up on the Web.

Redding had been with the News-Press for about a year having come here from Norfolk, Virginia where he worked for the Virginia Pilot.

So, how does Milton feel about all this? She had this to say in an e-mail she sent me just before she took off for the Pacific Northwest.

I have to wonder how the remaining staff is going to manage to get the paper out, and if the way this whole thing was handled is really going to best serve the newspaper and its readers. Personally, I think it was a mistake and that Cliff should have gotten off with a reprimand. And I feel bad about the whole situation, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with the "column" or the fact that it got onto the Web: It was connected to my departure, after all. I am worried about Cliff and my other colleagues - er, former colleagues - and I just hope everything works out for the best in the long run somehow.

Call me boring, but I thought I could just leave quietly, put the bad parts of the past year and a half behind me and embark on my Northwest adventure. Damn!

With Milton and Redding now both gone, the copy desk is now minus two more full-time editors/page designers and people are wondering what page one of Friday's paper will look like. Between the two of them they were primarily responsible for designing each day's front page.

* * *

It was going to be a visit to see her newly born grandson but it got derailed when she fainted on the plane.

Mayor Marty Blum and her husband Joe, who happens to be a physician, were off to New Haven, Connecticut to visit their son, a first year medical student at Yale, and his family. Their daughter-in-law had given birth earlier this month. By now you've probably heard the story about the plane being diverted to Las Vegas and the mayor spending the night in the hospital there.

She's back in Santa Barbara now. And when I e-mailed her to inquire about how she was doing I got this response.

You can tell everyone that I appreciate their good thoughts and wishes. It is rather dramatic to pass out on an airplane. Not too much room to lie down with your feet up, but the passengers were wonderful, making room for the prone mayor. I was lucky to have my favorite doctor traveling with me! The crew stopped the plane in midair, and dropped us off in Las Vegas. Never before have I been in Las Vegas for over 24 hours without seeing a slot machine or a buffet. The ambulance took us to the hospital where poked and prodded until I was declared totally fit. We think it was a new medicine I started a week ago. The doctor and I will talk.

The New Haven grandson will have to wait another month. We came back home tonight, ate at Rose's Cafe and I am looking forward to a long sleep.

I think the only thing scarier than fainting on an airplane is the part about the crew stopping the plane in midair.