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September 5, 2008

Years since it’s been clear
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:21 PM * 33 comments

The NY Sun, the neoconservative daily paper started a few years back as a rival to the not-quite-conservative-enough NY Times, is running out of money. It’s going to need tens of millions of dollars to keep afloat, more than its original backers are willing to spend.

The paper has never been profitable, though I couldn’t tell you whether this is because the early 21st century is a bad time to launch a dead-tree newspaper, or because they over-estimated the demand among New Yorkers for a small-print and high-school-vocabulary version of the NY Post. Eric Alterman has reported on the Sun’s dishonest circulation figures, and speculates that the paper exists solely to be read by journalists and create the illusion of support for neocon causes. (Though he mourns the loss of the paper’s art section and obituaries.)

Some of you may remember the Sun from five years ago as the paper whose editorial board called for anti-war protesters to be prosecuted for treason under Article III of the Constitution. More recently, they encouraged the mass pants-wetting over Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s visit to NYC, still cover up for the Bush torture state, and called for Cheney to run for president.

Gawker has covered the abusive working conditions for interns at the Sun, with a bizarrely over-detailed dress code, and a ban on long subway trips.

I recommend that the Sun’s editors think of this not as the failure of their newspaper, but as the hastening of the day when they can leave what they think of a third-world city. Or just get the hell out now. We won’t miss you.

Comments on Years since it’s been clear:
#1 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:43 AM:

ObPooorBaaaaabbbyyyyy: Poor babies.

I say this as someone who loves variety in the newsreading experience: Good riddance.

#2 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:27 AM:

To me the "guidelines for interns", if genuine, just read like someone who's had it up to here with boy interns (they don't have to tell the women how to dress) who haven't grown out of being teenagers. Whatever you think of the Sun's politics, a print newspaper is a time-critical operation. The guidelines don't ban long subway trips at any time - they reasonably want operatives to be reachable on the phone between 6 p.m. and end of press run, and if that means not disappearing for hours down the subway where there's no cellphone signal, then so be it.

But I did spend years working in a place where suit-and-tie was normal wear. We only took a few interns, and we could do without (and did without) rich kids who weren't interested in the job and couldn't be relied on, or who expected to be doing Important Stuff from day one and grumbled when asked to help with the chores.

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Bury it at the crossroads with a stake in its heart. If only the same could happen to the Post.

#4 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 05:41 PM:

It makes sense to me that an employer might want to cultivate an atmosphere of serious professionalism, and would as part of it insist on traditional attire.

What doesn't make sense is that the dress code makes a big deal about the distinction between suits, on the one hand, and sport-coat-and-slacks outfits on the other. Both of these fall squarely in the jacket-and-tie category of office monkey suits. Presenting sport coats as a more casual option, permissible on Sundays, is at least a generation out of date.

#5 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 06:26 PM:

Seriously glad to see these scum go under. This despite the fact that they had some of the only seriously intelligent baseball coverage in all the mass media (if they count as mass media, anyway).

#6 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 09:52 PM:

The big problem will be the loss of the Sun's daily crossword, honestly.

#7 ::: Chris Adams ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:20 PM:

@Johan: When I hear "dress code", I think "McDonald's" - and it's jarringly incompatible with a professional job: someone is supposed to be capable of performing independent, skilled work and yet they can't be trusted to dress themselves?

It makes a lot more sense if you consider a dress codes as a conformity exercise - and in that context it's unsurprising that the Sun had a particularly strict one: it fits perfectly with their hidebound conservatism.

#8 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:54 PM:

The Post only loses about $12-13MM a year, last I heard (but I haven't paid attention for a while). And the cross-marketing alone might make that an "investment."

I love the "asking for a byline or questioning a byline decision is grounds for immediate termination" part of the contract.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:13 AM:

I've never liked companies where some specified action is considered grounds for immediate termination.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 01:08 AM:

If the specified action is something illegal or unethical and provable, I can see it. Not for trivia or policy-wonk issues.

