Monday, May 18, 2009

A "plan" for the future

Big changes are needed in order to save journalism from the ravages of the internet.

That's the message presented by Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown, in this piece for the Washington Post. The pair have come up with five ways to save newspapers.

Some of their suggestions are well-intentioned, like a call to strengthen copyright law to prevent abuse from digital outlets. Unfortunately their focus is on search engines - and rather than accept the loss of placement that would result from being delisted by Google and others, they argue that media owners shouldn't have to lose their Web visibility, and search engines should instead pay them for the privilege of having media products in their search results, whether Google likes it or not.

Publishers should not have to choose between protecting their copyrights and shunning the search-engine databases that map the Internet. Journalism therefore needs a bright line imposed by statute: that the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement.

This is obviously a losing proposition.

Another argument is to reduce business taxes on media companies and give tax incentives to buying advertising - but not, they note, with companies like Craiglist.

Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.

While reducing taxes will certainly help media companies, it doesn't address why media outlets deserve a tax break in the first place? If the goal is to promote the public good, why not support proposed legislation like the Newspaper Revitalization Act, as recommended by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, and allow a way for media outlets to qualify for nonprofit status?

They answer that question not once, but twice. That's how many times they suggest relaxing the rules for media ownership and promoting antitrust exemptions for media conglomerates.

Whether you like the idea or not, it's worth noting that Baker Hostetler is no stranger to media ownership and antitrust law. The firm has represented most of the national media chains, including MediaNews, for a variety of issues and litigation.

Antitrust exemptions and increased consolidation may be the key to saving our industry, but it would be heartening to hear someone without a vested interest say it, instead of another expensive Washington lawyer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hiring in San Gabe

Amid the layoffs and cutbacks, MediaNews is still hiring - at least in West Covina.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune is looking for a Metro Reporter, according to this listing at

The San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group seeks a Metro reporter who can produce enterprise stories in addition to strong daily coverage. Candidates should be comfortable covering city hall, but also able to provide incisive analysis of regional issues – from the exploits of local politicians to emerging trends. Candidates should have experience writing for a daily.

Monday, May 11, 2009

LADN losses continue

We've just received word that LAUSD reporter George Sanchez is the latest casualty of MediaNews' cost cutting.

In addition to his reporting duties, Sanchez played an active role in the bargaining unit, volunteering to serve as both a steward and a member of the bargaining committee. For the newsroom, losing someone with his dedication and commitment to his fellow journalists is definitely a painful sacrifice.

We wish George nothing but the best on his future endeavors. He has our gratitude and absolute respect for his steady and insightful assistance during these difficult times.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A message of dread

Tom Hoffarth has posted a powerfully somber, candid reflection on the loss of colleague Tony Jackson, and the state of sports journalism in Los Angeles County. Equal parts sadness and frustration, Hoffarth's drafted an elegy that doesn't cover any new ground, yet manages to grab your attention anyways. In a few blunt words, he's managed to convey what many of us are feeling.

Those of us left paddling in a circle, as it sometimes feel, feel like our lifejackets keep slipping off our shoulders. We huddle up, as a good team does, and try to figure out how to tie a rope to each other and make survival last a few more weeks. Because no matter when you think that last tidal wave has come, there's another on the horizon.

So far, Hoffarth seems to have touched a never among the non-journalists in cyberspace. Commenter "gregb" posted the following:

Tony's firing was the final straw for this subscriber. The DN sports section has deteriorated tremendously in the last 18 months. Wire service copy for Clippers, Kings, Ducks, CSUN and glorified "non-wire" for the Angels. High school coverage has been reduce to "junk status."

I cancelled the paper because I will not pay metro prices for nothing more than a glorified wire service newspaper. I have been a Daily News reader since it was the Van Nuys News and a four-day a week paper. Now it will be as a non-subscriber because ownership didn't care about me as a paying customer.

Every time the staff is reduced, the circulation seems to take another hit. Maybe re-investing in the product side of our business isn't a cure-all for what's plaguing the industry, but wouldn't it be a good place to start?

Globe threatens closure*

Are there any sacred cows left? Or have things gotten so bad that literally everything is negotiable? How much of tomorrow are you willing to surrender in order to preserve today?

These are the sort of very real questions facing journalists across the country. Most recently, the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents over 600 employees at the Boston Globe, has been forced to face some harsh choices. The New York Times Co. has been threatening to close the paper if demands for employee concessions are not met. Since last week, representatives from the company and the employee union have been trading proposals with the hopes of reaching an agreement.

But that was last week.

As of today, the New York Times is reporting that the talks have stalled, despite claims by the employee's union that concessions exceeding the Times Company's demands. For their part, the Times Company has announced that it plans to file a notice of their intent to close the Globe within 60 days.

Dire news and tough talk are nothing new to our members here as well. Over the last year, members at the Daily News and Press-Telegram have collectively been hit with an assortment of demands, including unpaid furloughs, a 401(K) freeze, layoffs, the loss of vacation accrual, and threatened wage cuts. And there's little reason to suspect that the worst is over.

Every newsroom is different, and so is each bargaining unit. Individual members have to decide what's right for them and their coworkers, and in this day and age that's no easy task. As the demands for concessions grows louder, it's unfortunate that few among the upper echelons have been willing to make similar sacrifices. But unfair as that may or may not be, it's irrelevant. Business decisions are made by the folks in charge, and if they're not fair, what can anyone do?

If threatened with closure, is there anything that's too important to give up? Is there a line that cannot be crossed? If so, where?

What do you think?

* At the zero hour, a crisis has been averted. According to >Poynter Online, a deal has been reached with six of the paper's seven unions, so the threatened closure is no longer necessary.

But the good news ends on an ominous note:

We are disappointed, however, that we have not yet been able to reach an agreement with the Guild. Because of that, we are evaluating our
alternatives under both the Guild contract and applicable law to achieve as quickly as possible the workplace flexibility and remaining cost savings we need to help put The Globe on a sound financial footing.

For all the concessions, it appears the company is not satisfied yet. That doesn't bode well for the employees in Boston.