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Newspaper Deathwatch

Suicides and Sabotage at the LA Times

Frying Pan News’ Steven Mikulan just posted quite the exit interview with recently fired LA Times blogging pressman Ed Padgett. The Times cited Padgett for “suspicion of sabotage” among other reasons for letting him go. Which sounds absolutely insane. Mikulan delves a little deeper.

Shortly after Padgett’s firing there was a “Christmas purge” of workers, followed by a “New Years Purge.”

“Those folks each got $20,000 in severance,” Padgett claims. “Two of the fellows were let go two weeks early because they were worried about sabotage. They’re so paranoid, because it’s not just my department — it includes editorial.”

Padgett believes it’s possible there’s some reality behind the company’s fears. A Teamster email he posted on his blog in December warned members against engaging in sabotage — while denying such behavior. But what does that ultimately say about a company that its employees would harm the source of their livelihoods?

Padgett also says that two recently fired Times employees have committed suicide in the past few months–an operations plant worker and a company truck driver. Terrible, terrible news. Especially in the context of Tribune Company’s plans to give management big, fat, out-of-the-blue bonuses.

Media Exec John Paton Airs His Digital Views in the Analog World

Digitally-oriented media mogul John Paton got a nice fat profile in the LA Times over the weekend, courtesy of James Rainey. Paton is the CEO of Digital First Media, the Journal Register Company and Media News–and oversees the Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Daily Breeze, among a few hundred other papers and media outlets across the country. Paton is a one-time copy boy for the Toronto Sun, who has made it big as a media executive by pushing his newspapers to embrace digital journalism–and pushing hard.

Writes Rainey:

Paton and his Digital First Media — a management company established four months ago that now oversees the recently bankrupt Journal Register and MediaNews chains — have put a 21st century spin on “Stop the presses!” Reporters post video before writing news stories, tweet to their readers in search of news tips and invite customers into news meetings to help mull story choices.

Ad reps had better be pushing Facebook placements, email blasts and online video ads. Paton’s mantra: “Stack digital dimes to match print dollars.”

The roundish chief executive with the insouciant Sydney Greenstreet affect displays a notable lack of sentimentality for parts of his lifelong trade. He has said that traditional print journalism has a value of “about zero,” urged that newspaper people stop listening to other newspaper people, and stated that the public “knows more than we do” about their towns.

Paton later qualifies those statements by arguing that newspapers are no longer fit for breaking news, when stories can be posted on the web at a moment’s notice. Which is true. But he never disputes the notion that John Q. Public somehow knows more about their town than reporters do. We’d encourage Paton to take a stroll around LA and ask people on the street if they can name all the city council members. Or even their own city council member.

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Former LAT Staffer Reverses His Stance on Concentrated Media Ownership

Once an LA Times reporter, Variety TV critic Brian Lowry shares an Op Ed today about the sad synergy lessons imparted by the 2000 union of Tribune Co. and Times Mirror.

Although Lowry admits that Sam Zell and corporate mismanagement have had a lot to do with the disappointing results, he also suggests that there has always been a fundamental difference in the “selection, tone and style” of stories pursued by major daily newspapers and local TV stations. He also argues that local TV has gone in an even fluffier direction since the Tribune deal was done, helping lead him to a surprising shift:

Perhaps that’s why even some of us who railed against concentrated media ownership in the past derive little terror or righteous indignation from the prospect of easing the aforementioned [FCC] guidelines. In fact, given the financial strains local print and broadcasting face, it seems like a reasonable attempt to ensure their viability–and frankly might come as too little, too late.

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On Brink of Closure, California Weekly Points Finger at Gannett

A very nasty newspaper battle in the central California town of Visalia appears to be drawing to a close. Per an announcement in the Valley Voice, the current edition will be the publication’s last, barring an “eleventh-hour development.”

Originally a monthly when launched in 1979, the Voice switched to bi-monthly and then again in 2007 to a more aggressive weekly publication schedule. The most recent change came about after the paper won a lawsuit with Gannett-owned competitor the Visalia Times-Delta that granted the Voice access to local legal ad channels. But the victory was short-lived:

In 2010, the Voice made the decision to change to an out-of-county printer in order to deliver to its readers a crisper, cleaner newspaper. The change of printers triggered another court challenge from the Times-Delta and ultimately resulted in the loss of adjudication and legal advertising in the Voice.

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The Sad State of San Diego’s Media

2012 is not shaping up to be a great year for San Diego journalism. First, Prop 8 backer Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune–and immediately vowed to make it a “cheerleader” for the city of San Diego. Instead of say, a check on powerful interests that run the city. Only a short time after, Voice of San Diego announced it was laying off three of its best investigative reporters due to fundraising problems.

