Sunday, June 18, 2006

Berkman, Hissom, Axed

Via Charlie Sykes, Dave Berkman relates why both he and Doug Hissom are no longer with the Shepherd Express.

Having once worked for the Shepherd, I have my own fair share of tales about the once-respectable paper's downward spiral over the years. Granted, my time there was short-lived and nearly ten years ago, so I can't say with any certainty that what took place back then is related to what's happening now. But, it seems that short of any direct correlation, the similarities are stunning.

Frankly, the place was run worse than a high-school newspaper. I started out selling advertising and was offered a nice base salary plus commission. After quitting the job I worked at all through college, I found out on my first day at the Shepherd that my salary was actually a draw on my commission and that there really wasn't any base at all. On top of the that I was handed a list of existing clients and asked to start enforcing the contracts, which meant encouraging the clients to run the ads they had committed to as well as performing collections. The only problem was that many of the contracts had never been signed, so I had very little to work with. And having a boss that called clients to bad mouth me (which I found out about when the client called me wondering what the problem was) didn't help matters much either.

At the time, the late Scott Kerr was editor of the paper, and no love was lost between him and either Doug Hissom (who was publisher back then) or the sales department. But he and I got along well, and since part of my advertising background was in graphic design, he offered me a position as a layout artist.

After having just won a sales competition in which I brought in a $10,000 contract from a local, popular restaurant (big bucks for the Shepherd), my boss and her cohort, the woefully inexperienced marketing manager, sat me down and told me my sales were awful. I had to agree, but there wasn't much I could do about it, considering I spent most of my time trying to enforce invalid contracts, countering what my boss was telling my clients and attempting to convince potential new clients that advertising alongside 1-900 numbers or editorial content to which they objected wasn't so bad. And I let them know this. I also let them know how their less-than-stellar methods of motivation really didn't do much to encourage the sales people. Nobody ever spoke to them that way before, so their jaws dropped. They dropped even further when I quit on the spot.

And they were quite surprised to find the next day that I was reporting directly to the editor, and as a layout artist, had direct control over where their client's ads would appear in the paper.

Being the layout artist also meant coming in at 7am on the Tuesday before the paper went to press and not leaving until we hand delivered it to the printer. One night in particular, Kerr had had it with the paper, and put together a three page article outlining all its shortcomings. Eventually we (the other artist and I) convinced him not to run it, but completely forgot to remove the "-30-" that appeared over the banner on the front page.

In newspaper terms, "-30-" means "end."

That was Kerr's last issue. Hissom took over as editor and I was gone within two weeks to bigger and brighter pastures.

While there I also witnessed the paper attempt to shut down attempts at unionization and being regularly unable to even make payroll.

Some very talented people worked at the Shepherd Express during my brief tenure, including Berkman and Hissom. While I may disagree with much of what the paper stands for philosophically, I believed their efforts were sincere.

I always thought when I was at the paper it couldn't get any worse.

Lou Fortis just keeps digging the hole deeper and deeper.

Looks like I was wrong.

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