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BREAKING: CONTRACTORS INSUFFICIENTLY RESPONSIVE. I don't have a great deal to say about Chicago Carless vs. ChicagoNow specifically, save for the fact that I'm afraid journalism will, in the future, consist of mediating disputes between underpaid contractors. But inevitably, I do have a couple thoughts (if you are not already aware of this fracas, you should probably stop reading here, since it's not especially exciting).
1. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to Doyle, exactly, although the headline MIKE DOYLE: MAD AT SOMEONE does a disservice to the phrase dog bites man in the sense that dogs, at least in the realm of boilerplate, have an unfair reputation for their tendency to bite people all the time.
On the whole, his complaints are perfectly reasonable, and his ideas, had they been implemented, probably would have improved the site. But consider the following:
(A) If you don't have enough developers on staff, things will look crappy and break. Actually, even if you do have enough developers on staff, things will break, but they won't break as often and you will have people at your beck and call to fix them. If you are hiring contractors, you won't.
(B) TribCo is bankrupt. There are a lot of people standing outside the doors with golden pitchforks and fur moneybags just waiting for the purses to open again.
(C) If you are not a full-time employee and account for an nth of one percent of revenue, you have to squeak a lot for very little or no grease. To the extent that I have to do development, I'm naturally going to be more responsive to the people in the building because they can come and yell at me anytime they want, and the people who aren't in the building have to take a train to do so.
In other words, though it may be completely irrational, the person I blame in all of this is Dennis FitzSimons, who helped wreck the company and walked away with millions of dollars. I also blame the managers who get bonuses which, on average, account for a perfectly decent salary for a single employee, and all the hellspawn who yoked TribCo (specifically, its employees) to more debt than the company could ever expect to pay off - a company that just sold its money-printing professional baseball team just to get partially right with creditors.
All of this is probably cold comfort to everyone involved, but it's always important to remember How We Got Here. This may seem like an abstract point, but it's not: if you want to do something new, you either have to front the money or do it without money, or some combination of the two. If you're bankrupt, you can't front much money. This isn't abstract; it's basic math, which was apparently beyond the ken of the suits who set the company on fire to get high off burning piles of cash. QED.
2. It's important here to distinguish what is and what isn't wrong with ChicagoNow.
(A) FWIW, I don't find it particularly difficult to navigate.
(B) This may be a minor point - although it wouldn't be a minor point to me if I blogged there - but the blog headers leave something to be desired. For instance, I couldn't give you something this garish in five minutes, but if you gave me 20 I could try. Mostly because I wouldn't know what 15-year-old free font CD to choose.
(C) I've heard many complaints about the quality of the writing, but... I don't like 90% of what's published in most newspapers, either. This has always been the model. Let's get honest for a second: most newspapers - and television stations, and movie studios, and record labels, and radio stations, and everything - make a lot of crap for dumb people and use it to float content for the 10% of discerning consumers. And everyone feels that way about their 10% slice of content.
To take a more august example: professional asshole Andrew Sullivan should not be writing for any magazine anywhere - his sins as a journalist should have driven him out of the business years ago, especially the time when he got bullied by one of his own writers into running a factually damaged piece that his former magazine is officially embarrassed by - but I grit my teeth and admit his existence because his traffic does some good for the Atlantic.
Also: there is no one at ChicagoNow a tenth of a hundredth of a percent as bad a writer and person as Tribune Company Star Columnist Jonah Goldberg - the sort of guy who would crack jokes about poor people as Katrina bore down on New Orleans - who is employed by the parent company to take the edge off his more monstrous opinions by posing as a "legitimate" conservative. When someone starts running in on some poor programmer or some virtually unpaid CN blogger and I'm tempted to join the mob, I try to think about how much damage the company has done by legitimizing a soulless child of privilege like Goldberg, whose
book turd Liberal Fascism deserves much of the credit for smiley rageoholic Glenn Beck's current incarnation as a very confused patriot.
I guess what I'm saying is: pick your targets wisely.
3. If you think that Mike Doyle is complaining about bullshit, you should consider that ChicagoNow has bloggers - and not dirty amateur bloggers but people who write for actual expensive print or video [Ed. note: server space, power, maintenance costs money, too] - who are bitching about Shamrock Shakes. Two of them. STOP WRITING ABOUT SHAMROCK SHAKES.
4. Doyle didn't make much money off ChicagoNow, but ChicagoNow isn't making any money off ChicagoNow. Which I don't really blame them for - current online advertising models are decadent and depraved, and until the horse gets out in front of the cart it's going to be sore difficult to make substantial money off online content that people aren't willing to pay for. Once people started to make Tex Avery eyes at HuffPo comment sections as if they were teh future of money I figured we'd need a different model. Something like Coudal's innovative Deck, or some of the ideas that Jeff Jarvis has (Jarvis is a little too aggro for me, but some good ideas come off his high horse). The unprofitability of online journalism tends to get laid at the feet of journalists, but it takes a village, etc.
5. Blair Kamin must have a lot more free time than I do.
* I love this song more than I can say. It's about blogging! And amateurism (the good kind!)!