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Archive for November 30th, 2011

I spent 10 years at the Omaha World-Herald, so I was interested and surprised at today’s news that Warren Buffett is buying the newspaper company.

Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, is going to pay $150 million in cash and take on $50 million of World-Herald debt, taking ownership of my former newspaper and several other Midwestern newspapers and a direct-mail company. This ends more than 30 years of ownership by employees and the Peter Kiewit Foundation.

I may have greater insight later than I do today, but here are some initial observations:

  • This doesn’t say anything about Buffett’s optimism, or lack of optimism, for newspapers. As Jim Romenesko noted today, just two years ago, Buffett told his shareholders: “for most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy them at any price” because “they have the possibility of going to just unending losses.” Buffett is worth $39 billion, according to Forbes. This purchase cost about half of 1 percent of his net worth. He’s using the change he found in his sofa cushions to buy his hometown paper, a newspaper he has long expressed affection for. He also owns two other iconic Omaha businesses: Borsheim’s Jewelry and Nebraska Furniture Mart. As the Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein told Romenesko: “It’s an emotional, personal buy.” (more…)
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A longtime fact of journalism is that when tragic news breaks, we need to get information and reaction from people under great stress. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to us. Sometimes, though, they reach out publicly to friends and supporters on Facebook.

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis of the Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant, Mich., a Journal Register newsroom, did an outstanding job earlier this month using Facebook to gather information, including the tragic conclusion that a missing woman was found dead. I asked Lisa to share her reporting techniques with colleagues on a Google group. Then Jim Brady and I decided it would make a good blog post.

Lisa used names in her email, but I have edited this to remove the names. I’ve linked to a couple stories above, so you can see the end product and what I’m writing about. However, I don’t want this post to show up in Google searches for the names of the people involved. Journalists can sound insensitive and detached discussing how we cover tragic stories, and I don’t want to add to their pain by having this column show up inadvertently in search results for their names. So here’s Lisa’s account of the story behind the story, with names replaced by generic references such as “the wife” or “the boy.”

When I logged in to Facebook Sunday evening, from home, on a normal day off, I certainly didn’t expect to be bombarded with breaking news questions and information. (more…)

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