Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The news becomes news *

Updated March 6 (end of post)

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday night unanimously passed a motion to study the city government's financial relationship with the Press-Telegram, with the possibility of pulling their ads, at wake of last week's layoffs and re-structuring.

The City Manager will be examining how much its departments spend on advertising in the P-T. The intent behind the council's study arises from its concern that the city is advertising in a local paper that reaches the people the city hopes to reach (and that there could be other alternate media outlets the city could advertise with); and to affect some influence in what's going on inside the P-T and its woes.

Council members during the course of discussion pointed out that they have seen a decline in the newspaper's quality since MNG CEO Dean Singleton bought the paper 11 years ago.

About 50 P-T reporters, photographers, copy editors and layout designers and former staff reporters attended the meeting. Several spoke about the distressing state of the paper, the newspaper industry, and provided council members and residents with a highly condensed history of MediaNews owner Dean Singleton: that the P-T is among many of MediaNews Group-owned local papers whose diminished qualities are the casualties of Singleton's buy-em-and-bleed-em revenue model.

The advertising dollars the city of Long Beach provides the P-T go to Denver and benefit Singleton and his top execs and are flushed to help leverage the company's heavy debts, said former P-T reporter Keith Higginbotham.

Not much is reinvested in the P-T. For that, Long Beach and the cities the P-T's skeletal staff struggle to cover. There are simply not enough reporters to be there and as a result, the P-T misses out on local stories, Vice-Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal pointed out.

Executive Editor Rich Archbold also made an appearance Tuesday evening to downplay the plight of the P-T.

"We're not going anywhere," he said, much to the amusement and dismay of his staff.

Moving the copy and design desk to Torrance means only that more phone calls will be made, he said.

And if he could, he added, he'd like to hire more staffers — ommitting the fact that such decisions are not within his power or sphere of influence to act on.

Staffers who addressed council members told a different story.

Reporter Tracy Manzer used a cancer analogy to describe what's happening: that to kill the cancer, the malignant growth needs to be excised; that recent medical research also found that cutting out too much could hurt and kill the body; and that MediaNews' is gutting its newspapers so deeply that they are dying.

"I know how to spell your names," copy editor Megan Lasswell said to council members, adding that she also knew which Lowenthal was which in a family whose several members are active politics.

The demonstration of institutional knowledge is vital to the local paper. Copy editors are considered the last line of defense against errors, and their familiarity with our communities are invaluable in producing a daily newspaper.

Lasswell, a Long Beach resident, said she has yet to know when her job — if she still has one one — will take her to Torrance. Losing a P-T copy editor, let alone their entire department is a big blow; would a Torrance counterpart know, or care, as much?

ILWU Local 13's Rich Dines' correspondence with Singleton during the P-T ongoing contract negotiations exemplifies MNG's investment and interest in its dailies: Singleton said he doesn't get involved in such local issues, Dines said.

Since the inception of this blog, we've heard from many of you through e-mail and in posted comments. We're grateful for the interest and the time readers — P-T staffers, and fellow journalists and non-journalists alike — took to read and drop us a line. One of the most common questions we receive is: Why stay in an a career, in a newspaper, that's seeing its darkest times? Why keep whining if you can just, you know, go?

Truth is, many of the P-T's staffers did. Some are in the process of leaving. Yet, there are still some of us who stay, with many complex reasons too numerous to name, but all bound by the fact that we still love what we do. And we hope to continue doing it.

We've been using this blog as a mobilization tool to inform about what's been happening at the P-T, not to mention give some insight into some of the stories happening behind the scenes. Tonight, we accomplished what we hoped to do: to get the community (and its leadership) to understand and get involved because the P-T, in truth, belongs to them. We also saw fellow journalists and up-and-coming student journalists Tuesday night, covering out story. We plan to keep fighting, to keep producing your daily newspaper — we hope you'll stand with us as this story unfolds.

(Photos by laid off P-T photographer Kevin Chang)

* Author's clarification: A former Torrance editor took the time to commiserate with us and brought up a good point.

Losing a P-T copy editor, let alone their entire department is a big blow; would a Torrance counterpart know, or care, as much?
While it's not our intention to question or cast under doubtful light the professionalism of our Breeze colleagues, we can see how the statement above could be read as such. For that, we apologize. What we mean to express is: a local copy editor with local knowledge is invaluable and likely has an edge over a Breeze counterpart whose task loads are now doubled by MNG's latest razing.

The last thing we want to do is to stoke animosity between the P-T and the Breeze, both hard-working crews, whose jobs are equally imperiled under Singleton's watch.


Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight: You want to keep the newspaper alive and you want to keep your jobs by pretty much telling current advertisers there's no reason to advertise anymore??? By telling readers there's no reason to buy the paper anymore???

Anonymous said...

