Monday, March 24, 2008

A story familiar to Bay Area journalists

The decline of the Long Beach Press-Telegram might sound familiar to Bay Area journalists. MediaNews, the Denver-based owner of most of the Bay Area's paid dailies, is cutting costs in the Southland by combining the copy desks of the Long Beach paper and the Torrance Daily Breeze. Dennis McDougal, author of "Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty," worked at the Long Beach paper as a young reporter, and wrote this opinion piece in Sunday's L.A. Times. A couple of quotes:
    "Company founder, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive William Dean Singleton has left no doubt about what's important to him in what remains of U.S. daily journalism -- profit margins. In relentlessly cutting "news" from newspapers to maintain profits, he and many of his peers have helped transform an industry. Journalists like [re-write man Stan] Leppard [who is mentioned at the top of the piece] are bought out or laid off, limiting -- or even eliminating -- the newsroom opportunities for mentoring that transforms youthful ambition into thoughtful journalism. The fact that the mistakes of reporters make it into print more frequently these days, and that newspapers increasingly shy away from investigative stories, can be traced to the slash-and-shrink policies of chief executives who vanquish veterans and intimidate greenhorns, all the while adding more "failing" newspapers to their portfolios."
And ...
    "The city of Long Beach has already recognized this, complaining to Media- News that the P-T isn't doing its job of reporting the news, and threatening to pull its legal advertising from the downsized daily. The irony -- which would never get past Leppard -- is that withholding such advertising could kill the paper, and while The Times might gain some disaffected or former P-T readers, it would be losing a farm team."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After purchasing the former Knight-Ridder papers in 2006, Singleton visited the CCT newsroom and answered questions from staff. During some point in the discussion he criticized public newspapers that are vulnerable to demands by shareholders, saying board members only care about maintaining high profit margins. He also said the great thing about MediaNews is that the company's newspapers aren't exposed to the same pressures.

Singleton for once needs to level with his employees: that the only thing MediaNews managers care about is keeping profit margins high regardless of what that does to the quality of journalism. None of the consolidating they do ever actually improves the quality of reporting and editing at their newspapers. It's all done to reduce expenses and save as much money as possible, even if that ends up driving away their best people (and it has).

Of course, everybody already knows this, but it would be nice to actually hear those words from the man's mouth.