Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bargaining Update 4/30

Sent to us by email:

The on-going effort to get MediaNews to move away from its
anti-worker stance --- enabling the company to outsource any and all
jobs --- took a blow to the stomach during Wednesday's abbreviated

The company's counter proposal offered new language that would basically
set up a process to discuss with the Southern California Media Guild/CWA
Local 9400 any possible outsourcing plans before cuts and/or
transfers are made.

Asked if the language moved the company away from a prior commitment
not to outsource newsroom "content providers," MediaNews negotiator
Jim Janiga refined the company's position, saying that the company
would not outsource the jobs to India. However, the jobs could be
taken over among the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (LANG) newspapers.

The company needed to maintain flexibility, Janiga insisted, saying
that it would keep a "cadre" in Long Beach to produce local news (a
term that's lost its meaning for MediaNews).

Janiga said he had been unable to talk to company officials,
including publisher Mark Ficarra and executive editor Rich Archbold,
regarding the outsourcing and wage-proposal issues, thus limiting
Wednesday's session, but said he expects to do that prior to the
scheduled contract talks May 8.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Like the MediaNews empire, the OC Register is going through tough times, and has decided cutting staff is a good way to plan for the future.

Is that silly? Maybe so, but consider this:

Horne said the amount of circulation decline was deliberate to save money.

So ad revenues and circulation are falling, and their solution is to...cut circulation?

Looks like the Register is sharing more than just content with its MediaNews neighbors.

Next they'll want AP to sell advertising too

John Bowman brings us the latest from the Bay Area News Group at his blog, Spin Ditties.

In this article, it turns out that some editors - including MediaNews bigwig Kevin Keane (Contra Costa Times executive editor and vice president of news for the MediaNews Group-controlled Bay Area News Group, per Bowman) - are unhappy that the AP doesn't offer enough local news content.

That's right. After laying off vast swaths of their local reporting staff, Keane and others are complaining that the AP isn't providing enough local coverage.

This would be funny, if it wasn't so sad.

Here's your shovel

It's the dawn of a new week, so of course there's another expert proclaiming the inevitable death of the newspaper industry at the hands of the Internet. And another story documenting the decline in circulation.

The decline is real. The inevitability is not.

If you distill the "goodbye to print" argument, it makes one very bizarre assumption: Young people simply don't like to read daily newspapers.

Magazines and Web sites are drawing younger readers, and papers like the OC Weekly draw over 40% of their readers from the under-34 club, so it's not like the readers aren't there.

If you believe that Web sites have an advantage that newspapers simply can't adopt, it has to be the medium itself. Which sounds incredibly stupid. Why would newsprint turn younger readers away? Because kids prefer low resolution text? It's been suggested that young people have some sort of preference for reading from a computer screen, but that doesn't address the persistence of weekly newspapers and magazines. Maybe it's because newsprint isn't colorful? Speaking as a member of the under-34 crowd, I promise that although we might be shallow, we're not that shallow.

The problem is content. There's precious little in a daily newspaper that attracts younger readers, and what little they have usually can't compete with the infinite variety of the internet. Newspapers blaming other factors is taking the coward's way out, by denying their own role in driving readers away. If newspapers face a challenge, it's self-created. It happened because newspapers ignored their journalists in favor of the accountants. They've allowed themselves to become irrelevant.

The Web has only two advantages over print:

- Web sites don't feel compelled to follow an old format out of tradition, or to meet a budget, or for any other reason. Online entrepreneurs realize that if you don't hit your audience, you might as well go home. Lackluster efforts will yield lackluster results, and they don't have the time or money to waste on pursuing a course of deliberate failure. They find their audience, and target their content accordingly.

- Web sites can draw from a bigger audience pool. If a small town daily only attracts .01% of their potential audience, they're in deep trouble. If a Web site does it, they're getting a million hits a month. The Internet enables and encourages highly-specialized, tightly-focused content by aggregating visitors according to interest. It also discourages mass-appeal, generic content, which needs high visibility and some heavy promotion in order to cut through the clutter. ISPs have traditionally captured that market, since they're already positioned as Web gateways. Generic is their niche. There's already an, and an, and a - each with all the mass-appeal content anyone could want. Is Sam Zell or Dean Singleton really willing to expend the kind of money required to take them on, or to develop a partnership? They haven't yet. That's why very few newspaper Web sites will ever hit the big time online, and the single biggest reason even newspaper Web sites aren't taking off as promised.