Finally, the P-T mentions this:


I appreciate the City Council attempting to find a way to do some good, and I admire the resolve of Press-Telegram employees attending the meeting even though the battle has already been lost. But the honest truth is that if the City Council does pull its advertising, the only change such a loss of revenue would affect is further loss of jobs.

Ownershiphas demonstrated beyond a doubt that it does not care about the great city of Long Beach, and would be happy to further gut the newspaper if there was significant loss of ad dollars.

Anonymous said...

You guys are absolutely right - Dean
Singleton has won, and there's nothing that the city or its residents can do, so they should both stop whining and keep sending Singleton those checks no matter what he does.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1: The reasoning behind last night's meeting wasn't to encourage advertisers to pull money out of the P-T, but to exert pressure in the language Singleton understands: money.

The Council last night made it clear that an economic boycott would hurt this newspaper, but by taking a stand, it showed to MediaNews hacks that these civic leaders don't intend to stand idle as their hometown paper is bled dry by an out-of-town owner.

We also wanted to show that there are still staff writers who care and want to do good work, and that these people - most of them your neighbors, the products of the city's educational institutions - are on the chopping block. We want to stay here. And we want to engage readers, in the hope of encouraging them to also take a stand with us the employees as we continue to fight against the unfair dealings of MediaNews. We want a robust and local P-T, not a dead one.

Anonymous said...

It's simply unacceptable for Keith Higginbotham and Tracy Manzer to publicly disparage their (in Keith's case, former) employer.

The Press-Telegram, whose circulation is cratering and advertising is drying up, needs help and support, not criticism and threats of an advertising boycott.

Its management is doing its level best in a challenging economic environment. Working more closely with the Daily Breeze is a way to enhance local news coverage while finding efficiencies in production.

Anonymous said...

Hey 2 Anonymous or AKA Ad sales people,
Pulling the ad $$ is not the goal, good coverage of the news , sports, arts and local busniesses is , by the way that you draw your commisions from. The PT has no busness section do you not find the disturbing? Pay the Press-Telegram employees a” LIVING WAGE ” ( including the ad people ) and the city should invest in the Press-Telegram but consider implementing standard provisons in ad contracts with the Press-Telegram. The one thing that is clear is that MediaNews only understands money.
Improving the core product will give you better leads so you can get that new Cadillac.

Remeber Coffee is for closers.

Anonymous said...

Singleton is not going to listen to city hall sniping, and you'll be lucky if he doesn't decide to close the paper.

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of continuing to send Singleton those checks. It's that it doesn't matter. Lost ad money will just lead to more people losing their jobs, and a further minimizing of what the P-T does.

The P-T employees who showed up for the meeting, and the City Council members who are threatening to pull advertising, are like an army that shows up to fight after the battle has been lost. The victor is already dividing up the spoils. Now some talented, hard-working people will no longer be able to do what they love to do.

It's a sad, terrible, time for newspapers and for journalism in Southern California.

Anonymous said...

I've been through two Deano takeovers and so nice to see he hasn't changed a bit since the days of the Toasted Posties. It's sad and obvious that the P-T could have prospered from the nostalgia and cohesion brought to a community by its local paper. Local/local is the only future of newspapers, and Singleton once again got greedy. Nice.

Anonymous said...

You folks are amazing. NONE of us will have jobs if you keep it up.

Anonymous said...

What a sad day in journalism when it's the government holding a newspaper responsible. I always thought it should be the other way around. Rich Archbold should be ashamed of the downfall of a once-great paper as much as Lean Dean or anybody else.

Anonymous said...

What is it about that primordial gene pool that causes an otherwise sane man or woman to cut off their nose to spite their face? While up to now I sympathized with you good folks at the PT and shook my head at the wanton dismantling of a once great paper (for whatever the financial reasons, be they greed or otherwise), I can no longer shed that proverbial tear for a group of people that would actually show up to their city council meeting to blatantly bitch about their own newspaper and sit there and take another kick in the butt as the council decides it might help your cause by pulling its advertising. Way to go. What a bunch of absolutely smart folks you are! Yeah, I agree, Dean's slash and burn bookkeeping methods are more appropo to the Roman Legion battling the barbarians at the gates, but still, this is the unfortunate reality of the newspaper business. NOBODY likes it, but it is here. NOBODY asked for it, but it is here. NOBODY feels good about it, but it is here. You can go to the Lakewood and Hawaiian Gardens and Seal Beach council meetings and bitch some more. You can quit. You can find another job. Or you can try to put out the best product you can with the means at hand. I'm no apologist for Dean or his methods, but he is holding the reins, is he not? So, do you and your co-workers a favor and DON'T bitch in public and drag your paper closer to the guillotine by attacking it to the point an entity, government or otherwise, feels it is prudent to pull its advertising. Oh yeah, it hits Dean in the pocket book. Oh yeah, it's the only language he understands. Great, where does that leave you? No job and a pocket full of memories. Hopefully common sense will prevail in these challenging days FOR ALL newspapers, it's not just the PT. Don't lose your newspaper by throwing yourselves en masse onto Dean's spears. The truth hurts, baby, that's reality in Dean-O-Land. In spite of this financial turmoil, in spite of the downturn in revenue, in spite of Dean the Man himself, suck it up and do the best you can. You owe your readers that much.

