Friday, October 12, 2007

Ooops, Or, Change While Hair On Fire = Falling Through Cracks

Well, Dang. Leave town for a few days and things go hooey. As you noticed if you picked up a hard copy of The Bay News today, the Can(n)on below wasn’t there. I had sent the copy in over a week ago, as usual, but in the transition and change of place and personnel, it “dropped through the cracks,” sayeth the new executive editor, Chris Gardner. So, I’m posting it here and will try to get back on track for the 26th, providing there are no more cracks to fall though. But, this is The Bay News in the middle of a complex transition and transformation, so, we’ll see.

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, [that was supposed to run in] The Bay News, (Tolosa Press) San Luis Obispo, CA , for October 12, 07


As you may have noticed, if you’re reading this in the actual Bay News, the paper has changed once again. It has returned to the super-tabloid size, has steamed out of Morro Bay to merge with a new partner, SLO City News on Broad St in SLOTown, which means it has an opportunity to become an interesting hybrid: A regional weekly co-joined with the SLO City News and The Coast News (Five Cities) under the appellation, Tolosa Press.

While the three papers will retain editorial independence and their respective local community focus, this merger will offer the benefits to be gained by shared administrative personnel, shared office space, general economies of scale on equipment and production, an enlarged editorial pool of talent that, according to [former] Bay News Production Manager, Jerry Waidner, “gives us the editorial resources to secure information of interest to any of the communities even though it may be occurring outside any one publication’s immediate readership (and coverage area.).” The merger also allows for the possibility of cooperative/competitive advertising rates so an advertiser could run one ad in all three papers for only a modest uptick in costs, thereby allowing local advertisers to reach out to some 50,000 households south of the grade.

As one wag told me, this plan sounds like it will be an opportunity to do what Weyrich did . . . only without Weyrich, a rather droll if apt reference to David Weyrich who, as you recall, arrived in the county with more dollars than sense and a dream to create a county-wide chain of community newspapers under one owner. In 2000, he bought out The Bay Breeze (one of the incarnations of The Bay News), along with a few other community papers, renamed them all Gazette, then proceeded to institute prior editorial restraint policies that resulted in walkouts by an editor, reporters and this columnist, all of whom were dubbed, “The Weyrich 12.” The story made the Big Time Papers as a snickering example of “Journalistic Integrity David Meets Hayseed SLOTown Hearst Wannabe Goliath.”

It all ended badly with all the Gazettes eventually shutting down and that would have been the end of that, except The Bay News/Breeze/Gazette was adept at survival or revival, having died and been restarted so many times that I think it should have been originally named: "The Resurrection News: The Little Community Paper That Refuses To Die.” Weyrich had put in a no-compete clause when he bought the Breeze, so the original owner, Dean Sullivan, went into small claims court to argue that it’s not possible to not compete with something that isn’t there. The judge agreed and soon enough there re-appeared the original quail and inkpot logo, and the originally-named renamed Bay News was back in business.

And now here we are – again – our little home-town newspaper morphing into a new shape and a new organization in order to find a way to survive by filling an increasingly difficult niche – community news in an era when general interest newspapers, even national ones, are downsizing or closing shop altogether, unable to survive in the internet age, the universe of 24/7 cable news, and in the face of an often indifferent public addicted to infotainment and unable to understand that accurate information about their community and world is vital to keeping a civil democracy.

The late Speaker of the House, “Tip” O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” And it’s true. People’s lives are more heavily impacted by local events than things that occur in Washington, D.C. Local water rates and sewer issues, school bonds, zoning laws, a service district election are all the things that occur locally that often can’t get the in-depth coverage they need in larger general interest newspapers. Even notices of bake sales, charity fund-raisers, and school sports events are all part of what makes up a community, all those commonplace, everyday events that connect and bind us to one another in the place we call Home.

All of which is the very stuff of a community newspaper. But because that job is often so difficult-to-impossible, it remains as it always has been --a labor of love, an often quirky Quixotic quest against improbable odds, a journalistic auto de fe that always involves the stuff of life, death, rebirth – the iron rule of Constant Change.


Mike Green said...

Hooray for the Bay News!
It's fun to take a copy with you traveling and watch as folks read the police report.
Shining the light on hooligans and miscreants and of course the harbor report with kayak follies and lost dogs.
Good news!

Ron said...

Ann wrote:

"... resources to secure information of interest to any of the communities even though it may be occurring outside any one publication’s immediate readership (and coverage area.)."

You mean they are reporting on communities even though they don't live in those communities? How dare they.

Welcome back, Ann.