Magazines and weekly newspapers have always been about targeted content, and as a result, they're seeing less of a drop in circulation - they're losing readers, but it's more a matter of having to share the pie, rather than give it away.

When a magazine fails to target it's content, or position itself competitively, guess what happens?

Its central problem is one that faces all magazines, Mr. Cohen said: "You have to have a unique message."

Newspapers, especially community dailies, have one distinct advantage: Localization. They have the infrastructure and personnel in place to cover local news more cheaply than the big Web sites, and they can do it more thoroughly than any small Web site or blogger. You want a niche? There it is. Your audience is defined by geography, the same as it's always been. Hire some writers and provide content based on geographical relevance. Wire content is fine, but it should never be the bulk of your content.

Almost 40 percent of A1 articles were from wire services at the smallest papers, 31 percent at papers with circulations of 100,000 to 700,000, and less than 1 percent at papers with circulations more than 750,000.

There are other experts that decry this approach, and instead recommend more aggregate news - and judging by today's corporate climate, those voices have won the argument. But exactly how the Long Beach Press-Telegram can differentiate itself from the Anchorage Daily News, or the Poughkeepsie Journal, or the rest of the Internet smog, is a question the experts have wisely avoided answering. The newspaper industry won't have that luxury.

There's only one area in which online has fully and irrevocably usurped territory from newsprint - classified advertising. Newspapers have lost that revenue, and with it a chunk of their historically-massive profit margins. Those days will not return, and newspapers will have to accept the new status quo. Trying to preserve historical profit levels by cutting costs and scaling back coverage and content is exacerbating a completely self-induced malaise. Newspapers can survive alongside the Web, and even thrive, if they're willing to accept the new paradigm and work with it. Invest in your business, stop slashing newsrooms jobs and content, and capitalize on your strengths. There are plenty of talented journalists out there that know their communities, and know what those communities want. The readers are waiting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

4/24 bargaining update *

Here's the synopsis from our latest contract negotiations, sent via email.

The dust hasn't settled, but Thursday's stormy session seemed to end on a positive note.

Wanting to continue some forward momentum achieved at its April 10 talks, the Southern California Media Guild/CWA Local 9400 agreed to withdraw its integrity-language proposal. And it proposed to put off --- for now--- the push for "Internet incentives," with the option to re-open the contract talks on that one topic each year of the contract.

MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga, after rejecting the Guild's proposal for outsourcing, said he would offer a counter proposal at the next session April 30. The rejected proposal cited specific content sources and had a ban on layoffs and transfers for the life of the contract.

The integrity-language proposal focused on bylines for non-Press-Telegram journalists who are identified as a "staff writer" or "staff photographer." The proposed language was designed to regain some credibility with the readers --- a point shrugged off by Janiga.

"Not interested," he said flatly.

The company negotiator, who is senior vice president of human resources and labor relations, appeared to be in a foul mood throughout the session, with decidedly derisive comments about drops in advertising and circulation, then adding “Thank you very much.”

Janiga complained that in the effort for "Internet incentives" the union was attempting to achieve a "lead position for the industry," and insisted there aren't any revenues for the website work. The Guild believes, that in this instance, being a leader in the industry would be a good thing, the employer didn’t agree.

In an effort to avoid a stall in the talks, Guild negotiator and Local 9400 vice president Vicki Di Paolo recommended re-opening the issue later.

The Guild expects the focus of the April 30 session to be on Janiga's outsourcing proposal and wages.

Next session April 30, 1:00 pm.

It's been a tough road, but we're definitely making progress.

* Edited

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another nonprofit joins the ranks

Increasingly, local communities are growing disillusioned with the media chains that have turned stable newspapers into unstable investments. As reported last week, nonprofit news organizations are moving in to fill the void left by the lackluster coverage of major media chains chasing ever-higher profit margins. New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Diego, St. add St. Louis to the list.

