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According to the trade publication News & Tech, "The San Diego Union-Tribune is narrowing the web width of its four Goss Metro presses from 50 inches to 44 inches -- with provision for 42-inch production." The project will be completed in September. In the last couple of years, some other dailies have undergone similar size reductions. I was not able to reach Jeff Light, new editor of the U-T, in a timely fashion, but he told KPBS last month that he anticipated "a redesign of the print product probably late summer...there'll be some changes in the look of the paper."

Employees say that they are having to attend lots of meetings, partly to deal with a new width of the paper and partly to deal with the U-T's new emphasis on the web. Light has brought in a former colleague from the Orange County Register to teach U-T employees such things as covering a beat while enhancing that coverage through tweeting. In April, Light told KPBS that his strategy "is to work across more than one platform...We have print, we have interactive, we have mobile, the iPad is coming out. We have radio and television hosted on our site." So the emphasis will shift markedly from the print product -- a phenomenon that is evident at most metro dailies.

The U-T employees also expect further staff reduction. Light told the Voice of San Diego early this month that a reorganization is slated this summer, but no mass layoff is contemplated.

The company is still trying to rent out the 4th and 5th floors. The commercial real estate industry is severely depressed, as the new U-T owners are finding out as they try to unload properties they got when they bought the company from Copley Press.

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Comments

nativesd May 13, 2010 @ 7:05 p.m.

Each day, the paper looks more and more like Light's old rag the Orange County Register: lots and lots of graphics, few non-local news on the front page, a trend toward prominent display of feel-good, man-bites-dog type of goofy stories, and on and on. Lot of good all that did the Register, which just got out of bankruptcy and whose circulation's nosedive makes the UT decline seem almost paltry by comparison. On the positive side, there is....little or nothing. But hey, I read the rag for free so what do I care? I'd never pay for it. Now as for the Reader, I actually might plunk a dollar down every week should it abandon its gratis distribution.

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Don Bauder May 13, 2010 @ 7:19 p.m.

Response to post #1: The new management definitely has shifted focus sharply toward local news. I think that is a good idea. Whether the splashy "U.S. Today" graphics will pay off is another matter. I do find myself reading fewer of the articles. I think many are poorly reported, written, and edited. That may be a result of the personnel cutbacks. I hear that the U-T will increasingly concentrate its hiring on young people right out of school, who don't have to be paid much. If true, that will be a potentially deleterious mistake. Look at the retailers who let their older, experienced, better-paid salespeople go and kept the younger, poorly paid ones. It has been disastrous. Best, Don Bauder

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David Dodd May 13, 2010 @ 7:30 p.m.

I'm not surprised to read that the U-T is reducing the paper's size. They've already vastly reduced its thickness and the quality of content. I propose that from here on out, rather than to refer to it as the "U-T" we consider referring to it as the "itty-bitty". Soon, the content will be able to fit on a single 3" x 5" index card...

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Visduh May 13, 2010 @ 8:32 p.m.

Over the past 30+ years, when I was either involved closely in the newspaper business as an ad buyer, or since then as a spectator, I've watched newspapers both narrow and shorten their formats. It was only in the past couple years when the sole "broadsheet" paper, the Wall Street Journal, finally threw in the towel and narrowed down.

Yet, within the past couple years, while on a trip to New Zealand, I was reintroduced to what a newspaper once looked like in the US. All the papers there are broad, as most of ours once were. A pageful of articles in that format can keep your attention. They don't need a great many pages to do their reporting. A typical page in NZ holds about twice the content as a page in the U-T. So, why the narrowing? I don't claim to know. (If they kept the pages larger, with more columns, and more depth, they could charge a whole lot more to those advertisers who insist upon full page ads. But who ever said the industry was smart?)

Another factor has been the gradual introduction of color into any/all of the pages of the paper. So, what do they do with color? They print pretty "pitchers" on the center of the front page of the paper, along with some sort of feelgood story, instead of using that for the big news stories of the day. Hey, doubt me? Just look at the front page of today's U-T with its story of some Sea World folks rescuing a whale that was snarled in some fishnet and fish lines. Newsworthy? Sure, but did that rate the front page of the U-T, with all the other crap going on in the world? LOL Then the front page of the local (Region) section featured a huge photo of a little 4-H'er kid and his goat. A pleasant story and newsworthy, but again, where there bigger stories locally today? Well, yes there were. The story that deserved more prominence was the one about the face-to-face meeting between Gardner and Amber DuBois' mother in the downtown jail.

