Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bay Area News Group Papers Vow More Local News; Discontinues Home-Delivery

Oct. 27, 2011 | The editor of the Bay Area News Group chain of local papers said today, "The world is changing rapidly and we are going to have to change with it. It's a whole new electronic world."

If you want to know why the disastrous collapse of local journalism has been greatly hastened by mismanagement at these once vibrant broadsheets, look no further to the date of this posting and the comments made by David Butler, its editor.

This isn't 2001. It's 2011 and the entire newspaper media business has long ago identified the "changing world" reason for the decline of print along with the resurgence led by new media.

Sure, there is happy news in some local East Bay locales about news announced today that the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and Hayward Daily Review will retain their mastheads, but so what? Instead, what they will lose is the time-honored tradition of receiving the morning news on their doorstep. If you believe BANG is suddenly moving quickly into the great, get electronic media void with two feet, then getting rid of the anachronism of home delivery is a no-brainer, but the real reason is simple: nobody cares about the product enough to pay for a subscription. The lack of distribution in Hayward was so shocking a year ago, that city staff began conversations about finding alternative ways of advertising and noticing the public. One former official told me, he believed subscriptions had fallen to a few thousand in the city of over 120,000 people.

Today's bluster is just another indication the thrifty MediaNews is merely trying to wring out the last few bits of revenue out of the BANG papers without improving its shockingly low quality. A council member in another East Bay city complained last week of the paucity of coverage not only of local issues, but any issues at all. Reading the Daily Review usually takes up about 10 minutes of the day, he said dismissively as he mimicked flipping through its pages.

The BANG papers say they will beef up local coverage, but that remains to be seen. In covering a host of city council meetings around the East Bay over the past six months, I rarely see a BANG reporter in the audience. I haven't seen one of their reporters at a council meeting in Hayward or San Leandro in over three months. It's not the reporter's fault, it's the chintzy newspapers they work for.

In their press releases today, BANG also added silly accouterments to heralding this "new" direction. For instance, they will create something called a "community media laboratory." These centers, according to the editors, will feature "computers, space for community meetings, blogging stations, Wi-Fi access as well as classes taught by the public and news staff, among many other offerings.

In a nutshell, BANG is providing the same amenities as your local library. And what, may I asked is a "blogging station"? Again, it's 2011! Who blogs in front of a computer? At a "station"? Nobody that I know and certainly not any self-respecting new media journalist who is not only gathering information for a story, but micro-blogging about it in real-time on Twitter.

What BANG doesn't get is their demise is not solely rooted in the changing face of technology or how customers consume news. It's all about quality journalism. I'm convinced people in the East Bay will joyfully read in-depth news even if its was printed on BPA water bottles or read on non-organic newsprint soaked with beef fat from an anti-biotic fueled cow. Stop talking about the delivery system and free your reporters to do their jobs. Get with it or get out.

UPDATE: Talk about burying the lede: BANG is reversing course on renaming its papers the East Bay Tribune and The Times. They did not change their minds, though, on significant layoffs and the closing of a printing plant in Walnut Creek. Initially, BANG announced 40 layoffs to staff. Now, they say 25 will be laid off, in addition to those who "voluntarily" resigned. The total before and after will likely be the same, nonetheless. Nice try.


A remarkable change has taken place on the Letters To The Editor section of the BANG papers. Check this out:


...All letters must include a full name, address and daytime phone number, plus any affiliations that would place your opinion in context."

So, I'd presume that the Daily Review, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, and San Jose Mercury News believe that your statements need to be placed "in context" (in other words, discounted) if you are a taxpaying public sector employee who writes a letter opposing the wholesale attacks on working people and their income and retirement security, attacks paid for, coordinated and executed by Wall Street, the financial institutions, wealthy corporations and those individuals extraordinarily enriched by our unfair, unhealthy and corrupt economic system.

Does the BANG restrict its demand regarding "affiliations" to memberships in professional and public organizations? What, exactly, are they trying to accomplish here? EVERYONE has multiple affiliations, both official and unofficial. All of our affiliations have the potential to affect our point of view, as well as effect others' view of our written opinions (the dreaded "context"). Are they demanding that each of us name all of them, or just the ones we wish to reveal?

Perhaps BANG is planning to use its investigative reporting resources to vet its readership for full compliance in revealing their "affiliations". From BANG papers' editorial slant and business model, it appears they might prioritize snooping on their readers over investigating the devastating effects massive government budget cuts have had in increasing the unemployed, underemployed, unserved and underserved men, women and children, and increasing the masive wealth disparity between the 1% and the 99%.

I think a refreshing bit of "context" could be revealed by an accurate statement of each letter-writer's most pertinent "affiliations" in shaping their letter to the editor. For example:

Benjamin Suburb, Pleasanton, following his letter attacking public service programs as wealth redistribution: "Mr. Suburb inherited his wealth and feels that his character, as exemplified by his memberships in exclusive fraternity and alumni associations, justifies the fact that his net money holdings would provide enough income to provide proper housing, education and nutrition for 50 families of four in the poorer sections of his region."

Tom Blodgett, San Leandro, after his letter complaining about young gangbangers increasing crime in his neighborhood: "Mr. Blodgett is a follower and financial supporter of the Minutemen and other militias, as well as the Tea Party. He is unable to absorb the fact that crime has gone down in his neighborhood because a Hispanic family bought a house near him and he can't cope with having a black man as the President of the United States."

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