The St. Louis Platform is an online nonprofit, created by former staffers of the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and funded by community leaders and journalism heavyweights like Emily Rauh Pulitzer, widow of Joseph Pulitzer, longtime owner of the Post-Dispatch.

The most interesting thing about the rise of nonprofit journalism is that instead of adopting the "truths" espoused by the media giants, these fledgling businesses aren't focusing on niche audiences, or fancy web technology, or horizontally-integrated production structures. They're offering relevant investigative journalism, plain and simple.

Dean Singleton is famous for saying that the past is dead.

“If you read Romenesko every day and you hear our people in newsrooms whine — they whine and whine and whine wishing for the old days to come back. Damn it, I wish the old days would come back, too, but wishing for it isn’t going to make it happen. You must be focused on the future.”

It may be true that the old model is intrinsically flawed, but how would Singleton know? Most of our largest media chains are run by investors, not journalists, and they've never tried old-fashioned journalism in the first place. Media investors don't want the old days for one simple reason: They're looking for capital growth, not steady dividends, no matter how good those returns might be. Show me a businessman that says a 10% profit margin is too low, and I'll show you a media magnate.

No one, journalist or otherwise, has ever argued that newspapers are a growth industry. Is there any industry that's been around for several centuries and still has vast untapped markets or new revenue streams waiting to be explored?

This isn't a revolutionary idea once you step outside the industry. Mark Cuban pointed all this out two years ago.

Newspapers are a perfect example of how economics dominate common sense. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers aren't dying. Newspapers are making tons of money; they just aren't keeping their shareholders happy, they aren't meeting the expectations on Wall Street. The problem with newspapers is that they're trying to grow like they're Internet companies in 1999. Their shareholders are bitching at them about not showing growth in share prices. The minute you have to run your business for share prices, you've lost.

The other half of Singleton's statement is his call to focus on the future. Is there a long-term plan for the industry? Does anyone really believe that slashing content is a way to increase your circulation or profits? The fact that barely a third of the top newspaper Web sites saw an increase in traffic indicates that even if the old model really is a failure, the new model isn't much of an improvement.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Journalism Day @ CSULB

Layoffs, declining revenues, and competition from the internet - it's clear that journalism has seen better days. What's in store for the future? What can student-journalists expect as they graduate and move into the industry? This Thursday, April 24, you can go to Cal State Long Beach and find out for yourself.

Journalism Day 2008 at CSULB will examine the state of the industry, and give experts a chance to share their experiences with students and younger journalists.

Lectures and panel discussions with working newshounds and other experts will examine the effect of blogging, the future of newspapers, and how tomorrow's journalists can navigate the nebulous waters ahead.

Featured speakers include Scott Martelle (L.A. Times), Gene Maddaus (Torrance Daily Breeze), Herb Sierra (En Contexto), Rich Archbold (L.B. Press-Telegram), Will Swaim (District Weekly), Carl Hall (Northern CA Media Guild), Bill Pearl (, and other notables from California journalism.

Events like this are going to be crucial for the next generation of journalists - but for newspapers at least, it remains to be seen if the powers-that-be actually have a plan at all. But if CSULB's program can spark an honest discussion of where we stand today, and how the industry can to move forward in a positive direction, then it's already a success.

Although it's geared for journalism students, the topics under discussion - the future of the media industry in America - make this an event important enough for everyone. The program kicks off at 9 a.m., stop by if you have the time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nonprofit news?

At a time when newspapers are reeling from cutbacks and layoffs, there's still one segment that's not only surviving, but in some cases even thriving - nonprofit news. It's an area that's gained attention with reports like this one, especially in the wake of industry-wide layoffs.

It's not a new phenomenon. The St. Petersburg Times, the MinnPost, even the ubiquitous Associated Press, the largest wire service in the world, is a not-for-profit cooperative.

Then there's ProPublica. Since their inception in 2007, the New York-based newsroom has done well enough - even in today's market - to announce that not only are they not laying off employees, they're actually hiring new ones.

Nonprofit news exists even in Southern California's fast paced economy. San Diego's Voice of San Diego was founded in response to a perceived lack of coverage (a sentiment that should resonate with many readers) to provide the city with investigative journalism and relevant community news.

