Has cost cutting in newsrooms gone too far?

Has the cost cutting in newsrooms, including our local papers, gone too far?

Here’s an example of a lead news item this week from the Sierra Sun, The Union’s sister paper in Truckee. It came from “President’s Day weekend: A great success,” a premise that comments in the article didn’t support:

A sentence in the article reads like this: And though Dale reportedly served 160 dinners, and had to turn away another 50 people because of how crowded it was. The air of a troubled economy still lingered in the restaurant, he said.

Huh? As we used to shout in the newsrooms, “Rewrite!” But it was published like that.

In this morning’s The Union I read a front page article about a Grass Valley business leasing additional space at 333 Crown Point Circle. It was labeled “economic bright spot.”

But wait, I read the same news item in a column by the editor/publisher that ran a week ago Tuesday:  The company that manufactures precision potentiometers . . .  just signed a lease for approximately 2,300 square feet at 333 Crown Point Circle.

Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t the news go on the front page first, then in a column? This is a news judgment issue.

In both this article and the one in the Sierra Sun, I also worry about presenting an overly bullish view of the news. Some would call it “boosterism.”

In the outskirts of Grass Valley, for example, businesses such as Open Solar and Benchmark are cutting back, as I’ve written in my blog. In Tahoe, calling President’s Day a “great success” was an overstatement. You need to present a balanced view of the news to maintain credibility.

In this morning’s The Union, I also read a headline in sports that puzzled me. It said an NU football player (whom I know) was going to New York to play for Army.

But the headline read, “Go West, young man.” Huh? New York is east of here, not west. (If West was shorthand for West Point, I’ve not heard of that reference — as a lifelong college football fan and friend of West point graduates).

I also noticed this blog in The Union, “story gets the wrong picture on the Web site.” Yikes. The paper isn’t staffed much on Saturday anymore.

As an editor, I used to agonize about avoiding these kinds of mistakes and passed this concern onto the staff. (I also updated the Web site on Saturday from home). Most of the time, egregious errors were fixed before getting into print.

But at The Union, the publisher is now the editor too. How can you do both jobs? At the Sierra Sun, the paper is being cut back to three days a week from five. Both staffs are smaller than ever.

Both papers are owned by Reno-based Swift Communications, which has quietly cut jobs, reduced frequencies of some papers and closed some weeklies throughout its chain. Here’s some background. Most of the papers operate in monopoly markets.

It’s clear to me that the newsrooms are taxed from the cost cutting, at the expense of readers and subscribers. The focus now is on advertising and growing sales. It should be on both.

Otherwise, newspapers risk being caught in the “big oven.”

Let’s hope the economy rebounds soon.

Not enough jobs, except for docs!

The county’s unemployment rate is the highest in more than a decade — but doctors and other health-care workers are in higher demand than ever.

I previously reported on the latest wrinkle to the problem: the medical personnel shortage at the new Chapa De medical facility in Grass Valley.

Now Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital is posting openings for two doctors as well, including one with an exclamation mark!

“Family physician needed!” reads the Feb. 12 ad for Sierra Nevada Medical Group in Grass Valley.

Another ad lists “Cardiologist needed.” It adds, “This is an opportunity to develop a cardiology practice with a growing multi-specialty clinic.”

Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital had hired a physican recruiter to bring docs here some years ago with much fanfare, but they quietly eliminated the position earlier this year and have no plans to rehire.

The current physician recruiter listed for the jobs is down in Sacramento, with the CHW Medical Foundation. SNMH is affiliated with CHW.

Kind of a sad state we’re in: A flat population that’s one of the oldest in the state and getting older, without enough jobs, except the ones who can care for our aging population. And we can’t fill them. Yikes.

We need some leadership and a lot more visibility on the issue to crack this nut.

With nest eggs cracked, retirees look for work

Though not reported, I’ve been hearing many examples of retirees around here who are being forced to find jobs, because their nest eggs have cracked in the deepening recession.

Here’s one from last week: A well-off couple in their late 60s who live in a well-known gated community lost half their investments, so they had to hit the job market.