It's sad when a layman such as myself can see such obvious journalistic breakdowns in the local rag. Those staff cutbacks are showing up in the daily output. Just as with the airlines, you cannot keep slashing staff without it showing up in the operation and the face it presents to the public (i.e. the customers who pay the bills.)

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Neal Obermeyer May 13, 2010 @ 8:33 p.m.

Re: #2

Don, while I'm sure there is some institutional wisdom lost in getting rid of older staff in favor of younger and less expensive reporters, I think there is also something to be gained in passion and energy. I know of at least one daily paper that would love to have the luxury of cleaning out the comfortable lazy veterans so they could get some hungry young talent in.

(It's admittedly too easy and definitely unfair to categorize all veterans as lazy and comfortable, but at the same time, it's also probably too easy to generalize that the wisdom and passion of all "old-timers" matches their tenure.)

But as you allude to, a house cleaning simply for the sake of picking up whoever will work cheapest is probably not the best way to maximize the potential of bringing in a new generation. There is potential there, though.

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Don Bauder May 13, 2010 @ 10:02 p.m.

Response to post #3: Dogpatch Dispatch. Another way of putting it. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 13, 2010 @ 10:04 p.m.

Response to post #4: My guess is that the U-T and other metro dailies know that the printed edition probably has one more generation to go, if that. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 13, 2010 @ 10:08 p.m.

Response to post #5: I would like to see those color spreads devoted to charts and graphs that help to explain a complex story. But I fear the editors think that readers aren't going to be interested in complex stories. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 13, 2010 @ 10:13 p.m.

Response to post #6: You make very good points. But I am going to inject an opinion that will outrage some people: back in the 1960s and into the 1970s, young journalists had energy and guts and a zeal to reform the world. Alas, too many of today's youth want to make money by getting along and going along. Some of the 1960s/70s crowd are now the grizzled old veterans who still have fire in their bellies. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 14, 2010 @ 7:36 a.m.

Response to post #11: I believe I have already noted that one time, people credited me with single-handedly curing a contagion of canary constipation sweeping the county. Best, Don Bauder

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Shadow May 14, 2010 @ 1:50 p.m.

Speaking of reducing staff, I noticed today that movie reviews by Alison Gang, whom the paper was aggressively promoting a couple months ago, now have "Special to the Union-Tribune" in the byline instead of staff writer. Did she get the boot?

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Don Bauder May 14, 2010 @ 2:53 p.m.

Response to post #13: Sorry, have no idea. Never heard of her. I haven't read a movie review in the U-T since David Elliott, who was really good, got the boot. Best, Don Bauder

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David Dodd May 14, 2010 @ 6:29 p.m.

Shadow: If she got the byline "Special to the Union-Tribune", then she's a stringer now.

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Don Bauder May 14, 2010 @ 9:01 p.m.

Response to post #15: That's how it used to be, if memory serves me right. Best, Don Bauder

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WhatGoesAround May 15, 2010 @ 10:01 a.m.

The Union-Tribune continues to exceed expectations in all facets of its operation as the incredible shrinking newspaper.

"Web Width Reduction R Us" -- perhaps they can figure out a way to print a fully gate-folded edition. They can call it "the little newspaper that could."

Don, although I am a lifelong technogeekess, I don't believe the iPad or similar platforms will rescue the print news media. I don't believe tweeting and facebooking and convergence will rescue the print news media.

I do have some ideas about how newspapers can rebuild, and they coincide with your comments above concerning a paucity of journalists today with passion, guts and a zeal to reform the world.

I am writing a book -- the working title is "Newspaper CEOs and the idiots who work with (and for) them."

Newspaper CEOs and publishers have only themselves to blame for the current decline. They screwed up, and we, the readership, are the worse for it.

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Bob McPhail May 15, 2010 @ 11:29 a.m.

