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By Gina Channell-Allen

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About this blog: I am President of Embarcadero Media's East Bay Division and the publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, Dublin TriValley Views, San Ramon Express and Danville Express. As a 25-plus-year veteran of the media industry, I have experience...  (More)

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The business of news

Uploaded: Jan 8, 2014
Rep. Henry Waxman of California's 33rd District did something that amazes me, intrigues me and irks me all at the same time.

Waxman has sent two letters to Tribune Co. CEO Peter Liguori, with the most recent complaining that company is placing "onerous conditions" on one of its newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, as the company is restructuring to make its newspaper division a stand-alone operation. The conditions, which include the Times borrowing money to pay a dividend and requiring rent be paid to the Tribune Co., is putting profits before the "interests of the public in viable local newspapers," Waxman wrote.

Announced in November, the restructure was necessary, according to the company, because of the decrease in advertising revenues. The restructure has already resulted in the elimination of 700 jobs at the Tribune's newspapers and the consolidation of some departments such as advertising and circulation.

I'm amazed that a politician is concerned about the health and viability of a newspaper. Journalists are supposed to be the "watchdogs" and protect the public's interests. Helen Thomas, the respected wire service reporter who spent decades in the White House press corps, said, "We don't go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers." I admire Waxman, however, for trying to keep the dogs that are watching him healthy; to me this shows confidence that he can withstand scrutiny.

This intrigues me because it appears Waxman is looking at the LA Times – and newspapers and news websites in general I suppose – as a public service as opposed to a business. While there is an "invisible wall" between the editorial and advertising departments, advertising sales bring in a majority of the revenue for most newspapers and websites, and all the revenue for some. While nobody gets into the news reporting business for the money, professional journalists need and expect to make a living. Between the horrible hours, the stressful deadlines, the negative perception of journalists, and the endless criticism, reporting is not necessarily fun and certainly not as glamorous as some 20th century movies would have people believe. So, my question is: who owns the local newspaper? Is it a business, or is it a public service? I can see how it can be both, but I can't see it only as a public service. If it's not a business, and it's not run as a business, who pays the journalists?

The Tribune folks are meeting with Waxman to go over the restructure plan, which, in my humble opinion, is pretty magnanimous. But what irks me is that Waxman finds it easy to criticize the Tribune Co. and complain about how they are running the business, but what will he do to help keep the business viable and able to employ professional journalists to serve the "interests of the public?"

Comments

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Gina,

I suppose this article is an answer to the comments posted on the one on anonymous posters Web Link, where some of the replies attacked the Express for not operating as a service to the community.

NPR and PBS are listener/viewer supported, but even they are subsidized by the Government. Most of the better programs on PBS are British, which subsidizes the cost of production through its "Socialist" broadcasting system, the BBC.

Cable TV offers an alternative to subscribers, who are often attracted to a particular "slant" of the station or the "reporters," so that viewers believe that their news is more reliable because they present the news in a way that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.

I think the Express does a good job of reporting news and presenting opinions via blogs to stimulate discussion and provide a diversity of beliefs. If you can do that while still making a profit and paying me the big bucks (HA!), I'm happy to play along.

Roz


Posted by American, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:46 pm

I certainly wouldn't want to have WAXMAN'S influence in any papers in the country!


Posted by Frederick D., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 3:05 am

Any small wonder that a newspaper owner posits as her main question: Who owns the newspaper?

This owner-blogger\'s lack of critical reflectiveness regarding how newspapers might best comport themselves as journalists within a democratic society warrants a big groan. Obviously her biggest concern is profitability for her newspaper, not quality of news, which warrants nary a mention.

Better question(s) to ask: What is it that makes NPR\'s news coverage so much better (fairer, and critically probing) than corporate-owned news coverage? Well, what distinguishes the two? One has to cater to corporate influence, inasmuch as it purportedly depends upon corporate advertising for its revenue; the other is relatively free from corporate influence.

Many academic studies show that people want truthful and hard-hitting news coverage, and that if a newspaper provides such coverage in a competent manner, people will support it. As Waxman knows, communities that lack a competent news provider, and this because their news providers are kowtowing to corporate interests, are destined to have an increasingly dumbed-down citizenry. (See, for example, how the stupefying, dumb-downed myth of a liberal mainstream media has pervaded the US populace.)

We see this with the recent decline in quality in two major California newspapers, the LATimes and the SD-Union Tribune. Both are a shell of their former selves, and both have an implicit editorial policy that discourages critical coverage of private enterprise. It\'s okay to criticize the government; it is not okay to criticize corporations that, for example, don\'t offer anything to the communities where they are located (e.g, Boeing).

So, we have newspapers that, tied to corporate interests, have no watchdogs other than the corporations that keep them afloat. And the quality of newspaper coverage is increasingly diminished; the community is not given the information it needs about how corporations are running roughshod over us all. (See, for example, global warming; see contamination of local water resources; see chemical-laced and genetically altered foods.)

And we have owners/bloggers of local entertainment rags ballyhooing about how a politician like Waxman is concerned about journalists-as-businessman/women cozying up with corporate power. The (financial) motivation for the ballyhooing is obvious enough. What boggles the mind, however, is how the owners/bloggers don\'t even seem to realize who they are, how they are implicated with corporate interests, and how we are all impoverished as information seekers as a result.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Frederick,

By "people will support it," do you mean they will subscribe or a pay cover price for it? Will they fund it without expecting to control the content or positions as you accuse advertisers and their commercial interests of doing?

Have you subscribed to the Pleasanton Weekly? Here's the link Web Link


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