Anonymous said...

re: "Losing a P-T copy editor, let alone their entire department is a big blow; would a Torrance counterpart know, or care, as much?"

People at the P-T have every reason to be upset over what is happening to the paper there.
But don't call into question the professionalism of the copy editors at the Breeze in Torrance.
As a former editor there I can tell you that that group of editors cares very much about putting out a quality paper.
It doesn't matter if the story is about Long Beach or the South Bay.
These are professionals.
Give them the credit they deserve for being professionals.

Anonymous said...

What is it about that primordial gene pool that causes an otherwise sane man or woman to cut off their nose to spite their face?

Ever heard of the expression "Freedom means having nothing left to lose"?

Making nice with MediaNews hasn't gotten the workers squat. And both the union and corporate know the prospects are only dimmer for the future of newspapers.

In a perverse sense, the opposite tack might work. If the union can help along the demise of the newspaper, it can force Singleton's hand. MNG can either shut down the Press-Telegram, or it would have to break away from type and actually invest in its paper. It may be crazy enough to work.

Anonymous said...

To the ex-editor, re: Torrance and its copy editors -

You're right. They deserve the credit. No doubt care about the product they put out as much as their colleagues at MNG's other sister papers.
- a PTer

tracy said...

In reference to the comment about Torrance's copy desk, I made it a point in my address to the city council that I hold my colleagues at the Breeze in high regard, as I do those who work for the AP and CNS. I don't think a Torrance-based paper and the regional wires have the resources and the institutional knowledge to cover Greater Long Beach in the same fashion as the PT, but that has nothing to do with their skill or dedication. It would be equally hard for the PT to fill the gap in the South Bay if the situation were reversed.
As for Megan's comments to the city council, I can't speak for her, but when she referenced the two copy desks I don't think she meant it as a slight against our colleagues at the Breeze. I think she was merely trying to make clear the disadvantage of losing local control.
I wonder if my speaking out on this matter is OK with the anonymous commenter who criticized my husband and I for speaking at council. I don't care if it's OK, but it's amusing to consider.
We have no illusions that the council can stop Media News' plans. We have simply reached a point where we can no longer remain silent on an issue that extends to most of the media industry, not just Media News.
I also must point out that the PT's years of sitting and saying nothing has done nothing for this paper. I personally don't endorse pulling ads, but I agreed that a shot across the bow, so to speak, was needed to wake people up. I may come across as cynical, but I am actually an optimist and I believe the newspaper can still be viable and do excellent work if Media News would only invest something rather than just cut their way to profits.
Finally, I have to say I am shocked and appalled by the number of people commenting on this site who seem to think all the PT'ers should just shut up about what's going on and that no one has the right to air grievances or shed light on a problem. That kind of mentality is horrifying and if you are in the journalism industry you have no business being in the field. I would also suggest you have no business living in a democracy.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers are dying.

The Press-Telegram was all but dead a few years ago, because of poor decisions on the part of management -- in Denver and locally.

I stopped reading the paper, because, frankly, there wasn't much of interest to read.

alice said...

I actually applaud Tracy, Keith and all the others who had enough courage to speak up at the council meeting in an effort to save the PT, unlike all these anonymous bloggers who offer nothing but rebuke and can't even attach a name to their comments (yes you, anonymous 5). The paper does need help and support, and it's not going to get it cowered under a rock. I won't get into why talking to the council made sense because it's been explained sufficiently by enough previous posters, but I will say that if the paper loses more jobs, or even worse, folds for good, it won't be because a few staffers spoke their mind. Losing a job is tough, absolutely, but losing a local paper that's been around for 100+ years is tragic. Not everyone thinks good business is run by greed.

Cyndie said...

Ditto for me on what Tracy and Alice said. And as for recent newspaper staff cuts across the country, Singleton's not following the trend, he started it.
He's set the precedent for cutting to the bone and then some. And he started that at the Press-Telegram 10 years ago.
And revenues may be down, but Singleton's not exactly feeling the pinch personally. As per his recent SEC filing, he and his entire executive board still receive six figure salaries plus a guaranteed 5 percent increase annually.
Maybe he should practice some of his classic "Lean Dean" tactics in the home office instead of always taking it out of the local papers.