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Specter Skates

There was, of course, no way to predict that Bush's second term would be sunk by Katrina, bloody chaos in Iraq and a financial meltdown that would require a massive bank bailout. But that is precisely the point: Crystal-ball journalism tends to be overtaken by events.

By week's end I turned my attention back to swine flu -- excuse me, the H1N1 outbreak -- and the not incidental question of whether we're all going to die. But that was soon overshadowed by Chrysler's bankruptcy, which was eclipsed by Justice David Souter's retirement announcement, which spawned rampant speculation about who might be named to succeed him.

Still, the constant cable coverage suggested that the flu remained exceedingly scary, or why would the story be on hour after hour? Only after days of such teeth-gnashing did ABC's in-house doctor, Timothy Johnson, say the media were overreacting and the Los Angeles Times report that scientists believe the virus may do less damage than run-of-the-mill outbreaks.

If that's true, swine flu will have been the most over-hyped story since Paris Hilton went to jail -- and the media will lurch toward the next crisis.

Fading Sun

The firings last week at the Baltimore Sun, where nearly a third of the newsroom was axed, left the survivors confused about the paper's future.

"That's the question all of our members are asking: What's the plan?" says Angie Kuhl, the top Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild official at the Sun.

Editor Monty Cook says the paper will have to get by with fewer editors as it merges its newspaper and Web site. "We're not backing away from accuracy," he says. "We're not sacrificing accuracy for speed."

A third of the 61 people who were fired were editors, including the deputy managing editor, two top editorial page editors, two sports editors, the science editor and about half the copy desk -- who were asked to leave the building immediately. "They do seem to be preserving the beat reporters and investigative reporters," Kuhl says. "But all the people who make the paper behind the scenes seem to be devastated."

While most newspapers are undergoing sharp cutbacks these days, the Sun's situation is especially severe because its owner is the bankrupt Tribune Co. Given how thin the paper feels these days -- and despite Cook's plans to hire "community coordinators" to engage with bloggers and Facebook users -- it's hard to see how these cutbacks will help the Sun rise again.

"We are not abandoning the print product," Cook insists. On a personal level, he says, "this was one of the most difficult weeks any of us at the Sun has experienced."

Premature Disclosure

After a newsroom revolt, Chicago Tribune Editor Gerould Kern has halted a marketing project that asked readers to react to summaries of stories in progress that had not yet been published. Kern told his paper he took responsibility for what he called "a failure of communication and a breakdown in judgment."

Globe Faces Shutdown

You can read my piece on the New York Times Co. filing a 60-day notice of intent to close New England's largest newspaper here. It is difficult to imagine Boston without the Globe.


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