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Consolidation hinders integral cog in democratic process

Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen on Aug 27, 2007

Two weeks ago, a change took place that will alter the landscape of media in the East Bay from this point forward.

The sale of the Contra Costa Times by the McClatchy Co. in April 2006 gave MediaNews Group of Denver unprecedented concentration of ownership of newspapers in the Bay Area. Then it was announced that on Monday, the Contra Costa Times and ANG newspapers, the Bay Area division of MediaNews, will consolidate their newsrooms into one entity. They will reduce staff accordingly. Locally this will affect the San Ramon Valley Times and the Tri-Valley Herald, but it will also involve the Oakland Tribune and several other Northern California MediaNews-owned publications.

John Armstrong, vice president of MediaNews' California Newspapers Partnership, wrote in a memo to the staffs at the publications: "As we eliminate duplication of effort in our newsrooms, we will reduce the size of the editorial staff. It is our hope attrition will cover this reduction, but there is no guarantee that layoffs can be avoided."

"Streamlining" is not bad in and of itself. Reducing redundancy is a good business practice. It is also good when the result of streamlining is more time and resources to produce more and better products or services. But this is not the concept of this consolidation; this is to reduce costs and increase profits for the shareholders. And this cost reduction strategy is costly for the public. Fewer news gatherers means fewer local stories, less depth in coverage and lower quality.

Consolidating newsrooms is not a new concept, nor is it unique to California. Bigger newspaper companies have been swallowing up smaller ones for decades. The shareholders and owners benefit, but the demise of these smaller newspaper companies is detrimental to the health of a society because we lose a significant cog in the democratic process.

The success of democracy is in part dependent upon having a number of diverse, local, independent news organizations to be the "watchdogs" for the public. Media consolidation stifles independent voices and limits public access, leaving increased censorship of divergent views and less coverage of politics and local issues.

Newspapers are not just a business - they are a public trust and an integral part of the American democracy. While everyone understands the need to make a profit to cover expenses and employ the news gatherers, we must also take into consideration the importance of keeping local media strong. Owners and shareholders might need to give up the 20 percent profit margins, which they are keeping through reduction in staffing, to keep the newsrooms strong.

When we consolidate two, three, four newsrooms into one and eliminate the journalists, we silence a number of the "watchdogs," leaving only one voice to be heard. And if that one voice becomes weak, hindered or compromised in some way, well, it's the only one we have.

This reminds me of a John Mayer song lyric: "When they own the information they can bend it all they want."

Your thoughts and comments are encouraged.
_____

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is publisher of the Danville Weekly and the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Co. Send questions to gallen@danvilleweekly.com.

Comments (5)

Posted by halbailey, a resident of Alamo
on Aug 29, 2007 at 1:23 pm

Dear Gina,

Your points are exactly the issue in our region. Our daily news media, via editors, has made good citizens of us all because we have to be THERE to really know what is going on.

I will applaud CCN for producing Perspective and regret that it declined to its demise over the past two years. Perspective, aptly named, provided the features of in-depth discussion that served critical decision-making by our voters. And now we settle for "People and Event" Stories that simply overview an event with quotes of opinion by less than expert sources.

The best example of the absence of perspective is current discussions of Alamo incorporation. All media has simply failed to feature the critical expertise and in-depth presentation that would allow Alamo's majority to make an informed, very-critical decision. The campaigns for and against incorporation will not provide that information so it becomes the perspective of the media to provide that service.

Too often, the media, including monthly publications, have become part of the campaigns for and against various projects, programs, policies and proposals. We need your interest in fair. balanced, and in-depth news, features and editorials.

Thank you,

Hal


Posted by Bob S., a resident of Danville
on Sep 2, 2007 at 12:58 pm

The thing that is good about all this consolidation is that smaller, community oriented papers like Danville Weekly will fill the void left by this consolidation. This is a free publication delivered to all of the homes/businesses in the area, so the circulation is probably larger than the CCT. Personally, I think your publication is better anyway.

What many like Hal and Gina fail to realize is that by the time a newspaper goes to print, the information is out of date. Information is available on demand for anyone that wants it over the internet, and they don't have to touch newsprint. Since these large papers deal so much with national and state issues, they will continue to decline in popularity. It is another industry that will fall to the internet the way tower records and other brick and mortar busininesses have. The good news is that even with the fallout of some businesses, others have prospered creating new jobs that never existed. Don't tell that to the guy that lost his job in one of those industries, but the reality is that our nations unemployment numbers have steadily declined over the last 15 years and are in and out of all time lows pretty consistently.

The example used of the Alamo incorporation is not a good one, because the proposed legislation is a matter of public record. When you get your sample ballot, you get this neat booklet with the actual proposed legislation in it, and a blurb from each side giving their perspective. A free press is part of our democratic process, but it is not the RESPONSIBILITY of the press to defend our rights, it is with the citizens themselves where the responsibility lies.

Journalists are human and have opinions and feelings. Those opinions and feelings inevitably come out in their writing. True objective journalism is VERY difficult to find, especially in print. To say that the media does a good job of providing perspective could be interpreted as a false statement.

People need to be presented facts and make a decision. Since much legislation is vast and contains huge amounts of information, decisions need to be made as to what to leave out of a broadcast or presentation. Those decisions can change the whole perspective (there is that word again) of a story, making the outcome of the action in line with the opinion or decision making process of the editor.

If people are too lazy to keep up to date on the information that effects them, and the initiatives on which they are voting, then they deserve the consequences they receive when the ballots are counted.

Newspapers are consolidating because they are failing. They are failing because nobody reads them anymore. Nobody reads them anymore because they can find better or like products cheaper(free) and faster. Danville weekly has done an excellent job creating a better product. Keep it up!


Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of Alamo
on Sep 4, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Excellent commentary, Bob,

I read global news on-line every day and still return to the Danville Weekly for local news that is fair, thorough and balanced.

But, just for your consideration, in Asia I will sit at coffee in the morning and read the FEATURES that provide in-depth news beyond "People and Event" storytelling that is the basis of internet and print news today in USAmerica.

Keep up the commentary!

Hal


Posted by Dolores, a resident of Danville
on Sep 4, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Dear Bob S.,
Good comments - I'd like to use them as a Letter to the Editor in our print edition. If this is OK with you, could you please e-mail me your full name, address and telephone number for our records? Just your name and town will appear in the paper, of course: editor@DanvilleWeekly.com

thanks,
Dolores Ciardelli, editor


Posted by tfass, a resident of Danville
on Oct 16, 2007 at 7:38 pm

WHY DO NEWSPAPERS AND TELEPHONE COMPANY FORCE US INTO THE TRI VALLEY AREA? THE TRI VALLEY IS DUBLIN, PLEASANTON AND LIVERMORE. WE ARE IN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY. THANK GOD FOR LOCAL PAPERS.


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