Lence Students Blog

I’ve been reading Tom Kirkendall’s Houston’s Clear Thinkers blog for a while now.

And I’m sure I’ve even glanced at his bio page.

But I actually read the thing carefully today, and noticed for the first time that Kirkendall counts Ross Lence as a mentor.

Small world.

I count Lence as a mentor as well (although I studied more with another political philosophy prof, Don Lutz). And legal-eagle-in-training Amanda Strassner is a former Lence student also.

So, two of the smart Houston blogs I read count Lence as an influence. That’s cool. And then there’s this one to drag down the smartness, but please don’t blame The Good Doctor for that. The man is great, but he can only work with the raw materials he’s given. :)

If you’re a blogger who also studied with The Good Doctor, leave a comment!

Staff Restructurings and Layoffs at the Chronicle

The Chronicle buried the following ominous information in the “Around the Region” column of its Business section today:

The Houston Chronicle is undertaking a restructuring that will include both the creation of new niche products — in the newspaper and as separate publications — as well as reductions in operating expenses, including the elimination of staff positions.

“We are working hard to adjust the cost side of our business,” said Chronicle Publisher and President Jack Sweeney. “We will not compromise our commitment to quality journalism and service to our advertisers.”

In a letter to Chronicle employees released late Monday, Sweeney said he is committed to keeping up with the changes in the Houston community with vibrant new products, pointing to the recent redesign of the Chronicle and the company’s commitment to Spanish-language products such as La Vibra, a weekly Spanish lifestyles supplement and La Voz, a weekly newspaper published in partnership with the Chronicle.

A restructuring of the company’s expense base is critical because the newspaper needs to invest in the future, Sweeney wrote. The newspaper has already reduced operating expenses and will continue to do so, including cuts in staff. Cutbacks will be achieved through attrition, a voluntary buyout program and, if necessary, involuntary layoffs.

Many of us have been writing about the Chronicle‘s problems for some time, and have more recently suggested that the design changes really haven’t done much to address those problems. They must finally be starting to affect the bottom line.

Publisher Jack Sweeney seems to be spinning what appears to be significant downsizing. While he claims that new niche products will be created, the only examples cited are the redesign — which isn’t a new product at all — and an emphasis on a weekly Spanish language supplement. However, the new Spanish product being introduced would seemingly be balanced by the old Texas Magazine being discontinued, for no net gain in product, and an actual loss of product for English-only readers.

The last paragraph is the most ominous. Press releases and internal company memos don’t bring up the possibility of “involuntary layoffs” if there’s a good chance that payroll can be reduced to desired levels through attrition and incentives. Sweeney must be planning a massive manpower reduction.

While I have problems with the Chronicle‘s editorial decisions — and think staff reductions might actually be avoided if the editorial product were thoroughly remade into something of higher quality — I don’t have problems with most of the fine folks who make the newspaper go on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that some of them will pay the price for the newspaper’s poor editorial choices over the years.

(Update) I should have added, if anyone knows what’s really going on, or has hard numbers on the staff reduction, please leave a comment or drop me an email (kevin-at-publiustx.net). It can be anonymous either way.

Danger Train: Collision Update

Thanks to the work of Tom Bazan, John Gaver has posted an updated figure for Danger Train crashes. It’s now up to 65, with two crashes that were unreported by local media.

From Bazan’s earlier Open Records request, Gaver determined that several accidents in the Metro database had gone unreported by local media (and several accidents reported by local media and documented by Gaver that were not in Metro’s own database).

Metro apparently now counts what it had earlier classified as as “suicide attempt” as a collision.

Like a good member of the pajamahadeen, Gaver continues to maintain the most comprehensive list of crashes in town.