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6/12/2008

Happytown > Happytown

HAPPYTOWN
Amway's knocking

 

How bad are things at the Orlando Sentinel these days? We’ll let an unnamed Sentinel staffer answer that one: “Apparently the depressing, winnowing months we’ve been through recently may soon be know[n] as ‘the good ol’days.’”

Case in point: June 22, the day the Tribune Co.-ordered redesign of our beloved daily begins. According to a June 6 New York Times story, the Orlando Sentinel will be the first in a series of Tribune-mandated overhauls, which come as owner Sam Zell acknowledges that his media conglomerate barely makes enough money to service its $12.8 billion debt. The company is already trying to unload Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs, and has spent most of 2008 trimming staff at all of its papers. (The editor of the Los Angeles Times, for example, was fired after refusing to cut his editorial staff.)

So, what will the new Sentinel look like? From what we can gather, a lot like USA Today, only more dumbed-down to appeal to readers who don’t read anyway. There will be more ads – 50 percent of the paper will be advertising. Tribune heavy Randy Michaels says this will mean hacking 500 pages of news per week across the company’s 12 papers.

Less news means fewer reporters. Tribune is now studying the amount of content reporters produce; in other words, the company’s journalists have to justify their paychecks. If you don’t produce lots of column inches – never mind if those column inches are worth reading – then a pink slip may be in your future. So much for in-depth reporting or investigative journalism.

At least the papers’ graphics employees will keep their jobs. Unencumbered by words, the Trib papers will now focus on what, according to Zell, the people want: “maps, graphics, lists, rankings and stats.” In a memo to Trib employees, Zell said, “We’re in the business of satisfying customers, and we WILL respond to what they say they want.”

This is a side of Zell we’ve seen before. Back in January, about a month after Zell took over Tribune with a promise to stay free and clear of editorial decisions, he visited the Sentinel offices and bloviated on giving readers what they wanted, which is more puppies and less news, apparently. When a staff photographer questioned this approach, Zell lit into her, rambling about the “journalistic arrogance of deciding that puppies don’t count” before muttering “fuck you.”

This is a brave new world.

Last January when we were discussing Orlando’s ass-first hop upon the Amway (err, Quixtar) pyramid [“Look who’s knocking,” Jan. 18, 2007], there was some suggestion that Rich DeVos’ snake-oil scheme to make housewives millionaires might be repositioning itself in the American market.

Well, hold on to your Nutrilite, Irma, because it’s happening. On May 26, Quixtar/Amway Global began running 30- and 60-second spots during some of your favorite prime-time talkies, like The Price Is Right.

We even saw one, although we were so shocked that we weren’t able to ascertain its content. We do know that it was delivered in a soft voice. And that soft voice, ladies, gentlemen and Individual Business Owners, belongs to none other than John Fucking Tesh!

The ads are intended to “create a positive impression,” and one Quixtar website recommends that you, IBO, invite all of your friends – er, potential customers – over for a viewing party! Fun.

The ads, one website tells us, are paying off. Within 24 hours, exactly one IBO reported that he had received a customer referral based on the milky huskiness of Tesh. Welcome back, Amway. Please don’t knock on our door.

They tried to make us go
to Wii-hab, and we said no, no, no. Actually, this whole story about the “Wii-habilitation” being offered at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville would be so much more interesting if it were about curing your creepy uncle of his carpel-tunneled computer bowling affliction and if it weren’t in Titusville.

Instead, it’s a tale of philanthropy. Some guy named Tim Kelley from Cape Canaveral donated a Wii console to the medical center to give “fun and happiness to someone when fun isn’t part of their daily treatments”; people like the paraplegic playing the boxing game (!) to help with stability and balance, and the stroke victim who Wii-bowls to regain his ability to shift his weight. Sad. Also sad? They use the Wii at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, too.

Breaking! Orange County commissioner Linda Stewart drove to work June 3. No really, that was an actual county press release, delivered to our very own inbox. In other news, fellow commissioner Bill Segal keeps a pint of Jim Beam stashed in his desk and county chairman Rich Crotty has to poop.

OK, so we have no idea if the latter items are true, but the first one is. Orange County did, in fact, announce to the world (or at least to members of the local press corps) that Stewart drove to work in a 2005 Toyota Prius, which somehow makes it newsworthy. See, as the e-mail blast pronounces, “Stewart ‘walks the walk’ of green.”

Proof? That morning, Stewart “drove her new 2005 Toyota Prius to the Board of County Commission meeting. This is another effort to lead by example for carbon reduction and global awareness.” Then she ascended bodily into heaven.

Last year she replaced her St. Augustine grass with Zoysia grass to cut water usage. She doled out 125 trees on Arbor Day. (Technically, the county gave them away, but she helped.) And let’s not forget her effort to get solar lighting at schoolbus stops.

So the next time you’re thinking about driving your fuel-efficient transport down to 7-Eleven for a pack of smokes and some ramen noodles, drop us a line. Maybe we’ll feature your story too.

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