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 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.

Your Web comments might get you sued

The Internet has brought interactivity to newspapers and Web sites — but the trend also is leading to more defamation lawsuits.

Civil lawsuits over online speech nearly doubled in 2006 and jumped by another 68 percent in 2007, according to the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard.

“The Internet is a culture of rights rather than responsibilities,” Andrew Keen, author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, told The San Francisco Chronicle this week. “We have no coherent theory of digital responsibility. The issue has broken through … now it affects real people with real reputations to defend.”

Under current law, Web sites are largely protected from being held liable for the comments, including newspapers such as The Union. (I’m sure you’ve seen some of those outbursts.)

But some people are questioning whether the law, know as the Communications Decency Act, should be tightened to prevent defamatory content.

Some of the offensive commentary focuses on personal attacks, while others attack a business — in an online review, for example.

Some of the so-called flames are crossing the line, the courts are ruling — for example, an instance where a patient blasted his chiropractor. 

I’ve seen some outrageous comments posted online around here.

This is an issue worth following. I predict the courts will tighten the law. Let the commenter beware.



Nevada City Gas temporarily closed

Nevada City gas has been closed this week. I hope it reopens soon.

It is such a classic gas station, providing real customer service, including cleaning your windshield and pumping your gas.

It closed briefly before when gas got so expensive that the old-fashioned pump couldn’t accurately post the price.

At the time, the owner said she might have to close again later to upgrade the pumps. For now, a sign just reads “temporarily closed” with no explanation.

Ad director now sits in the editor’s office

Times are changing at The Union: First the editor’s position was eliminated, and the publisher took on both titles to cut costs. (This can pose a conflict to news-gathering because they are different roles, as well as a lot of extra work — managing, line editing, passing on tips, Web duties, “morning after” critique, just lending a hand, etc. But I understand newspapers are facing tough times and belt tightening is in order).

The mangement seating charts have changed too: Now the new ad director, who started this week, sits in the office where the editor has always been, looking out into the newsroom. Advertising, the group she manages, is on the other side of the room, as well as the old ad director’s office.

I guess this is convenient on one count, because the office is next to the editor/publisher’s office, but her team is still across the room. So it goes.

The new ad director, from the San Jose Mercury News, among other places, is The Union’s third ad director in about 30 months (the length of my tenure as the editor), and there also have been two marketing directors during that time.

I hope she can build an advertising team that meets its goals this time around — for the sake of the readers, paper and the newsroom (which, compared with some instances in the past, is all rowing in the same direction, productive and supportive of one another — despite being smaller and posting to the Web site as well).

Speaking of The Union, we got a call at our home at 8:15 p.m. last night from a telemarketer who said she was from New Jersey asking if we wanted to re-subscribe to The Union for $2.88 per week. We said no, because we read it religiously online, including the “e-edition,” where you also can read the ads.

The call from an outsourced East Coast marketing firm at that hour of the night seemed a bit intrusive, but the paper’s doubling down on retaining print subscriptions.

Newspapers are going to survive because of their strong brands. But they’re at a crossroads. Let’s all do what we can to support our local newspaper and keep it strong and vibrant.

If you don’t subscribe, at lease patronize the advertisers. (We’ve done our share of both over the years). And don’t forget all the contributions the paper makes to our nonprofits.

Former eBay CEO governor of California?

ebay_sm_imageMeg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor, setting the stage for a race that includes other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, former Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown and a cast of characters.

The terminator terms out in 2010.

Whitman, who will run as a Republican, has no political experience. I’ve met and interviewed her: She did a good job getting eBay up and running but wasn’t as successful as time wore on.

Memories are short, but I remember she upset a lot of eBay loyalists by making a public run for the CEO job of Walt Disney in 2005 that went to insider Robert Iger instead. Whitman recommitted herself to eBay, but workers and analysts were skeptical.

The stock of eBay soared under Whitman, but she also made missteps, such as an ill-fated multi-billion acquisition of Internet phone call service Skype.

Whitman retired from eBay in March as a billionaire. 

Whitman’s GOP opponent is expected to be another  wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Steve Poizner.

Whitman stands a good chance in light of our financial problems.

Besides, if California’s fortunes don’t improve soon, her experience can come in handy: you know, auction off the state’s assets on eBay.

Open Energy to close Grass Valley facility

Open Energy, a solar power stalwart, plans to close its Grass Valley facility by late March, cutting about 15 jobs, according to my sources.

Long known as Open Energy, the San Diego area-based company changed its name to Applied Solar in January.

Though merchants in the historic downtowns of Grass Valley and Nevada City are generating a lot of attention, too little has been said about the plight of businesses in the less visible Whispering Pines and Loma Rica business districts — a major engine of local economic growth.

For example, Benchmark Thermal, in the Loma Rica business park, has sharply cut its workforce. About 30 people work at Benchmark now, compared with 50 in late 2007. The company still is plugging along, however.

Both Open Energy and Benchmark have been honored by the county Economic Resource Council and other business and civic leaders.

Open Energy’s manufacturing facility employed about 40 people a year ago. The company designs and makes solar systems for commercial, industrial and residential projects. It specializes in solar panels that have a more natural look than many competitor’s models.

Open Energy is based in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego.

Newspapers need to emulate

As I mentioned in an earlier post, newspaper Web sites need to provide more unique content that can’t be found in print — and monetize it.

A great example is, a Web site that maps how people voted on Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage initiative, in California. The Web site uses zip codes and names of people who contributed to the measure — all public information — and puts it on the Web site.

Here’s a good writeup of the site in this morning’s New York Times.

Around here, this could easily be done for all the local ballot measures and campaigns for supervisor, NID and others. It’s a “no brainer” feature for a ballot measure on whether to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine, a likely scenario down the road.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see where the donors live? As I’ve said before, many of them don’t even live in the city or district being impacted — a characteristic of our local political landscape. An interactive map would clearly show that.

It’ll take more innovation and newsroom resources, however — and contextual advertising to support it. Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. For now, newspapers are caught in the “big oven.”