#11 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 08:47 AM:

Ken@8, I read the bit about questioning by-line decisions as, "We're utterly fed up with bitching about this issue and don't want to hear any more about it. Got a problem? Work elsewhere."

#12 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:15 PM:

It sounds like there could be a place for a daily publication with good arts and sports coverage and a crossword puzzle, and don't bother with the rest of the newspaper. Sort of an all-dessert version of the news.

#13 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:23 PM:

Chris Quinones (12): It would need a good comics section, too.

#14 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 04:56 PM:

Chris and Mary: Hell, give me something like that in my own city, and I'll read it, then go get my actual news from my online sources.

I mean, I've got to have something to do on the bus, you know?

#15 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:54 PM:

What doesn't make sense is that the dress code makes a big deal about the distinction between suits, on the one hand, and sport-coat-and-slacks outfits on the other. Both of these fall squarely in the jacket-and-tie category of office monkey suits. Presenting sport coats as a more casual option, permissible on Sundays, is at least a generation out of date.

This level of specificity, and formality, is not uncommon in parts of the financial sector. E.g., the written dress code at my job specifies suit + tie as business formal, mandatory, except on Fridays when jacket + tie passes for "casual".

It would not surprise me at all to learn that the dress code at the Sun was copied from a brokerage firm.

#16 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 03:40 PM:

Teresa @ 9

In an awful* lot of corporations today it is a firing offense for an exempt (salaried) employee to tell another employee anything about his/her compensation: salary, bonuses, stock options, etc. This rule is intended to make it impossible for an employee to negotiate compensation effectively.

I personally think this practice is highly unethical (read: "evil") and should be illegal, but I wouldn't trust the courts these days to rule honestly in the whole area of employee relations.

* I mean that word literally; I find it awful, anyway.

#17 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Bruce Cohen: Just to pick an important nit: Not all salaried employess are exempt. It's a ploy businesses like to use, but it's not true.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that some tests be met.

First is salary; the employee can't be on hourly status. Second the salary has to meet a monetary threshold (and be in a job category which allows for exemption)

Third the employee has to have real supervisory function, over more than two people, have managment as a large part of the job function nad have responsibilties for scheduling, job description, hiring and firing, etc.

If that's not the case, the employee is slaried, non-exempt, and the employer owes them for OT, etc.

None of which has anything to do with the evil nature of the rules you're discussing.

#18 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 05:49 PM:
In an awful lot of corporations today it is a firing offense for an exempt (salaried) employee to tell another employee anything about his/her compensation: salary, bonuses, stock options, etc. This rule is intended to make it impossible for an employee to negotiate compensation effectively.

This was (I assume it still is) a firing offense at the Container Store. As was discussing unions.

#19 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 06:41 PM:

Which makes the Container Store evil, then, in my view.

Ugh.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 06:48 PM:

Yeah, no Container Store business from me. I'll go look at what they have, take their ideas, then buy online.

Union-busting deserves no pity.

#21 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 07:15 PM:

Hmm... is it illegal for an employee to tell a non-employee? Presumably not; you'd need to be able to tell your mortgage provider your salary, for one example.
So, if you told someone whom you knew was indiscreet, and all your fellow employees told him too...

#22 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 07:53 PM:

Bruce @ #16: that evil rule cost at least one employee a Supreme Court decision. (Not mentioned in the printed blurb, but it is in the audio story.) How can you challenge being paid less for equal work (illegal since 1963) if you don't know how much the other employee is getting paid?

#23 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 08:04 PM:

I wonder what their opinion on web sites is. There's a site called Glassdoor which basically lets employees review their employers, including their employers' salary and compensation packages. Unfortunately their search sucks, but they'll hopefully fix it eventually. :/

(No affiliation with them whatsoever besides thinking they've got a good idea going.)