We’re not the only ones who see potential problems on the horizon. An editorial in this week’s San Diego CityBeat laments the current state of the city’s media.

When Voice first launched, we worried that its funding would lose steam as donor fatigue set in and the novelty wore off. But it has grown, and the nonprofit’s been able to add reporters and features even as for-profit news organizations have shrunk. Fueled largely by top-notch reporting on City Hall and education and some impactful investigations into San Diego’s redevelopment agencies, Voice gave a moribund San Diego Union-Tribune a kick in the pants a few years back. Under new leadership starting in 2009, the U-T responded by stepping up its investgative reporting and seems to be moving with a new purpose.

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San Diego Union-Tribune Gets Its Ron Burgundy On

The San Diego Union-Tribune has changed its tagline under the two-day-old ownership of Douglas Manchester. It now reads “The World’s Greatest Country & America’s Finest City.” It used to say, “More Than 1,000,000 Readers Weekly.”

As one local journo we spoke to put it: “Gross.”

You stay classy San Diego.

Photo via San Diego CityBeat

One-Seventh of Village Voice Media Revenue Comes From Backpage.com

Media critic James Rainey‘s latest piece in the LA Times takes on the subject of Village Voice Media and its staunch defense of its adult classified website Backpage.com. The piece is largely a retread of what’s been talked about at length on this site and others for nearly a year. But Rainey does come up with one interesting new factoid. Citing an anonymous VVM executive, Rainey reports that one-seventh of the company’s revenue comes from Backpage.

That’s a lot of flesh peddling.

VVM has taken a lot of flack in recent months from religious leaders and anti-sex trafficking advocates for allowing children to be sold through Backpage. But the company isn’t backing down. Not with all that cash on the line. Rainey notes that not only has VVM hired lawyers and a PR firm to help them preserve Backpage  revenue, the chain has run two lengthy stories debunking the problem of child sex trafficking.

They’ve actually run three.

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Craigslist Founder Wants to Bring Fact Checking Back

Throughout the media industry, fact checking departments have been decimated by budget cuts, and it shows. Inaccuracies in news media are becoming increasingly common, and short of the financial windfalls needed to hire back professional fact checkers, there are no easy answers. But Craig Newmark has a few ideas.

The Craigslist founder outlined his ideas in a private email, which Jim Romenesko published with permission. They include “a network of networks of factcheckers” like those at politifact.com, factcheck.org, and sunlightFoundation.com, and a “widget or truth goggle” that could reference a database for previously fact checked information.

Both sound like valuable tools for any news organization, but can anything really compare to having paid fact checkers on staff? What do you think, dear readers? Will a widget bring accuracy back to the news media? And do you have any suggestions of your own?

Douglas Manchester Has Big, Scary Plans for the San Diego Union-Tribune

John Lynch, chief media executive for the new owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Douglas Manchester, gave his first public interview to Voice of San Diego about what the future holds for the U-T. His answers were rather unsettling. Lynch makes it pretty clear that the paper will be used as a booster for the San Diego business community, and whatever projects Manchester personally favors.

They plan on starting with a push for a new publicly funded football stadium for the Chargers.

Lynch’s take, from the VoSD:

He wants that sports page to be an advocate for a new football stadium “and call out those who don’t as obstructionists.”

“To my way of thinking,” Lynch said, “that’s a shovel-ready job for thousands.”

More changes will be evident after the deal closes between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15. Lynch said they want a stronger editorial page and to attract younger readers. Lynch hopes to bring other media into the building. He wants to be a newspaper industry precedent-setter.

“You change now or you die,” Lynch said.

Lynch went on to qualify that Manchester will “respect journalistic integrity.”

Um, yeah.

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Prop 8 Backer Douglas Manchester to Buy the San Diego Union-Tribune

Wow, we pretty much called it. Early last week, real estate developer and Prop 8 backer Douglas Manchester told the press it was a distant possibility he would purchase the San Diego Union-Tribune. We said that meant he’d have a deal wrapped up by the end of the week. We were about five days off.

The Union-Tribune reports today that its current owner Platinum Equity has agreed to sell the 143-year-old paper to Manchester. The terms of the deal have yet to be released, but the paperwork is expected to go through on December 15. As we reported previously, Manchester is rumored to be more interested in the U-T’s 13 acres of Mission Valley real estate than the paper itself.

Manchester, however, has confirmed that he his bringing in his long-time media executive John Lynch to help run the paper. Which seems to imply he doesn’t plan to scrap it all together. But time will tell if he plans to shut the presses down, go online only, and spend most of his resources developing the U-T‘s real estate properties.

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