There's no telling if this is a solution that will work for most of the industry, or just a small part. But it certainly holds the potential to become an important part of journalism's future. The mere idea is an acknowledgement that journalism is a public service, because without an informed populace, we lose one of the fundamental pillars of democracy - the ability to make an informed decision. Cities within the MediaNews coverage area in particular have found themselves increasingly disconnected from the day-to-day events that shape their lives. It's crucial we find a solution that provides the quality journalism these cities deserve. We're determined to see that it happens.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saving community news

Is local news coverage dying? Many in the industry think it's in a weaker position now than ever before. As newsrooms get slashed and wire services take on a larger role in news-gathering, the smaller stories and local communities are among the first to suffer from lack of coverage.

Newsvine brings us the latest on the subject, courtesy of the Associated Press. The Knight Foundation, working alongside the Aspen Institute, are funding a commission to find just what's happening to local news. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, co-chaired by Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and Google executive Marissa Mayer, will examine just how much local news is being produced, and if it adequately serves the needs of community members. From the Knight Foundation Web site:

As our choices for getting news and information proliferate, the need remains for local, reliable, contextual civic information. Is it being met, and if not, what are the consequences?

The shift of the media biz - and newspapers in particular - towards a Wal-Mart model of journalism has been an object lesson on how public service and private profits don't always coexist peacefully. How we reconcile the needs of the community with the desires of big business is a riddle waiting to be solved. Right now, the powers-that-be are only hearing from the accountants or listening to the shareholders, and without a solid understanding of the news-gathering side of the business, they're in rough waters trying to navigate a solution that works for everybody. For our sake I hope they figure it out soon, because the public won't wait forever. If not, it might take an outright rejection by the reading public, or some other outside intervention, to keep the big players from going bankrupt.

Health of the industry

Bill Boyarsky found this article from the LA Times, and uses it to illustrate where our industry is at.

Written by three reporters, it examines the state of our health care system in depth, and uncovers some disturbing facts along the way.

But that article isn't the point. Good or bad, it's unlikely you'll see many more like it in the future. As Boyarsky notes, the new mantra of "less is more" means coverage too. One story, one reporter.

Of course, our own industry doesn't seem to care. First Dean Singleton, who's swept through the industry like influenza, was elected chairman of the board for the Associated Press. Although his staff-slashing has probably done more to boost AP's position than anything else in recent history, so maybe that was a smart move on their part after all. But hot on the heels of that news, comes word that Sam Zell has been elected to the AP board of directors.

Not everyone at AP is so sanguine however. Boyarsky found this quote from Sue Cross, senior vice president of global new media at the Associated Press:

"You can go read about news issues in more sources than ever before… but what are being lost are some crucial things. One is in investigative and watchdog journalism. …The second area that I think is being lost is consistent day-in, day-out institutional coverage. City government. County government. State government; You are seeing beats combined as newsroom resources are cut down. You also are seeing people are going in with less expertise. Seasoned beat reporters are, in many cases, leaving the industry.”

Something tells me Cross won't get an invite to join the board any time soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MediaNews goes quiet

The Rocky Mountain News announced yesterday that MediaNews has reached an agreement with its lenders to institute an information blackout of the company's finances, and will no longer release financial information to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). The deal allows MediaNews to instead report directly to bondholders.

"We will no longer be posting our financial results to the MediaNews Group web site, effective immediately," Chief Financial Officer Ronald Mayo told me via e-mail.

In addition to concealing information on revenue, profits, and debt, the move will also hide ownership stakes for the company.

It's uncertain what this means for the company's future, but it's clearly ominous any time a business - much less a business ostensibly dedicated to the pursuit of the truth - suddenly begins hiding information from the public.

Singleton's five-year plan

The worst is over, and it's all easy street from here on out. That's according to the World Association of Newspapers. Singleton is reportedly scheduled to speak at the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden, on the state of the industry.

In the article, they report Singleton to have said the future of newspapers is "promising" and will rely on online and "new product offerings" to offset the loss of interest in his core business products. No plans were mentioned regarding that core business however, other than that it will be "revised."

