Statesman . solid page of type set in narrow columns. And the Times is only eight columns wide. The front page of t he American-Statesman these days features as many as six different column sizes, lots of nice white space on ‘which to rest the eyes, big pictures and a pretty, blue masthead. The front page has been further improved by the disappearance of Mini-View, a five-day-a-week column written by Sam Wood, the A-S’s editor. On Sept. 11, 1972, Mini-View appeared in print upside-down. The proof reader responsible for letting the column appear in that condition was forthwith canned. Most reasonable people would agree that the episode constituted prima facie evidence of the proof reader’s incompetence, if not his malice. But there are still some hardcore holdouts down at the A-S who insist that only a most gifted copy reader ever would have noticed the difference. In the old days, the A-S ran canned editorials, i.e., those distributed by a syndicate and designed to offend no one. While the state was reeling in the wake of the Sharpstown scandal and the Legislature was falling apart, the A-S could be counted upon to encourage us all to observe Traffic Safety Week or to ponder the problems of Afghanistan, or some such. Every now and again, Sam Wood would bestir himself and produce an Original Editorial. There was, for instance, the famous occasion upon which Wood became a little overexcited about the dangers of the student bloc vote and took it upon himself to play Paul Revere before an apathetic citizenry concerning the hairy hordes about to take over the town. Nowadays, the A-S produces its very own editorials encouraging us all to observe Traffic Safety Week. They have added a decent cartoonist to the editorial page staff and occasionally show signs of gumption. In the waning days of the late Constitutional Convention, the A-S’s editorial page became quite stern with the recalcitrant legislators, in effect warning them that there would be hell to pay if they didn’t produce a constitution \(as you A-S editorially frowned upon fellow editor Everett Collier of the Houston Chronicle for giving a soire in honor of Speaker Billy Clayton. The A-S has not, until recently, been in much of a position to sniff at other folks’ journalistic ethics and conflicts of interest. There was a time when the A-S was freebie heaven for reporters a situation that even many of the most upright among them felt was justified, given the crummy salaries they were paid. Reporters got movie passes, free dinners, theater tickets, 50-yard-line tickets to big football games, free travel, and, according to one source, discounts on clothes and cars. It is rumored that in the even more distant past, an A-S staffer or two did receive what you call your basic retainer for frequent and favorable mention of this restaurant or that night club. But that was a long time ago. T-IE A-S now has \(and to the policy statement on ethics, conflict of interest, and freebies. It is a simple out a bunch of thou-shalt-nots concerning free tickets and passes, contests, gifts and gratuities, travel, entertainment, outside employment, and outside activities \(the last of which could conceivably infringe on closes by instructing the staff to be like Caesar’s wife. A few years ago, the A-S canned two male reporters who refused to get their hair cut. The two sued and won: one chose to go elsewhere and the other was reinstated, but subsequently fired for other reasons. The paper now has a Dress Code, which is at least semi-funny. It urges staffers not to disgrace the American-Statesman by their grooming or some such: Alice Cooper could get by under it. Unfortunately, all this progress prettying up the paper, shaping up the ethics, cutting out the garbage, moving the editorial page from awful to dull has been marred by a recent series of firings and quittings at least as bizarre as any in the history of the paper’s pre-reasonable days. It all started, more or less, when John Bustin quit. Bustin spent 24 years at the A-S, the last 23 as amusements editor. Some readers liked his reviews and some readers didn’t, but he appeared to be a fixture at the A-S. \(R. D. once wrote a kind letter about him, for whatever that’s the Austin Citizen in early June, 1974, in part because he did not get on with Roland Nethaway, the new managing editor \(Nethaway took over as m.e. in June, Now, Nethaway’s advent had at first been greeted with loud hosannahs. He replaced Richard Seaman, who may or may not have been squeezed out, but who in any case left for presumably greener pastures. Nethaway, hopeful A-S staffers told their friends, was at least a newspaperman, a journalist and not a businessman. And it was Nethaway’s frequently stated ambition to make the A-S the best paper in Texas. Just the fact that Nethaway was more concerned with journalism than bottom-line profits made him a potentially exciting change. The A-S has not only been concerned with profits over the years, it has been profitable to an extent that could only have come at the cost of quality. The Fentress chain is a family-owned enterprise and so there are no public accounts of its profits. One can hear guesses as high as a 25-27 percent profit margin, but a more likely figure is the 18 percent margin more frequently used. And that, according to newspapermen in other parts of the country, gives the American-Statesman the highest profit margin of any paper in the country. There are other papers that gross more, but no others with that high a margin. In fact, according to some sources, the A-S carries its sister papers in the Fentress chain. The Los Angeles Times-Mirror, Inc., was interested in buying the A-S shortly after it bought, The Dallas Times Herald, but the deal came to naught because, among other things, the Times-Mirror didn’t want the other papers in the chain. One reason the A-S is so . profitable, in addition to its being a monopoly paper, is its location. Every year the University of Texas spews out a really awful number of journalism school graduates, many of whom would give almost anything to stay in Austin. The A-S can hire them at slave wages, keep them for a couple of years, and fire them when they start to ask for more money. In fact, Dick Brown, the publisher of the A-S, was once heard ruminating on the excellence of this situation, on how much money it saved the A-S to let kids work here for three or four years and then go on to Houston or Dallas or wherever and hire fresh graduates to replace them cheap. Of the approximately 100 editorial staffers on the A-S, it is doubtful that even 10 of them have been there for more than 10 years. Most of the A-S staffers, current and former, who were interviewed by the Observer, hold Brown to the chief villain at the paper \(although one rather startling soul, who should know, maintains that if there is any hope for improving the paper, generally considered a businessman, not a newsman. “He’s not interested in newspapering; it’s just a business to him,” said one of the many staffers who has quit recently. “He could sell the paper tomorrow and never miss it. It’s where he gets his money from ; that’s all. He doesn’t February 28, 1975 3 `There are hardcore holdouts at the A-S who insist that only a gifted proofreader would notice if Wood’s column were upside-down.’
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