Riches to Rags

For more than half a century, employees at Journal Communications Inc. enjoyed a perk that could make them fabulously rich upon retirement – their shares of “Journal stock,” as it was popularly called. Until 2003, the company that owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the WTMJ broadcasting empire was privately held, largely by a trust in which company employees could purchase shares. It was a veritable gold mine: The value of those shares had never once declined since the ownership plan was created in the 1930s. With the company’s encouragement, employees took out huge loans in order to buy shares,…

Under My Thumb

Will Milwaukee Area Technical College President Darnell Cole end Milwaukee Public Television’s editorial independence? That’s the complaint of some insiders at the station, which runs Channels 10 and 36, but is itself owned by MATC. Cole doesn’t deny thrusting himself into station operations, arguing it’s his prerogative as president. But should a college president be selecting TV show hosts? In the last year, Cole pressed the station to air a cooking show hosted by a motivational speaker and engineered the selection of a new host for the 10/36 magazine show “Black Nouveau.” These actions suggest a broader agenda to exert…

Mr. Smooth

When the highly regarded, not-for-profit Strive Media Institute suddenly closed in the spring of 2008, it left behind a trail of glowing press clippings, a chorus of disappointed supporters – and a million dollars in debt. Founder Matt Johnson created the privately run after-school program to teach media skills to high school students, especially minorities. He blamed shrinking local funding for driving it out of business, while claiming he might move Strive to Chicago. While the news media have profusely praised Strive and Johnson, they have long ignored Strive’s mounting financial and legal problems, exemplified by the muted, 16-paragraph Milwaukee…

The People’s Choice

Its circulation may be declining, and it has its share of detractors, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is still remarkably popular. Some 70 percent of Milwaukee-area adults read the Sunday Journal Sentinel, more than any newspaper in the nation’s 50 largest metro areas. For the daily JS, the number is less dramatic – just 47 percent of area adults – but even that is second only to Long Island’s Newsday (50 percent) among the top 50 metros. These rankings don’t come from circulation figures, which show actual subscriptions and single copy sales, but from surveys by Scarborough Research. In the Milwaukee-Waukesha market,…

Crashing the Party

In the last few years, the number of independent Internet writers, or bloggers, has exploded. Their impact is increasingly felt. Bloggers Owen Robinson and James Wigderson now write newspaper columns (both write for papers owned by Conley Media, which includes the Waukesha Freeman and West Bend Daily News). Along with liberal Jay Bullock of the blog folkbum, they’re also used by local television stations to comment on election results. And newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are rushing to join them with blogs by staffers and outsiders. The JS also uses bloggers as columnists for its chain of Now suburban…

The Darrow Difference

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just can’t shake its circulation problems. Last year, a suit by Shorewest Realty claiming the newspaper had inflated its circulation was settled out of court. The May 2006 settlement led Journal Communications Inc. to cut second-quarter 2006 revenues by $5.1 million. It included payments of $650,000 to Shorewest, mostly for attorney fees, and credits on future advertising bills for Shorewest and other companies in the class-action suit. But one heavy hitter opted out of the agreement. Auto dealer Russ Darrow Group Inc. has filed a separate suit against the media conglomerate, alleging that pumped-up circulation numbers…

Gloom and Doom

“Is anything new?” Pressroom asked a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist recently. The reply was steeped in mordant humor: “No, other than the grim sense of foreboding, the constant speculation about who’s staying and who’s going, the fear about if and when and where the ax will fall, and the comments about the stench of death hanging over the place. Really not much at all.” In July, the Journal Sentinel announced that another employee layoff was needed, the second in less than a year. At least 24 from the newsroom – including notables such as TV critic Joanne Weintraub,religion writer Tom Heinen,columnist…

MKE- R.I.P

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had high hopes when it launched MKE four years ago – a play to crack the under-35 code, win over a notoriously non-newspaper-reading generation and profit from advertisers selling to them. The launch, however, was met with criticism of the free weekly’s focus on soft lifestyle stories and entertainment. The scorn stung MKE staffers, who believed they took fresh approaches that were underappreciated. Conflicting visions among top editors didn’t help. But the bitterest blow came in early June when the JS announced it would fold the publication. What went wrong? Plenty. To begin with, MKE followed…

Hot Air

Just in time for the May ratings sweeps, WTMJ Channel 4 aired two pieces under the station’s “You Paid For It” series that promised “shocking” accounts of government workers bilking taxpayers. Both stories were overdone, and personified a recent trend of reporters targeting public employees. They’re certainly fair game, as their salaries are paid by taxpayers. Case in point: a solid May investigation by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marleyof state correction guards’ overtime, which found a striking number of instances when guards called in sick and got paid – yet were well enough for overtime shifts soon thereafter, often…

The Last Laugh

Illustration by Stuart Carlson Longtime Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial cartoonist Stuart Carlson didn’t go quietly. “I was told they could not justify having a full-time staff position,” he says. “I voluntarily took the buyout – but voluntarily as when somebody puts a gun to your head and says, ‘Hand over your wallet.’ ”His departure stunned many. “It’s very tragic,” says Bill Sanders, the former Milwaukee Journal cartoonist who retired in 1991. “Stuart is doing first-class work. I think they made a major mistake.”It might seem logical for the JS to turn to Gary Markstein. Hired by the Journal, Markstein drew…