From down here in the ant farm, there are serious fears that the sole strategy is simply to abandon the core business of journalism, in favor of other offerings like the now-defunct More San Pedro magazine. There has been nothing yet to indicate a desire to improve, or even preserve, the rapidly-diminishing business of local news content.

We certainly wish MediaNews nothing but success, but hopefully that success doesn't come at the expense of the employees dedicated to producing relevant, quality journalism, and the communities that rely on them.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

4/10 Press-Telegram bargaining update

I've just received the results of the latest contract negotiation. Most of this is taken from that message, but I'm going to try and sum up the bullet points rather than paste the entire thing here.

- MediaNews human resources vice president Jim Janiga delivered a new wage plan today that included withdrawal of the employer's wage-freeze proposal.

- The Guild has rejected the company's original zero wage offer for the first of a proposed 3-year contract, with 2 percent increases in the second and third years.

- Outsourcing (the key proposal that means job security at a time when jobs are being butchered) remained unsettled, as Local 9400 sought additional time to research counter-proposal language.

- Janiga also said the company is interested in knowing the Guild's position on the extent of work that can be shared between newspapers (both LANG and non-LANG publications), and the issue of no restrictions on wire service.

We're making progress slowly, but progress it is. Still, we need to turn up the pressure...

LANG consolidation stumbles onward

Gary Scott, aka Reporter-G, and Paul Oberjuerge bring us the latest episode in MediaNews' ongoing cost-cutting regimen. It turns out that as bad as things are in L.A. county, they're arguably even bleaker for our inland brethren.

Despite countless failed and aborted attempts at consolidating production over the last two years, MediaNews remains determined to make it work - logistics, morale, and journalism itself be damned.

In a move that mirrors the migration of the Press-Telegram copy and design desks to Torrance, all pre-production functions for the inland-area newspapers are to be based out of the San Bernardino Sun, the eastern hub of Singleton's California empire.

It's interesting to note that although the response to the move itself isn't positive, most of the criticism isn't over the decision to shift the jobs, but how the company decided to implement the consolidation. Casual disregard and callow nonchalance, as always, are the order of the day. It's a disturbing indication of the corporate culture at MediaNews that nearly every communication between management and staff comes without warning, delivered always as an ultimatum, and never with even a modicum of respect. These are the people in the trenches, working for less money each year, who believe enough in quality journalism to keep coming to work and serving their communities despite all the obstacles. Without them, there is no newspaper.

Workers don't have a right to make decisions on corporate strategy, but they do have the right to a fair contract and working conditions. Employees have a perspective and knowledge that should be utilized. It could be that there's a better way to get things done, a way that someone who isn't familiar with the community or the day-to-day operations might not be aware of. These are our communities, and our livelihood, we want nothing more than a successful newspaper and a strong journalism industry.

That's why MediaNews employees all over are moving to assert their rights, and open a dialogue with the company.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A newspaper subsidy?

That's one idea suggested by Seattle Times president Frank Blethen, during a panel debate with Hearst's Phil Bronstein.

Blethen suggests the subsidy in support of local ownership, on the grounds that media consolidation and public ownership - and the resulting decline in coverage and quality they have had on the industry - illustrates the public need for media watchdogs unfettered by financial constraints.

It's certainly an unusual proposal, and one that probably inspires an autonomic resistance in most taxpaying citizens. But if farmers can be paid to feed people's stomachs, is it really that ludicrous to suggest that journalists might be paid to feed their minds? Oil, lumber, agriculture and many other highly profitable industries receive federal largess. Is the Washington Post any less deserving than Citicorp, IBM, Motorola, DuPont, or Amoco?

What do you think? Is journalism important enough to merit government intervention?

It sounded good at the time...

Ok, more business news.

This week writer Louis Hau weighs out media ownership.

On the plus side, there's the ludicrously-high profit margins, which despite shrinking ad revenues are still the envy of most other industries.

