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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Deck Chairs

Do you own or manage a major metro daily newspaper? Circulation blues got you down? Are you desperately afraid that you may be leading your paper into oblivion, engaging in evermore spastic and frantic attempts to engage readers while your budgets shrivel and your parent company's stock price spirals down so low that you actually pray for the inevitable bargain-basement buyout, if only to lift your retirement nest egg back above its 1999 level? Do you feel like you're losing control, like you just have to do something?

Well, why not tidy up a little? And while you're at it, rob your beleaguered reporters of the stupid kitsch with which they litter their cubicles to remind themselves of who they used to be before they started working for you!

From a memo written to the Metro staff by Chicago Tribune Metro editor Hanke Gratteau:
Spring is here, and we are overdue for a newsroom cleanup. Is that cheering I hear? For inspiration, I suggest you visit the desks of folks like Todd Lighty, Jon Anderson and Bill Rood. Seriously, the rubble has gotten out of control, and so we will designate May 4-5 (next Thursday and Friday) as Metro cleanup days. We'll have extra trash cans and cleaning products on the floor to make the job easier. Some simple guidelines to keep in mind: Get rid of stacks of papers and files you don't need. Pictures, fliers, calendars, posters need to be taken off public walls and pillars that aren't bulletin boards. You can have it in your cubicles or on your desks. In the same vein, all the stuff on tops of filing cabinets and cubicles--including statuettes, snow globes, stuffed animals, etc.,--needs to come off the (faux) wood trim around the desks. Yes, it can be on your desk tops. Files cannot be stacked on the floors--they need to go into drawers or be put in boxes and moved to storage.

But, please, please spend some time weeding! Keep what you need and toss the rest.
Gratteau does an admirable job of concealing the fact that the impetus for the Bligh-esque project is, of course, Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, who forced all her editors to send similar notes to the newsroom staff. The reason for the clean-up order, I'm told, is that Lipinski recently led a delegation of North Shore Ladies Who Lunch on a tour of the newsroom, and some of them were shocked at the mess! What kind of reporter keeps piles of paper lying around, anyway? Next to Godliness, people. Next to Godliness.

Here's Gratteau's follow-up memo, issued when her reporters naturally ignored her rantings:

I walked the newsroom last night about 8 p.m. and was struck by two things:

1. I was extremely pleased by the heroics some of you performed in trying to clean up the newsroom.

2. I was extremely dismayed by the number of you who made no effort at all to even make a dent in the rubble.

Today, we'll try again. Here are the guidelines:

1. Stuff on public newsroom walls and pillars that are not on bulletin boards needs to go. This includes the exterior of cubicles. You are welcome to keep it on your desks.

2. Stuff must be taken off the tops of filing cabinets and cubicles, including the faux wood trim around the cubicles--no matter how cute or treasured.

3. Paper towers stacked on and along desks need to go into filing drawers, into storage (which is currently full!) or get tossed. If you look, you will find stuff to toss. Please look.

4. If you have to keep the piles of books under your desk, get a box from Maggie. Ditto with stacks of paper.

The dumpsters will be on the floor again today.

If you cannot get the job done today, you need to tell me why, and I'll give you a new deadline within the next week.

To those who might wonder if I don't have more important things to do, you're right, so please let me get to them.