Last week I was at a Von's in the South Bay where I encountered a fellow trying to give away the U-T and offering a 10% off coupon on my Von's purchases for the day if I would take a trial, one-month subscription to the U-T. I declined the subscription offer, so didn't get my discount, but I did take the free paper. Big waste of time. When I got home and decided to read the paper, there was almost nothing in it I had not already read elsewhere. I suppose if you're interested in car crashes, liquor store stick-ups and other crime news, you might actually be able to get some real "news" from the U-T. Graphically, it's ugly and grey and lacks imagination. I did keep it, though, so I could use it to wrap glass items in the event of a move I am anticipating. Sad to see the paper fall so far so fast. Never was a big fan, but they once had a few writers worth reading, with good coverage of coastal issues by reporters like Terry Rodgers, who is no longer with them. For a major metro, today the paper looks more like a suburban daily or a neighborhood weekly. But that's one big plus for the Reader -- at least here I can read about things I would never have been aware of but for the hard work of folks like Matt Potter and Dan Bauder. Keep it up and you likely will soon surpass the U-T in circulation.

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Don Bauder May 15, 2010 @ 11:39 a.m.

Response to post #17: I have only played with an iPad once, and have never had a Kindle in my hand. Our oldest son, who is a long-time engineer with Apple, says that it's great to read newspapers, magazines and books on the iPad. In reading the views of various critics, I see a split: some think the iPad will help revive the print media, others do not. I don't have enough information to hazard a guess. I don't know how to tweet or facebook, but if I thought either one would help with readership of my column, I would learn how. Some say tweeting would help, others say it would not. Here's my problem with tweeting: suppose I post a scoop on my blog -- say, "Mayor Resigns." (San Diego should be so lucky.) Immediately, other newspeople would pick it up and develop the story. Few readers would know or remember that the Reader had it first. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 15, 2010 @ 1:11 p.m.

Response to post #18: Terry Rodgers was a first-rate environmental reporter. That meant he was always fighting management, which didn't want to cover the topic, because it ruffled the feathers of the business establishment. As I recall one ploy was to make Rodgers the surfing reporter to try to keep him away from the environment beat. He was talented, hard-working, conscientious, tenacious in covering the beat, so of course he was a pariah. I used to hear from people in the environmental community about stories Rodgers had covered, but couldn't get into print. Best, Don Bauder

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gekko May 16, 2010 @ 3:27 p.m.

Response to post #4.

I like the 3"x5" index card comment. They could put the news on the front and advertising on the back. There would still be space available.

Gekko

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gekko May 16, 2010 @ 3:48 p.m.

Response to post #2.

Don: The paper keeps getting smaller and the price keeps going up. The ads on the radio talk about how much you can save using the coupons in paper. Nothing is ever mentioned about the quality of the journalism content. There are many new bylines. Probably new writers who will work for less as you mentioned. The new owner, PE, is not serious about putting out a quality product. I see the print edition going away before the time frame you have mentioned previously. But to quote comedian Dennis Miller "I could be wrong."

Gekko

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Don Bauder May 16, 2010 @ 4:46 p.m.

Response to post #21: Remember, the U-T is owned by a private equity group, Platinum Equity. It buys assets to flip them. Its normal holding period is 3 to 5 years, although an official has been quoted raising that by a couple of years. The U-T is being prettied up to sell. However, Platinum might hold on a little longer this time. It had counted on flipping the commercial real estate quickly. No can do in this market. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 16, 2010 @ 5:48 p.m.

Response to post #22: It appears Platinum is more interested in puffing up the product than improving it. That would be logical if it wants to sell, and that's its business -- buying assets, holding them awhile, and flipping them. I hope you are wrong but you may well be right. Best, Don Bauder

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gekko May 16, 2010 @ 6:01 p.m.

Don: What ever happened regarding that situation where some lawyer for Platinum Equity said you would be sued if you published a particular story on PE or its CEO? As I recall, the Reader did publish the story. What ever became of this? Just hot air on the attorney's part?

Gekko

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Don Bauder May 16, 2010 @ 9:25 p.m.

Response to post #25: We not only ran the story, but we ran the lawyer's letter. I have heard that the lawyer said that he had succeeded because we were very cautious in the story, and that was his goal. There is no doubt we could have printed more that was a matter of public record (it was in the lawsuits filed against the company), but we never intended to make our story a salacious hit piece. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister May 16, 2010 @ 9:36 p.m.