On the other hand, there IS the matter of that pesky decline in readership and advertising dollars. John Puchalla, credit analyst for Moody's, describes it as a "downturn," which sounds a lot less serious than the suits would have you believe. Is it as bad as management suggests, as mundane as Puchalla implies, or somewhere in between? I don't know, but Hau sidesteps that issue to make another point: Newspaper ownership isn't a vehicle for quick profits, and overleveraged companies with massive short-term loans will be hard-pressed to see enough of a return to meet their obligations. At least, that's the theory for publicly-traded companies, burdened by shareholder expectations.

Which brings us back to 2006. Believe it or not, once upon a time privately-held companies like MediaNews were heralded as a potential savior for the newspaper industry in publications like the Columbia Journalism Review. CJR writer Douglas McCollam argued at the time that private investors might be capable of reversing the debacle of public-ownership, and the ceaseless need to appease shareholders that has nearly run the entire industry into the ground.

In many ways, Singleton and others observe, newspapers are ideal candidates for leveraged buyouts because they have such high operating margins, meaning they can service a lot of debt without drowning in it...a private investor who buys into newspapers at this point is likely to understand the challenges the industry faces, and at the very least will get the newspapers off the quarterly earnings treadmill that currently drives so much decision-making in the industry. Because private ownership need not be driven by short-term profits, it has the potential to give newspapers desperately needed space to plan and invest in long-term strategies, on both the business and editorial sides.

That's right, MediaNews was supposed to be the company that would give us time and money to grow. It seems almost ridiculously naive now, but only because the information has been there all along, and everyone assumed that MediaNews understood the simple reality of life as a newspaper owner. CJR spelled it out as plainly as possible:

...Wall Street cares about one thing: growth. It’s not interested in how you’ve done or how you’re doing, only in how you will response, many newspapers are desperately trying to convince the market that they, too, are sexy, hi-tech companies. To please the market, companies like Knight Ridder have done almost everything their large shareholders have asked — slashing staff, making stories more “reader friendly,” searching for Internet strategies that might magically transform newspapers from dead-wood deadbeats into new-media darlings. To date, none of it has worked.

It hasn’t worked precisely because the real appetite of shareholders is for greater short-term profitability, not long-term strategic investment...As Paul Ginocchio, a media analyst with Deutsche Bank, put it: “It’s easier to increase short-term operating profits with cost-cutting now than to grow future revenues by making strategic investments that hurt profits in the near term.”

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Making more less with less.

People won't buy a shoddy newspaper.

That's the official word from American Journalism Review, who posits that perhaps reducing your product offerings and scaling back your core business might not be the best way for newspapers to stay competitive.

Can newspapers really expect to recapture what they have lost with less circulation, a thinner newspaper offering fewer services to readers, with editorial products undermined in breadth and depth by layoffs and space constrictions? I think not. (If you ever hear a publisher vowing to do "more and better with less," run for the hills. Mies van der Rohe's "less is more" only works in architecture.)

You don't need an MBA to understand the idea that in order to grow your revenue, your business needs a product worth buying. The Press-Telegram and the city of Long Beach deserve better than what they've got right now. MediaNews surely believes that making more money is a good idea, and it's painfully obvious that cutting costs is a race to the bottom. Support your investment, or spend some time looking for someone else who will. It's a waste of time and money for everyone involved to do anything else.

Friday, April 4, 2008

04/03 bargaining update

The latest round of contract negotiations showed several promising developments.

The official statement:

MediaNews human resources vice president Jim Janiga on April 3 signaled he would consider a possible wage offer for the first year of a three-year contract.

The move comes on the heels escalating efforts by members of Southern California Media Guild/CWA Local 9400 on several fronts seeking community support for the effort to bring about a fair contract. It's a push supported by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and the City Council, labor and community organizations.

If Janiga returns to the table April 10 with an offer, it will be the company's first wiggle on wages since both sides began talks for a new pact. The company's original offer was a big zero for the first year, followed by 2 percent increases for the second and third years ---with another 2 percent available in potential merit pay raises (subject to the rights of the union to grieve and arbitrate decisions not favorable to workers).

In an effort to wrap up the talks, the union is offering to accept a wage freeze, but only if the company agrees to demonstrate a dire need to do so by opening its finance books.

Meanwhile, there was a tentative agreement approved Thursday on mileage benefits for photographers: They will receive, under the proposal, $20 per work day (actually worked) stipend, in addition to the above mileage reimbursement provisions.

