Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TFP Column: The Blade Cuts Both Ways

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 6/07/2014.  

After years of castigating corporate America for failing to recognize Toledo’s convenient location, to see competitive advantage in its Downtown, or to appreciate its hardworking union workers, it appears that The Blade is about to tuck tail and follow in the footsteps of those they’ve previously chastised. What else can we take from formal notifications to the city and The Blade’s unions that it intends to outsource its production? Such an intention makes it difficult to reconcile the disparity between the claim of being one of the city’s biggest supporters and an apparent unwillingness to invest in its future.
Non-production functions will apparently remain in its Downtown facility, but The Blade appears ready to cease all production at both its Superior Street and Water Street facilities, with more than 130 people losing their jobs. While The Blade has not formally announced where that production will resurface, it’s likely that its plan will require abandoning not only the Glass City but the Buckeye State as well.

In its announcement, The Blade cites the age of the equipment and the challenges of an older building in its decision not to reinvest. Having recently announced that it will finance an almost identical investment for its Pittsburgh newspaper (The Post-Gazette) however, the refusal to bankroll improvement in Toledo might seem almost duplicitous.

From a purely business standpoint this becomes even more curious, considering that The Post-Gazette competes for its market share with another Pittsburgh daily (The Tribune-Review), while no such daily competition exists in Toledo. Does this speak to the market for news in both cities, or simply the red-headed stepchild status of The Blade under the absentee landlord nature of one of its owners?

As “One of America’s Great Newspapers” (self-described), The Blade tells us it lost $8.5 million last year by way of explanation (excuse) for its plan. Some might see this as “how the mighty have fallen,” or perhaps “reaping what you sow”; still others might see it as proof of the adage that “you shouldn’t crap where you eat.” Perhaps however, The Blade simply fell victim to its own stale business plan; like many of its ilk, it could not decide whether it wanted to be an award-winning business that occasionally made a profit or a profitable business that occasionally won an award.

As it now scales back in use, I’m sure some will see the Superior Street site as one that should be on a federal list of historic buildings. Others might agree to its entry on a list, but suggest instead that entry should be on a list of federal Superfund cleanup sites. One cannot help but wonder at the impact of petroleum-based inks, industrial chemicals and lubricants used over time. One might be even more curious about the disposal of decades of solvent-based cleaners used in their cleanup.

The damage of The Blade’s past political attacks may soon become history, but not so quickly whatever may have leeched into the soil and water supply from a facility only blocks from the Maumee River and a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. The toxic treatment of those held in disfavor over the years by The Blade may someday fade away, but not so easily the residue of chemicals used to produce them. As its production equipment is mothballed or removed for eventual sale, let’s hope The Blade makes more of a commitment to the proper remediation of such materials than they have to their Downtown location itself, and that such residue may not prove to be the only long-term legacy it leaves.

The Blade easily deserves one of the stinging rebukes it has been so fond of handing out throughout the years; and the failure in its announcement to promise anything in the way of change shows that its owners have learned nothing.  Some may say it seems a bit unfair to pile on The Blade, but few would argue that it’s undeserved.

Sorry guys, but it’s your turn to be on the firing line for picking up your chips and leaving the game early. After all, the blade cuts both ways.

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