On the heels of government bailouts and takeovers of AIG, GM and Fannie Mae, Leavenworth Street has learned that as of this Saturday, the City of Omaha will bailout and take over the embattled, and near bankrupt, Omaha World Herald newspaper.
We at Leavenworth Street, while not surprised by these events, think this is a travesty.
Nebraska’s leading daily paper has seen a dramatic decline in readership over the past year with the rise of the internets and desertion of the paper by publisher John Gottschalk.
The decline in the quality of newsworthiness of columns (following the departure of Rainbow Rowell), a poor percentage in endorsing winners in political campaigns and expanded coverage of such sports as “outdoor living” and high school girls volleyball have been clear culprits.
The paper, though privately owned, was quickly seen as “too big to fail” by the Mike Fahey administration. “If the World Herald fails, where will we get our news,” asked Fahey. “There would be no Briefly Metro News. No Lottery Results. And the Public Pulse writers would be relegated to commenting in web-blawgs. I don’t think that’s the kind of City we want to live in.“
Fahey stated that the World Herald would be run by a public-private partnership, similar to MECA which runs the Qwest Center and the future Fahey Baseball Stadium. The group will be called, “Buf-Yan-Sok-Scott” and will have a board appointed by the Mayor, the Archbishop and the Berkshire Hathaway Board of Directors as well as a stenographer appointed by the City Council.
Initial funding of the board — and thereby the World Herald — is thought to be between $300 and $900 million, though projections are thought to be less depending on the fate of the Money and Living Sections. “We all have to tighten our belts. I would like a weekly recipe for paprika as much as the next taxpayer, but we have to make cuts somewhere. Funky Winkerbean will however, likely end up on the Opinion page,” said Fahey.
Fahey has also made it clear that with the takeover of the news by the City, there will be no golden parachutes for retiring executives. “I have already demanded that Stu Pospisil return the Creighton Prep Basketball Champs mug he snuck into his backpack on Tuesday. And Robert Nelson can forget about getting that Ashlander of the Year award, and the ham that goes with it. No one is going to be seen as profiting on my watch.“
Omaha Mayoral candidates, one of whom will have the burden of managing the newspaper in the coming months, have also chimed in.
“I hate the World Herald and the World Herald hates me,” said former Mayor and candidate Hal Daub. “That being said, I will work to de-solve and re-volve the relationship with the newspaper and the City. This will be much like the sewer separation project, in more ways than one.“
Jim Vokal said, “When Hal Daub was on MECA, he let the Royals go to Sarpy County. If he is in charge of Buf-Yan-Sok-Scott, who is to say that this won’t happen again, and we end up with the Sarpy County World Herald? Under my watch, no one would be getting their news from Sarpy County — unless it is that Bellevue Leader hybird that is pretty much the same as the World Herald anyway.“
Councilman Jim Suttle responded, “Do we really need to be taking over the World Herald? Why not try some other ideas? Like getting the Dalai Lama into Omaha to read the news on the radio, like Roosevelt used to do. Or we could get a town cryer, like in the days of yore. We could bring back Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, for a position like this. We need ideas. They don’t have to be good ideas, or even sensible ideas. They just have to be words coming out of my mouth, while it’s moving up and down.“
It is not known what the last day of the paper will be, but it is thought that the headline will involve Nebraska football or possibly new parking near the Orpheum.