Once again, Janiga asked for an outline of the limits the union wants on subcontracting out work. The Guild maintains the current contract language protects worker security. However, the Guild agreed to respond April 10 with new language addressing the company's desire to gather content from outside sources while also protecting Guild jobs in the newsroom.

... I'm sure it doesn't need to be said, but let's all thank the bargaining team for the many long hours and hard work they've put in on this. It's not over yet, but all those hours are definitely showing signs of finally bearing fruit.

Kaye is out

Well, it's official: Ron Kaye, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, is out. Rumors of an imminent departure have been floating around for a few days now, and now those rumors have become fact.

Several journalists under Kaye have already come forward to lament the loss of that rarest of creatures - a MediaNews editor capable of inspiring his staff, rather than simply playing the role of Singleton apologist every time more bad news comes along.

Daily News reporter Kerry Cavanaugh says it best:

"It's devastating to lose Ron. He has been the backbone and personality of the Daily News for so long and he made the newsroom a fun, challenging and kooky place to work. As a manager, he is respectful of his employees, yet pushes us to dig deeper, be more creative and do this job more passionately. That's been an inspiration, especially over the last year as the newsroom budget was cut and cut again. But Ron really showed his true character in February during the layoffs. He met with every person let go. He apologized. He cried for the newsroom. We were told the truth and treated with dignity. And that is what every worker deserves from their boss."

The real tragedy here isn't that MediaNews lost Kaye, it's that precious few of his contemporaries have shown the same strength of leadership.

LANG names VP/Interactive

Editor & Publisher has announced the appointment of Brent W. Morris to Vice President/Interactive for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Morris is tasked with developing new strategies to bolster LANG's Web operations. It's unclear whether or not that strategy will include the content-creation side of operations, but LANG will be hard-pressed to grow any aspect of their business without it. No amount of SEO implentation, fancy flash programming, or any other packaging will matter otherwise. A gift box with nothing in it will always be a disappointment, no matter how gaudy the packaging. People are no more likely to visit an empty web than they are to buy an empty newspaper.

Back in the dotcom days, there was a single mantra guiding nearly every business in the market: Content is king. The same holds true today. Let's hope LANG can be a loyal subject.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

“It’s really, really bad right now” - UPDATED

That's the assessment of an anonymous Inland Valley Daily Bulletin employee, describing the morale of staffers after the latest round of downsizing swept through the Bulletin newsroom in this week's LA Weekly.

The bitter punchline is that through all the cuts, most (if not all) of the MediaNews papers have remained profitable - Southern California has certainly been a lucrative investment - and in some cases asset sales, like the sale of the Press-Telegram building, have actually netted the company tens of millions in windfall profit. Unfortunately those profits weren't enough to stave off even more firings, done for the sake of "saving money." I'm not aware of any newspaper in Singleton's stable that's ever lost a dime.

At this point, I'd like to say this is the last of the firings - many of the newsrooms are laughably empty, even during peak hours. It would seem that there's nothing left to cut. But we've all said that before, and we've been wrong every single time.


According to this article from, MediaNews' earnings for 2007 grew by 48 percent from last year, despite an 11% loss of revenue. Whether the declining profits and readship can be reversed or not - and I firmly believe they can - there is no arguing that MediaNews' cost cutting hasn't far outstripped their needs. It's the pursuit of immediate liquidity, not permanent solvency, that's fueling their firing frenzy, and to claim otherwise is simply a lie.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You reap what you sow

So says former Press-Telegram staffer Dave Wielenga, in an article at The District Weekly.

There's an interesting tidbit in the article: according to former PT publisher Ian Lamont, the current state of affairs is not a symptom of an industry in decline, but instead the inevitable result of a corporate philosophy based on maximizing short-terms profits — usually through drastic cost cutting — at the expense of long-term viability.

"It’s possible to grow a newspaper in Long Beach when you do things well,” he insists. “When I became Press-Telegram publisher in 2001, our circulation was 94,000, and when I left in 2004, it was 126,000. You see what’s happened since: I had 45 reporters, now there are 10 and circulation is down to 88,000."