It wasn’t planned that way when they left the busy city to come up here for some R&R.

This is a double whammy to our economy, because we’re dependent on retirees and their disposable income. We don’t have many jobs to begin with, either.

This weekend, The Wall Street Journal write an article titled “There goes retirement.”

Nearly 5 percent of workers age 55 and older were unemployed in December, a 58 percent jump from a year earlier and the highest percentage since 1983, The Journal reported.

“Working in retirement” isn’t news, but “Today, though, with retirement savings in shambles and the economy in turmoil, job searches have taken on a new sense of urgency — and, in some cases, desperation,” the Journal said.

Jobs include golf course maintenance, movie extras and sales clerks.

It’s happening here, too.

How the media dropped the ball on budget talks

The L.A. Times seems to be the only media that is covering the state budget negotiations in real time — one of the biggest news stories of the year.

With a 5:22 a.m. time stamp, it reports: “All night session fails to produce a state budget.” The article has a lot of rich detail about last-minute horse trading. The Bee has a midnight time stamp with stale news, as does the S.F. Chronicle with a 22:19 time stamp.

It’s amazing how newspapers still don’t get the Internet, preferring to publish news for daily print cycles. Cost cutting doesn’t help either, because it takes a real work ethic to tag team and pull an “all nighter” for your readers.

But like me, a lot of people wake up and go to the Web for their breaking news, not a newspaper that “was put to bed” more than six hours ago.

As of  7 a.m. Sunday, The Union’s Web site is still promoting an article “Still Under Cupid’s spell” — about an 89 year old and 93 year old celebrating Valentine’s Day — that was posted at 9:37 p.m. on Friday. As the Editor, I used to update the site regularly when I got up on weekends (the budget negotiations is something people want to know about). Let’s hope that happens later.

In the meantime, here’s an article how a new online newsroom, the Voice of San Diego, is digging up a lot of news and creating competition with the traditional media.

Escaping the snow — and getting a scooplet

photo3SAN FRANCISCO — We packed our bags Friday for a quick trip to S.F. for Valentine’s Day.

With the snow, we first had to move all of the plants into the living room from the portable greenhouse outdoors, because the power was out (and hence, the heater to the greenhouse).

After watching the power go out with a mere 5 inch snow “storm” for years now, we have learned to keep our expectations low with PG&E. So you drag the rhododendron indoors. Whatever.

For the record, we *do not* grow doobies in the portable greenhouse (with or without a legal “license”), though ex-crime reporter Robyn Moormeister and I used to joke somebody we wrote about would try to plant weed there and get us in trouble.

Gladly, at least on this count, we’ve both moved on. I miss Robyn’s reporting on the courts, crime and elected law enforcement officials, though Liz is getting up to speed.

Our community was lucky to have Robyn’s insight and talents. She took a lot of heat for digging up the truth in a small town. How sad. Do you ever think our insular “culture” holds us back, not just our lack of economic diversity?

As for our quickie weekend trip, it’s dirt cheap to get a room at a good hotel in S.F. for the weekend nowadays, including rolling out the welcome mat for our new dog “Whiskey.” ($110 for Le Meridian downtown). To swim, it’s $15 at the Embarcadero Y, one of the best indoor pools in town. You can park on the street on weekends.

We  lived in S.F. for years, and a favorite place is the Chinese food joint Brandy Ho’s in North Beach (near where we used to rent a flat on Telegraph Hill). It’s an institution.

We chatted with the owner a while (who always wears a suit), and he gave us a scoop: He’s planning to open a restaurant in Danville in the East Bay. It’s his first one out of S.F. to catch what we call the “bridge and tunnel” crowd.

Journalism isn’t that hard: You just have to be curious. Trouble is, many career journalists don’t really like to ask questions — in fact, they’re introverts.

It’s too bad: They wanted to be “authors” but didn’t have enough chutzpah, so they became “professional” writers, editors, even publishers. Now we’re stuck depending on them to find out what’s news. Thank goodness for the Internet and “citizen journalism.”

