Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Merc — one year after Singleton

Retired Mercury News ad executive Lou Alexander (pictured) writes about the changes at his old paper in the year since Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group took over, such as the elimination of the Sunday Perspective section, the reduction in pages and questionable story choices for the front page. Just as interesting as his comments are those he's heard from other former Merc employees. Such as:
    • "Some fine work has been done on local issues, but not nearly enough to make the paper a must-read for people locally. Unless the Mercury News can do this — that is, make itself so vital to local and regional residents that they feel that have to subscribe to it — it will continue in its death spiral."

    • "Bringing 1B news onto the 1A spot has good and bad days. Today (9/21/07), for instance, the biggest story, the lead story, is the reopening of Original Joe’s Restaurant???? This is the best that can be done in the heart of Silicon Valley?"

    • "I don’t like the new Biz section. It’s too rah-rah looking for my taste."

    • "Particularly nettlesome are the quality control problems. I see so many mistakes in the articles that I think surely no one is proofreading them anymore. Also, I see more problems such as a note that a story is continued on page 2B, for example, when in actuality it continues on page 4B. (Sometimes, the rest of the story is nowhere to be found!)"


Anonymous said...

I'd love to comment on the changes at the MN, but after living in the South Bay for 25 years, I've stopped reading it. My subscription lapsed this spring. When it comes to local news, the free papers seem to get the stories first and follow them more closely.

The MN doesn't cover basic local news coming out of the schools, police beat or city and county government. When a controversy erupts on one of those beats, if the editors spot something that they find politically incorrect, then the MN will do a big story. But the MN won't report what actions the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took yesterday. You can't open up the MN and find out what the Alum Rock school board did last night. When was the last time they covered a VTA board meeting? Their series on the local courts last year made me realize how little coverage they give to the courts on a day-to-day basis. The abuses they reported in that series probably wouldn't have happened, or would have been corrected quickly, if the MN had been doing its job of closely covering the courts over the years. Instead the MN ignored that beat and things got out of control. Lawyers and judges realized that they could get away with anything because they didn't have to worry about the newspaper.

My guess is that media outlets -- whether they are newspapers, websites, radio shows, whatever -- that perform the "watchdog of government" role will always have huge audiences. If a media outlet abandons that role, the audience will go elsewhere. That's what I sense is happening with the MN.

Anonymous said...

I can't argue with this critique of local news coverage, but there's another, more revealing way to look at the the last year under Singleton -- page count. It's down by about 35 percent. They're selling fewer ads. Autos and real estate have dissolved into nothing. Recruiting went away some years ago. But where's the local retail? Where's local service? Even Fry's has cut back. And it's not like these advertisers have moved away. They're just soured on the Mercury -- perhaps because they've been forced to pay higher and higher rates while circulation has nosedived.