The UT (unbelievably terrible) should narrow its page width to five inches and wrap it around a cardboard cylinder; then it would be on a roll. Or is that Under-Taker (double entendre intended).

You're right about many young people, and some of the folks of generations past, but fire-in-the-belly has no market to speak of. We have swapped our birthright for a mess of PC.

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Twister May 16, 2010 @ 10:02 p.m.

Take a look at today's SDUT editorial on fire facilities if you want to see just how inept the UT editorials can be http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/may/16/enhanced-fire-protection/. Ditto for the lapdog "reporting" to which it referred readers (without a link) http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/may/12/study-calls-for-14-more-fire-stations/. Maybe they'll offer discount coupons on buggy-whips. These folks seem to WANT to commit journalistic suicide.

But as far as I know, even the Reader hasn't caught on to the bare essentials of the fire-protection racket--especially in terms of the firestorm issue.

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Don Bauder May 17, 2010 @ 6:11 a.m.

Response to post #27: You could be right: fire-in-the-belly doesn't count anymore. Here's what I worry about with U-T: it is going to reduce employment, probably loading up on younger, cheaper employees, at a time when it will demand that reporters get out copy for the printed edition while they feed the electronic monster (Twitter, blogs, etc.) The younger people might be more facile with the electronic gizmos, true, but the paper might consciously let go some of its best, older talent, as it did earlier. The mediocrity could be easily perceptible. It is now. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 17, 2010 @ 6:18 a.m.

Response to post #28: I believe the Reader has done more than anybody on excessive pay and fringes of firefighting personnel. But maybe I have been missing the bigger picture. Educate me: don.bauder@mac.com or 619-546-8529. Best, Don Bauder

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SurfPuppy619 May 17, 2010 @ 8:18 a.m.

Yes Twister-please give your take on the "fire-protection racket".

I thought it was just the pay and benefits being grossly above market.

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Visduh May 17, 2010 @ 8:31 a.m.

When Kittle was running the U-T editorial page, he could at least write well enough to string the thoughts together and sound halfway convincing. I agree that many of these recent editorials have been amateurish, and often do something I call "leading with the conclusion." The only virtue that such writing possesses is that it comes right to the point without any justification, and that can spare the reader any need to actually read the arguments.

That study calling for 14 more fire stations around the county makes some sense. There has been substantial population growth in recent years with few new fire stations. But the implication is that a few more fire stations could avoid disasters like the fires of 2003 and 2007. That's simply not the case. The total absence of fire prevention efforts that preceded those firestorms insured that once started, they were unstoppable. Another 140 fire stations, fully staffed, could not have stopped those fires. Did the U-T take up matters such as those? Nah. What do you expect?

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Don Bauder May 17, 2010 @ 9:17 a.m.

Response to post #31: A new scam always gets my juices running. Pardon the pun, but it puts a fire in my belly. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 17, 2010 @ 9:25 a.m.

Response to post #32: You have an excellent point: neither the city nor county has sufficiently required citizen prevention efforts. The pols don't want to lose votes. And certainly neither the pols nor the regulators have required compliance from Sempra Energy, which has a big lobbying operation. The tiny fine for Sempra's role in the '07 fires was utterly repugnant -- an example of horrendous regulation. At present, the PUC is manipulated by the utilities. It hasn't always been so. Best, Don Bauder

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Shadow May 17, 2010 @ 12:50 p.m.

Response to post #14: Completely agree with you about David Elliott and his extraordinarily clever, spot-on movie reviews. Great word play, and no tolerance for stupidity... I only noticed Alison Gang because the paper made such a big deal out of promoting her complete w/ quarter page ads and photos. (remember those bus ads with Diane Bell's mug plastered across 'em?)

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Don Bauder May 17, 2010 @ 3:23 p.m.

Response to post #35: The rumor -- and it's strictly rumor -- on David Elliott is that David Copley heard him commenting on radio one time and thought he was flashing his knowledge too conspicuously. The word of Copley's disdain passed down the line, and Elliott was soon on the s**t list. His bosses probably had no idea that he was a terrific writer and reviewer. Even if they had known, it wouldn't have made any difference: David Copley had sent the word. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 18, 2010 @ 6:49 a.m.

