Newsroom consolidation means loss of public 'watchdogs' Publisher's blog, posted by Gina Channell-Allen, president of the Pleasanton Weekly, on Aug 8, 2007 at 3:25 pm Gina Channell-Allen is a member (registered user) of PleasantonWeekly.com
Aug. 13 will mark a day that will change the landscape of media in the East Bay.
The sale of The Contra Costa Times by the McClatchy Company in April 2006 gave MediaNews Group of Denver unprecedented concentration of ownership of newspapers in the Bay Area. Now it has been announced that on Monday The Contra Costa Times and ANG newspapers, the Bay Area division of MediaNews, will consolidate their newsrooms into one entity. They will reduce staff accordingly. Locally this will affect The Tri-Valley Herald and The Valley Times, but will also involve The Oakland Tribune and several other Northern California MediaNews-owned publications.
According to a memo from John Armstrong, vice president of MediaNews' California Newspapers Partnership, to the staffs at the publications, "As we eliminate duplication of effort in our newsrooms, we will reduce the size of the editorial staff. It is our hope attrition will cover this reduction, but there is no guarantee that layoffs can be avoided."
"Streamlining" is not bad in and of itself. Reducing redundancy is a good business practice. It is also good when the result of streamlining is more time and resources to produce more and better products or services. But this is not the concept of this consolidation; this is to reduce costs and increase profits for the shareholders. But this cost reduction strategy is costly for the public. Fewer news gatherers means fewer stories, less depth in coverage and lower quality.
Consolidating newsrooms is not a new concept, nor is it unique to California. Bigger newspaper companies have been swallowing up smaller ones for decades. The shareholders and owners benefit, but the demise of these smaller newspaper companies is detrimental to the health of a society because we lose a significant cog in the democratic process.
The success of democracy is in part dependent upon having a number of diverse, local, independent news organizations to be the "watchdogs" for the public. Media consolidation stifles independent voices and limits public access, leaving increased censorship of divergent views and less coverage of politics and local issues.
Newspapers are not just a business--they are a public trust and an integral part of the American democracy. While everyone understands the need to make a profit to cover expenses and employ the news gatherers, we must also take into consideration the importance of keeping local media strong. Owners and shareholders might need to give up the 20 percent profit margins, which they are keeping through reduction in staffing, to keep the newsrooms strong.
When we consolidate two, three, four newsrooms into one and eliminate the journalists, we silence a number of the "watchdogs," leaving only one voice to be heard. And if that one voice becomes weak, hindered or compromised in some way, well, it's the only one we have.
This reminds me of a John Mayer song lyric: "When they own the information they can bend it all they want."
Your thoughts and comments are encouraged.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to email@example.com.
Posted by Jack Hovingh, a resident of the Highland Oaks neighborhood, on Aug 10, 2007 at 3:00 pm
A great observation by Ms Channell-Allen. As the so-called main stream newspapers consolidate, the citizens of Pleasanton are deprived of differing opinions resulting in the effective loss of their freedom of speech by virtue of limitations caused by the editorial reductions of diversity in the press.
In addition, the limitation on the time allowed by the mayor of Pleasanton at the City Council's portion of the meeting open to the public from 5 minutes to 3 minutes constitutes an effective gag on the public.
Posted by Becky Dennis, a resident of the Foxborough Estates neighborhood, on Aug 13, 2007 at 10:12 am
I agree. (Jack, we have to stop meeting like this!)I will miss the days when, in describing the uniqueness of our "small town", I would point out that we had two major dailies published in town, and 2 weeklies covering our local news. Each view on issues was(is)somewhat unique, so I read them all.
News enterprises face a difficult problem because of the changes in media. First radio, then TV, now the internet. I'm not so worried that the presses will stop. Paper and ink is pretty inefficient. The real problem is how will journalists make a living, especially covering local news?
Posted by Steve Brozosky, a resident of the Vineyard Hills neighborhood, on Aug 13, 2007 at 11:52 pm
Good to hear from you Jack and Becky. I also feel that the consolidation of the papers is a loss to the community. The more papers writing for the area gives us different viewpoints as well as different styles. Plus with more writers in an area, a writer can take the time to do real investigative reporting.
However, a newspaper is a business and is here to make money. They need to fill the paper with content that people want to read so they can increase distribution and charge the advertising rates they do. This is no different then any other media.
While we live in an educated community, most people are so busy with their lives (jobs, kids, etc.) that they do not have time to consistently read the paper. Also, because of their fast-paced lives, a lot of people want to read good news or “infotainment” so we end up with more reporting of what is happening around town than investigative reporting. Believe me, there is more happening in this community than is being reported but either the newspapers don’t have enough space to print it, or they don’t feel the readers really want to read “the rest of the news”,.
The Internet is giving a real challenge to the print media but like Becky stated, how does a journalist make money on the Internet? Talented people can write blogs but unless they make money off of it, it will not be their highest priority (i.e., not a real job).
As for the mayor limiting the time to 3 minutes for speaking at a council meeting, for items on or off the agenda, it certainly gives the perception that her mind is made up already and doesn’t really want to spend the time listening to the public. A real shame. I have been real proud of the fact that people in this community took the time to come to council meetings. It is Democracy in action.