#24 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Lila @ 22: I read what you linked to, and was struck by the comment attributed to McCain and other critics, namely that if legislation aimed at removing the 180-day time limit on bringing suit for discriminatory pay rates (and how can you bring suit for something within 180 days of its occurring if you don't become aware of it within 180 days, especially when others are forbidden to make you aware of it?) were to pass, "businesses will face frivolous lawsuits." Excuse me, but precisely what is frivolous about paying a man twice as much to do the same job as a women?

#25 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 08:56 PM:

I don't buy ANY of the arguments in favor of salary secrecy. Somehow the University of Georgia (and all other state schools!) manages to operate in spite of the fact that ALL its employees' salaries are a matter of public record. Seriously. You can go to the U.Ga. main library and look employees up by name and find out what their job classification is and how much they make. And yet, mysteriously, the school manages not to collapse.

#26 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 11:37 AM:

The Federal Government has no secrets; if you know what GS level a person is, you know exactly how much they make -- it's all listed in the OMB (Office of Management and Budget)website.

#27 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Ginger@26

Actually, you also need to know the "step" the employee is at.

There are also differences depending on the employee's geographic location and a few remaining differences depending on job classification.

(Although all of this IS publicly available information.)

#28 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 02:50 PM:

Michael I: What I should have said was "if you know a person's grade/step" and not GS level. The grade gives you the range of salaries; the step gives you the exact salary. Locality pay is not considered as salary but a benefit. It gets added to your base salary.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 01:24 AM:

Terry @ 17

Third the employee has to have real supervisory function, over more than two people

Are you sure that's a strict requirement? I spent a lot of years as an engineer with no supervisory function, with several employers who kept calling me an exempt employee, and refusing to pay me overtime. They sometimes gave me comp time, but that was strictly up to my immediate supervisor.

#30 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 01:56 AM:

Bruce #29: Supervising two or more people is one of the criteria for a "white collar exemption", but it isn't required, and there are others. Search for that phrase and you'll find somewhat impenetrable legal prose explaining that being well paid, well educated, and doing complex creative work can also qualify you for an exemption. The Department of Labor broadened the exemptions in April 2004. In my opinion that "well paid" part can be a bit misleading when you divide the salary by the hours worked and/or on call, but the Bush Department of Labor didn't ask me. (I can't imagine why not.)

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 03:55 PM:

janetl @ 30

I became an exempt engineer in 1978 at Intel, after working as an hourly technician for 2 years in the same department. The company had to increase my "yearly" salary by almost 25% to make up for the overtime I was routinely working*. That was the first time I came across the "telling someone how much you make will get you fired" policy.

* There's a scene in Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine where someone in the R&D group that's developing the new computer finds a technician's paystub in the trash, and learns that, given 80 or 90 hour weeks, the tech is making more than twice as much as any of the engineers. To maintain morale, he burns the paystub.

#32 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2008, 08:37 AM:

Interesting software management problem, about which I would like to know more:

Programmers get vastly overworked.

Some reasons:
* Time spent communicating between people seems to be on the order of N! . Therefore doubling the amount of people on a project does not double the amount of work that gets done, even if you hire them all at the start.

* Good programmers are hard to find and a good programmer can produce three times the results of an OK programmer. [Bad programmers can produce negative amounts of work.]

* Good programmers often think it's fun and don't MIND working through dinner.

* Programmers underestimate the amount of time they will take to do something by a factor of 2. I've heard this rule independently from several different sources, and verified it myself.

* Long hours, little sleep = bragging rights.

Result: you get a 60 hour "standard" workweek and during crunchtime people sleep under the desks. And then people make more mistakes because they're tired.

One attempted solution was CMMI, but there's got to be a better way...

#33 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Sandy B @ 32
More reasons:

* Many programmers are not designers; the skill sets aren't identical. Unfortunately, team composition and organization often doesn't reflect that. Lack of or poor design almost always means more work later in the cycle to fix problems.

* Many programmers are not good communicators. This can multiply the work to do at integration time, when programmers' code is put together and inconsistencies in interface and even in support of requirements becomes evident.

* "We don't need no steenking unit testing!"

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