Lately we've noted with some alarm the changes taking place at the city's incredible shrinking daily newspaper. First came the dumbing down of page 2 with piles of celebrity gossip, followed by someone's brilliant idea to turn hapless Sarah Aarthun into a new Observer icon (no doubt a sop to the huge "shallow mannequin" slice of the paper's readership pie). Then came the simultaneous shriveling of the paper's size and the ballooning of its fonts, rammed through under the guise of a "redesign." And now comes the inevitable companywide firing fit, with workers being offered buyouts left and right in an effort to cut costs and wreck staff morale. We sympathize. Hey, we're in the newspaper business, too, even though few honchos at the Big O (or rather, the Not-So-Big-Anymore O) would deign to admit it. Seriously, we want to help. We think there are better ways for the daily paper to save money, and so, as part of our effort to save local journalism, we offer these few suggestions.
1. Run a contest in which Observer readers determine who, or what, sports writer Tom Sorensen's new photo looks like. Charge readers $5 to enter and offer a $50 prize for the best answer. The paper should be able to make at least a quick hundred bucks from the deal. A word to the wise: Do not plan to win the prize with "Popeye" or "Jay Leno dipping snuff," as those will be my entries.
2. Replace the entire editorial section staff, except for the letters to the editor guy, with the all-new Equivo-Tron 3000. This marvelous new, high-tech gizmo is able to scan through recent news stories and produce relevant, but bland, daily editorials. No one will know the difference -- the Equivo-Tron 3000 can be programmed to equivocate relentlessly around an issue and wind up promoting the consensus views of uptown business interests. With that kind of techno-talent in the building, who needs humanoid editorial writers anymore? The Equivo-Tron 3000 is so lifelike, you'll never know the present editorial section professionals were shit-canned. Added bonus: an end to the imbecilic rantings in The Buzz.
3. Continue the trend toward narrower pages and larger type, a bit at a time, until the entire paper can be produced on a roll of soft, four-inch-wide paper. Market the change as a cost-saving measure for readers who will no longer have to spend their hard-earned money on bathroom reading material.
4. Start charging bank executives and condo developers for the fawning press coverage they routinely enjoy in the paper's business section. Sure, it's prostitution, but since business writer Doug Smith is in the habit of re-writing spoon-fed press releases anyway, why not go ahead and hit up the johns for their good time?
5. While you're at it, go ahead and drastically shrink the entire business section. Just give readers what they want to know: stock listings, stories of obscene CEO salaries and big corporations' legal problems, and a recap of quarterly profit/loss statements. For all other business-related stories, simply refer readers to the Charlotte Business Journal.
6. Save money and raise the paper's standards at the same time by replacing film critic Larry Toppman with a lowly intern. The newbie's job will be to coordinate films' Charlotte release dates with matching reviews from The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and The New Yorker. For other film reviews, refer readers to rottentomatoes.com.
7. End the pretense that the paper provides something resembling in-depth political coverage from Washington by ditching the weekly Inside Your Washington column. Similar levels of insight and usefulness can easily be produced at a fraction of the cost by replacing the column with, yes, an intern who will post local members of Congress' social calendars and favorite banana bread recipes.
8. Keep intact the Observer's plans to cooperate with Raleigh's News & Observer, particularly in the area of state politics. There's a reason no one in Charlotte knows much, or even cares, about what the state legislature is up to: the Observer does a miserable job of letting us know. The more the N&O can get involved here, the better. Added bonus: the Not-So-Big-Anymore O will no longer need to subject readers to reports from Mark "Everything's fine in Iraq" Johnson.
9. Consider the paper's current woes as an opportunity to be innovative -- really innovative. Introduce a revolutionary new invention that will allow readers to link directly from their newspaper to the paper's Web site, thus eventually eliminating the need for the paper to be bigger than a pamphlet. Don't ask me how to do this -- do I look like someone who knows squat about Internet technology? -- just do it. Find a resident teenaged genius or something, OK?
10. Finally, and once and for all, dump the lame attempts to compete with Creative Loafing in the field of entertainment listings and previews. It didn't work with Break, it didn't work with E&T, and it sure as hell ain't working with CLT. Face reality, people -- and save money at the same time.
If these suggestions are implemented, we predict many more years of fine journalism from our close friends at that ugly, jail-looking building on South Tryon Street. Good luck!