So I’ll pass the info along to my friends at the S.F. Chronicle food section. I used to work with Herb Caen, and he called them “scooplets.”

By the way, the economy is humming along in the Bay Area — popular restaurants are packed.

It’s a big contrast to our neck of the woods, still too dependent on tourism, retirees with diminishing “nest eggs” and disposable incomes. Why hasn’t anybody written about that, as well as tourists who are counting their pennies and staying at home? Will we ever diversify our economy?

In the meantime, we’re still waiting for legislators to pass the state budget tonight. Nevada County is going to take a big hit. Stay tuned for updates.

How “Pacific Justice Institute” used media

Here’s a good example why a newspaper needs an Editor, somebody who specializes in news judgment to help inform readers:

A sensational-sounding news item appeared in our local media this week as the lead report in The Union and on KNCO: A Seven Hills Middle School counselor allegedly forced a student to take a pregnancy test at school without her parents’ knowledge or consent. 

I’m sure the news item helped boost single-copy newspaper sales or boosted listenership on the radio, but as a seasoned editor, it didn’t pass what  journalists call the “smell” test? It should have been more closely scrutinized.

First, the news came from a press release issued by the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, not an enterprising reporter digging up an interesting lawsuit at the courthouse. That smacks of politics. I would have liked to have seen the lawsuit posted online, too. 

The Pacific Justice Institute, which hasn’t been described much in the local media, are extreme right-wing advocates know for inflammatory statements — including likening the fight for Prop. 8 to the battle against Hitler. Some people have labeled the group “religious fanatics.”

Here are some details:

•Last October, the Anti-Defamation League condemned the Pacific Justice Institute for invoking Hitler and Nazi Germany in their campaign for California’s Proposition 8, seeking to overturn a state court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage in California.

•A blog, Gay Species, provides some background: Among other things, it points out that the group isn’t too transparent “without a street address, board or financials” to share with the public. It has a blog called “newsbull” — an interesting name.

•”Pacific Justice Institute works diligently, without charge, to provide their clients with all the legal support they need,” according to its Web site. It has a network of more than 1,000 “affiliate” attorneys nationwide. A reporter should have asked the Alta Sierra lawyer who filed this suit on behalf of the girl how he’s getting paid? On retainer, I suspect.

Some or all of this information should have been included in the media reports to give the reader some more needed perspective, as well as give the article more balance. Also, where is this counselor now? This information also belonged in the news item.

Bottom line: Given this background and the school administrator’s strong denials that pregnancy tests aren’t given, the article should have been played in a less prominent position — not the lead news item. The report has some “holes” in it, in journalism parlance.

I hope future articles shine a brighter light on the “Pacific Justice Institute” to help people make a more informed decision about this case.

The news item must have caused a lot of disruption among parents, teachers and school administrators without enough context. That’s what editors get paid for.

Commercial printer Lectra Media shuts down

Lunchtime chatter that was confirmed: Letcra Media Inc. on Gold Flat Road in Nevada City, one of the area’s major commercial printers, has shut its doors.

The longtime business and vendor to tech firms such as AJA Video and Thomson Grass Valley is the latest victim of the deepening recession. While most of the attention has focused on merchants in the downtowns, the slump also is hitting businesses that provide the business-to-business backbone of the local economy.

Rancho Cordova-based MSI, another printing outfit that has worked with Lectra Media in the past, has accepted some of the firm’s customers and hired some of its workers.

“LMI has closed. All files and customer-owned supplies have been moved to MSI,” according to a sign posted at the office at 650 Gold Flat Road in Nevada City.

The leased offices were being cleared out Thursday.

Lectra Media’s Web site at http://www.lectramedia.com redirects readers to MSI. Phone calls to Lectra Media also are directed to MSI.

Lectra Media was featured in an article in The Union back in December as beating the economic odds. 

“The company, which makes glossy brochures, direct-mail pieces, election ballots and anniversary announcements is staying afloat in a tough economy, because it will take on just about any job,” the newspaper reported.

In January, the paper reported 17 of 25 workers were furloughed, citing a slowdown in business.

Now it’s good bye all together.