City council members in the Southern California city of Carson are considering cancellation of the city’s subscriptions to a local newspaper and inviting city residents to boycott the paper. According to a councilman leading the effort, the Daily Breeze newspaper “over-reports the negatives and under-reports the positives.”
The approach is a mistake. City officials should be thanking the Daily Breeze for covering things in Carson, even if the paper doesn’t always get it right. It should be encouraging people in the city to subscribe to and advertise in the Daily Breeze, and any other publication that even occasionally sends a reporter to sit in on a City Council meeting.
Perhaps the Carson City Council hasn’t noticed that newspapers are having a tough time. Most papers are so understaffed that they seldom cover city council meetings in their own cities these days and are much less likely to cover a meeting in a suburb. The Daily Breeze was once known as the Torrance Daily Breeze and at one time it did a bang-up job covering Torrance. Nowadays, not so much. Other cities in the area, really not so much.
The Daily Breeze recently published a fairly detailed account of political maneuvering in nearby Carson, something that Editor Mike Anastasi says might have had something to do with the unrest within council chambers. But while the editor insists otherwise, Carson receives little day-to-day coverage from the Daily Breeze and much of it is crime news. Worse, council members said, the paper is quick to report that a crime occurred in Carson when it was actually outside the city.
City officials have some valid gripes. Just about anyone who deals with a newspaper more than occasionally has some valid gripes. They are imperfect enterprises. But the Carson City Council, and even more so the people of Carson, should consider themselves fortunate that a newspaper of any sort pays them any attention at all. Most small-city governments receive almost no coverage, so there is less and less likelihood that anyone will notice when the mayor does something stupid, the council makes a giant mistake or the city manager uses his city credit card to buy a set of golf clubs.
Carson isn’t far from the city of Bell, home to one of the messiest and juiciest municipal corruption cases of the past decade. The city manager was slipping himself taxpayer money at every opportunity and the City Council members didn’t care because he was taking care of them as well. It was a situation that would not have occurred, could not have occurred, 20 years ago when the Los Angeles Times semi-regularly attended Bell Council meetings and routinely scrutinized the city budget. By the time the city manager’s greed got the best of him, no news outlets of any sort were covering much of anything in Bell.
Carson officials have every right to be upset with the Daily Breeze if the newspaper has been sloppy about pinpointing crime scenes or generally badmouthing the city. The way to fix that is to make a few phone calls. Not a big deal. But inviting the paper to stay away, canceling subscriptions and urging advertisers to go elsewhere, isn’t going to make anything better and it almost assuredly will make things worse. My advice to the council is to invite Daily Breeze reporters in to talk, to cover meetings, to take a tour of the city, even to do an expose’ on whatever issues ail Carson. True, the council members might bring unwanted attention to themselves, but their job is to serve their cities and their constituents. The people of Carson are not served by being ignored.
Many Partisan readers have probably also seen references to troubles in the daily newspaper scene locally in the past couple of weeks, and some have responded much like the Carson folks, negatively.
It came out last week that reporters and others at the Salinas Californian are having to reapply for their jobs, under different job titles, and that they’re likely to be playing a game of musical chairs, journalism style. There won’t be quite as many jobs as there are applicants.
Also flirting with death spiral status, Monterey Herald Publisher Gary Omernick told his staff Tuesday night that another round of layoffs approaches. First word was one or two people. According to an account in the Californian, the layoffs could come from any of four departments, not all from the newsroom. The publisher said the paper wasn’t making its financial goals. It has been widely reported that the Herald is for sale, along with the Daily Breeze and some 70 other papers in the Digital First Media group. Boosting the bottom line, through layoffs or other means, could boost the sales price
One potential buyer, of course, is the giant Gannett newspaper chain, which owns the Californian. There are better options. Much, much better, but cancelling your subscription won’t do anything to advance them.
There also has been talk of Google buying the newspapers, which certainly seems odd at first glance in that the rise of the Internet has played a significant role in the decline of newspapers. Google executives have said they don’t want to see newspapers dry up and blow away because most of the news you see when you sign onto a Google page comes from newspapers. Without newspapers, where does Google get news items for your edification and amusement? From City Hall press releases?
Hardly a day goes by that some Partisan reader doesn’t mentioned cancelling a Herald subscription. One reader commented on one of my Facebook postings that she gets all the news she needs from free sources. Because I formerly worked at the Herald and left without a parade, some people seem to think I like hearing these things. Not at all.
In fact, I hate hearing about cancelled subscription and newspaper boycotts I am glad that readers care enough about newspapers and local news to get angry when they feel they are not being served properly, but I urge Monterey County residents, and Carson residents, to cling to their subscriptions as long as possible, or to pop a few quarters into the machine from time to time. (Now if the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents Herald employees, calls for a boycott in response to the new layoffs, my tune will change.)
I have worked for newspapers all my adult life, so I undoubtedly have an inflated view of their value, but I’ll share it with you anyway. A community of any size isn’t really a community unless it has a newspaper, be it printed or digitized. Many folks know I like the Carmel Pine Cone about as much as I like Dick Cheney, but I will freely admit that the Pine Cone makes Carmel a better place and provides the community with a common language, even if they use it to argue.
Many if not most newspapers are shells of what they once were, but I would much rather see continued support while people in the news biz search for salvation in the form of a new business model or even some miracle. As newspapers go, the Herald is rather expensive, but most of you reading this can afford the price. What you can’t afford is letting City Hall, whether in Monterey, Salinas or Carson, decide what you need to know about what is going on in City Hall. What you can’t afford is letting Cal Am just go about its business without anyone paying attention except Ron Weitzman, George Riley and the Partisan.
Renewing your subscription is not the same as signaling satisfaction with the downsized product you’re receiving today. Renewing your subscription is a way to signal your hope for a better product, and for stronger coverage, as soon as someone figures out how to bring it about.
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