Response to post #37: That's an interesting piece. I knew he was near retirement age when he was sacked, but didn't know that he was planning to retire anyway. He didn't retire, of course. He is doing reviews for SDNN. Best, Don Bauder

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gekko May 18, 2010 @ 9:03 p.m.

Response to post #36:

Don: Since you brought up rumors, what's the rumor on why Neil Morgan was canned?

Gekko

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Don Bauder May 18, 2010 @ 9:14 p.m.

Response to post #39: One rumor is that Neil was calling some people; they put a trailer on him and believed he was tipping off the Reader to certain things. I am not sure that I believe that rumor. I think they thought, wrongly, that Neil was getting too old and just forced him out when he didn't want to go. They handled it abysmally. He turned around and helped launch Voice of San Diego, so he got a hair of the dog, and then some. He also got a nice settlement from them. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister May 19, 2010 @ 10:59 p.m.

30

That would blow my cover. Let's put it this way: All demagoguery needs a perfectly good wad of bait to cover the hook.

We need fire protection. Fire trucks, helicopters, and planes even. But we don't look at the failures and the impossibilities. But we need them for rapid response times, not for the big firestorms. That's when firefighting becomes theater. They even use the same script over and over, like in the spaghetti westerns. "Unexpected," says Arnold. "We're throwing everything we have at this firestorm," says the chief of chiefs and every lackey behind the microphone.

Watch the TV coverage. They're willing to get crews killed and equipment destroyed to get heroic footage. This makes the taxpayers supplicant. NOTHING can be done when a firestorm is bigger than the suppression capability actually available. It's not that we shouldn't have adequate crews and equipment, but it is insanity to lie to ourselves and misdirect millions ineffectively. Sure, a few houses can be "saved," but once they're burning, firetrucks, helicopters, and airplanes are far too little too late.

The money could be far more effectively spent in helping people at hazard make their properties safe in the worst possible firestorm (like being carpeted by in infinite number of firebombs a la Dresden), but there would be a storm of outrage if anybody in government or the fire business said anything like that--it violates "common sense," which, of course, is wrong. Better to let the show go on, even if it costs lives and property.

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Twister May 19, 2010 @ 11:21 p.m.

32:

You're a bit generous (to put it mildly) with Kittle, but I don't want to start a tempest on a dead pail of fish. No fire in that belly.

But you're dead on about the need for rapid response capability for initial fire suppression--and you're dead-on about 140 fire stations or all the equipment in the country stopping a firestorm being oxygenated and pushed by winds. But maybe the worst scandal goes unnoticed for the most part. Most people die evacuating, not in their homes, and not from fire, but by smoke. And they clog the evac routes blocking emergency units, while the fire is coming the same direction they're leaving. Nobody cares about the details.

I don't remember the date, but a couple of woman-reporters for the LA Times did an excellent series some months ago; the silence of the response was deafening--except for the usual crazies on both sides of this hot-button issue. Nobody paid enough attention. Life went on--which assures that more deaths await us.

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Twister May 19, 2010 @ 11:31 p.m.

Meanwhile, back to the point, it is now axiomatic that good journalists are burned at the stake while the lickey-lackeys get the promotions. That's a recipe for mediocrity, and that, even in today's dumbed-down generation, doesn't sell. With all due respect to this generation, however, the fact that they will feed at the trough of some pretty good satire (e.g. "The Daily Show") is encouraging--I hope.

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Don Bauder May 20, 2010 @ 7:32 a.m.

Response to post #41: The national media made Sanders a hero in the 2007 fires, when he had actually erred grievously. The right wing media seemed to say that San Diego was much better organized for a disaster than New Orleans had been. It was a thinly-veiled racist commentary. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 20, 2010 @ 7:53 a.m.

Response to post #42; Yes, the fire story just rolls on with no one addressing it rationally. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder May 20, 2010 @ 7:55 a.m.

Response to post #43: Yes, the journalists who kick ass are scored while the journalists who kiss ass get promoted to higher and higher positions. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister May 20, 2010 @ 11:30 a.m.

45

Where could the real story on fire be told? The Reader?

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Don Bauder May 20, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m.

Response to post #47: That's probably the only place it could be told. Best, Don Bauder

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