By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For Daily News staffers like Mariel Garza, who covered Los Angeles City Hall for two years and has been a Daily News editorial writer for the past four years, the slow bleed in Woodland Hills has been akin to watching a friend succumb to a terminal illness.
Garza said the recent layoffs, coupled with a long period of attrition, have left the San Fernando Valley newsroom demoralized and fearing the paper’s demise.
“It’s like watching a loved one that’s wasting away from Alzheimer’s,” Garza said. “It’s tragic to watch.”
With each acquisition, Singleton and his lieutenants had talked of streamlining and consolidating operations as a way to make the newspapers more efficient and to free up resources that they insisted would improve coverage and boost readership. They promised reporters and readers alike a renewed sense of purpose and vitality in the papers’ pages.
At first, many of the papers sparkled with juicy local stories. But lately, there’s been a slow-motion implosion of hiring freezes, budget cuts, positions eliminated through attrition, firings and layoffs. All the way through, editors like Steve Lambert, who oversees both the Bulletin and The Sun, have dashed off surreal e-mail memos to staffers, like one on August 20 of last year, citing the need to find “more efficiencies” in “potential synergies.”
The Pomona Valley's Bulletin is “a ghost town now,” photojournalist Weis says. “They’ve arrived at the ultimate ‘consolidation’: They put a local story on the front page with a photo, fill the rest of the shrinking news pages with wire and copy from sister papers, and sell it to readers as their ‘hometown newspaper.’ ” *
Segura at the Press-Telegram agrees and says his local guild wants to see reporters from other newspapers identified as such, instead of datelines from Woodland Hills or San Bernardino in the Long Beach newspaper placed on stories written by distant reporters identified as “staff writers.”
“They want to give the readers the impression that these are our reporters,” Segura says, “and they’re not.”
Garza at the Daily News seems more resigned than angry. “I think the model of corporate journalism is failing, and a lot of people see malicious intent on the part of Dean Singleton,” she says. “But I don’t. I don’t see it as some dastardly scheme.”
But if Singleton’s not pursuing a “buy and bleed” strategy with his papers, Garza concedes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a long-term vision. “I don’t know if the ‘money people’ realize that readers do notice what’s happening,” she says. “They see the changes in the newspaper and they are angry.”
As the journalists still working for Singleton send out their résumés, Weis is hitting the gym more often, pondering what his future holds now that he’s in his mid-50s and looking for work.
“Look, 20 years ago, I could have gone across the street to the Tribune, or down the road to the Breeze, or maybe a little farther down the road to another paper and been hired on the spot,” he says. “There was competition then. Journalists were screwed the minute Singleton was allowed to buy nearly every paper within a hundred miles and start squeezing the life out of them.”
* Correction: Due to an editing error, the article originally stated that the Daily Bulletin is in Pomona. It is in the Pomona Valley in the city of Ontario. Also, the story erred in reporting that the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s editor duties are being taken over by the Daily Breeze. The Press-Telegram’s manager editor duties are being taken over, while the job of editor, held by Rich Archbold, is being preserved at the Press-Telegram.