This is an interesting point, and one that might surprise anyone who's heard our media potentates justify never-ending layoffs by blaming the reading public.

Lamont makes a lot of sense. The argument that readers have migrated away from newspapers in favor of alternative media implies that there's someplace for those readers to go. If you're talking about the New York Times, or USA Today, that concept may very well hold true —national news is a cutthroat business, and the competition is as numerous as it is fierce. But for a community paper providing local news, what alternative source are readers migrating to?

Television and radio? They might cover small-market news at times, but only those stories of interest to their metropolitan base. Local weekly newspapers, web sites and other alternative media? Their coverage is just as good and in some instances even better, than the local daily paper, but none of them have the resources to offer the same volume and comprehensive attention of a fully-staffed daily newspaper.

The truth is, when readers abandon their community newspaper, it's not because they're going elsewhere — they're simply going away from a newspaper that has failed to meet their needs.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say with absolute certainty that when the P-T covers local issues, things that impact the day-to-day lives of Long Beach citizens, it is always well received. But when your front page is half wire content, and the inside pages are even worse, you're giving readers little incentive to put eyes on the page.

I'm reminded of a story told by a current P-T staffer:

"When The District came out, a lot of people at the Press-Telegram thought they wouldn't survive. But then we rolled back our entertainment coverage and came out with (a universal entertainment section with content culled from all over the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, that has been almost universally panned by readers) instead. Then we started cutting back on our business coverage, and the Long Beach Business Journal moved in and picked up a lot of ground. We're giving our readership away."

Media and Democracy examines SoCal journalism

Tracy Manzer and Keith Higginbotham had the opportunity to speak at last Saturday's Local Media, Democracy & Justice media summit, addressing the repercussions staff cuts have had on local journalism, and the ability of newspapers to adequately serve their readers. I asked them to share their thoughts on the summit, here's what they had to say:

A lot of people have been asking me how Saturday's forum, hosted by Common Cause, at Cal Tech went. I have some materials I'll bring into the newsroom this week, but in a nutshell it was very interesting and at times a tough crowd.

It was attended by about 150 people (my estimate), most of whom focused on what they don't like in the media and how to change or lobby it.

Keith and I were the only working journalists to speak in any of the break-out panels (there were several working journalists in the audience). Most of the people are extremely liberal in their political views and feel the media (re: Rupert Murdoch and Fox News) are far too right wing and that the rest of the media has become lazy and complacent. I agree with that and most of the other points as well.

However, like extreme right-wingers, a few of the extreme left-wingers in the crowd thought there is some nefarious plot in it all while most of the time (at least with the PT, in my opinion) I think it boils down to a matter of not having enough people on staff, media agencies hiring college kids with no experience because they're cheaper, and not giving staff enough resources ... which means the readers/viewers get only surface level coverage of issues that require in-depth analysis. (Rupert and his cohorts would be the exception of course.)

A lot of the conference was geared toward TV and radio, not as much print, and particularly the FCC's total failure since the 1980s to require some level of standard and fairness (which I agree with whole-heartedly).

But it was good to hear the criticism and see what needs to be addressed. These people are or were newspaper readers who have turned to NPR, PBS and niche publications because they feel mainstream journalism has failed. There was a great deal of talk about the LA Times and what many of these people described as the death of a once fine journalistic institution. I think if a newspaper, any newspaper, could address some of their concerns the publication would be rewarded with many loyal subscribers. This was not an audience fooled by or wanting sound-bites, they want substance; which is what newspapers are supposed to provide. It was nice to see the audience is out there if we can deliver the material.

I think and I hope Keith and I were able to give a better idea of what down-sizing means and how it affects not just our industry, but our industry's ability to live up to its mandate of representing the public interest, which is crucial for democracy -- which, of course, was the theme of the conference.

Vicki and Lesley were there and talked to a lot of people about grass-roots support of our industry, and I think they made a lot of good contacts.

So that's it. Hope it answers some or all of the questions I've been hearing. I do need to extend a very special thank you to Chad Greene who was the only LB person (and not even a PT person anymore!) to trek out to Pasadena for the forum. Chad is our hero.

-- TManzer and KHigginbotham