Making good on their word, the Orlando Sentinel axed 54 jobs last week by eliminating 33 open slots and firing 21 people. This rolling of heads has become something of a nasty holiday tradition, it would seem; last year, on Nov. 8, Sentinel publisher Kathy Waltz sent a memo to employees outlining the elimination of 11 open positions and firings, only she didn't call them "firings," she called them "separations."

The newsroom did take a hit, both in eliminated open slots and fired employees. But Sentinel spokeswoman Ashley Allen wouldn't provide exact figures. "We don't go into details department by department," Allen says. She did say the number of fired employees in the newsroom was "relatively small" and should not affect coverage. That said, Allen notes that managers are "looking at the paper from cover to cover."

If you do the same, don't bother looking for a travel section on Sundays anymore. Jay Boyar, a film critic at the paper for 22 years and the travel editor for the last 11 months, is one of the "separated" editorial staffers. The Sentinel plans to roll travel coverage into its feature section, says Boyar.

Until recently, he was thinking about where to take the section in 2006. Now his concerns are more basic. "I feel a sense of panic," he says. "I have an 11-year-old son and I would like him to have medical insurance."

The Sentinel's cuts so enraged the folks at MoveOn.org that they circulated a petition demanding the paper reverse course. "As corporate owners in Chicago reap large profits from the Sentinel, there is no excuse for them to force our paper to abandon its responsibility to deliver strong watchdog journalism to the public," the petition huffed. Yeah, good luck with that and all.

Which brings us to our second observation: The Tribune Co. does indeed make a lot of money on its papers, Sentinel included. Corporate reports don't list profit margins for smaller Trib papers like the Sentinel. But a Nov. 24 story in the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times put the combined profit margin of Trib papers at 17.6 percent last year, which, as the Times notes, is close to double the average profit margin of the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500.

"The spaceship is about to take off," was how chairman Jim Pugh ended the Dec. 1 Orlando Performing Arts Center board meeting. The next three months will be exciting, he said. The send-off was apropos considering the pie-in-the-sky outlook of the project.

Last time we visited this issue ("Ready or not," Sept. 1), the deadline for OPAC to tell Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty how much this thing is supposed to cost and where the money is coming from was January. But there have been a few snags since, and it looks like those answers are going to have to wait.

For one, the First United Methodist Church Orlando has decided to proceed with its own plans to renovate the dowdy building that sits on the proposed OPAC site at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and South Street. OPAC had offered to build them an all-new, 55,000-square-foot facility. But at the Dec. 1 meeting, the developer made it clear that the church decided it can't wait around forever.

And then there's the city/county task force formed to coordinate plans for upgrading the Citrus Bowl and TD Waterhouse Centre while OPAC gets built. Until all three projects – which are on different timelines – finish their groundwork, no decisions will be made by the mayors. OPAC thinks that will take about three extra months.

Finally, the University of Central Florida, once counted on as a major player, is no longer officially a player at all. The limited discussion of UCF at the meeting suggests (with some mystery) that Pugh and company are ready for OPAC to proceed with or without UCF pres John Hitt's involvement.

In last week's Selections we lauded photographer Adam Nehr's excellent black-and-white Issues and Icons photography exhibit at Orlando Museum of Art. At the time four of Nehr's photos were in danger of being pulled because of nude content.

Then a funny thing happened. At the Dec. 4 reception, the photos that featured naked-girl parts were right there on display, but the two featuring naked-boy parts weren't. Asked about the discrepancy, OMA marketing manager Sherry Meadows Lewis said, via e-mail, "We feel that some works of art, while of quality and value, are simply not appropriate to present when one of the museum's goals is to serve children and families."

Because censorship is bad, we decided to reprint one of the banned photos. (We'll save you a call: Generally we don't publish full frontal nudity, but in this case censorship is the point.) Pictured, at left, is "Fairy Dust," which was going to be accompanied by the following photographer's narrative, had it survived the censors:

"This was one of the most emotionally difficult images I ever created. I hesitated to ask him to pose with this jar because of its contents. You see, there really is 'fairy dust' in there, and it is precious to the man holding the jar. I was surprised with the positive response I got when I finally managed to get up the courage to ask him to bring the jar to his session. I was also concerned with the word "Fairy" being included in the image, a negative or derogatory image was not my intent. I was unsure of some aspects of gay protocol and this worried me. He put my mind at ease, it would be OK, the choice of that jar was both his and his partner's. When he saw the finished image it was an emotional moment for both of us. It would be the last time he and Jeffrey Miguel would be photographed together. Jeffrey Miguel died of AIDS in 1991 and, according to his wishes; he is now 'fairy dust.'"

And speaking of things you can't see, this is the final year of First Baptist Church of Orlando's popular Singing Christmas Trees. In fact, your last chance to view the staging of this 25-year tradition will be this weekend (check www.singingtrees.org for show times). The annual staging involves a 300-member choir, a 50-piece orchestra and about eight miles of lights.

Nonetheless, the church decided to kill the spectacle to pursue other efforts in 2006 "including looking at other areas of Orlando where they can present the Christmas message through music, living nativity and drama to a new audience outside the walls of the church," sayeth the press release.

Whatever spectacle 2006 brings, here's hoping it includes at least eight miles of lights.

This week's report by Lindy T. Shepherd and Bob Whitby.




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