Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

L.A. News Group Fires Columnist Steve Dilbeck

January 8th, 2009 · 28 Comments · LANG, Sports Journalism, The Sun

Just heard this from the man himself. He was responding to my note wishing him good luck, because there were rumors around …

But it was too late, he wrote back to me in a short note.

Steve got a call last night from people in the L.A. Daily News office. He is out, and he is on his way in to the office to sign the papers and get (I hope) the six weeks severance that has become MediaNews rote.

And another veteran voice in Los Angeles sports journalism goes silent.

It’s amazing, really. And I wonder if anyone in LANG — Dean Singleton’s shriveling SoCal MediaNews empire — grasps what they have wrought. Or whether anyone cares.

Probably no … and no.

Also, I wonder if I am in some way responsible for what happened to Steve.

Steve was the last general columnist in the group who got extensive usage outside his own newspaper. In the Breeze, sometimes in Long Beach, and San Gabriel.

Now, where do LANG sports editors go for commentary and analysis?

Literally the only general-interest sports columnists left in the group are the two guys in Long Beach, Doug Krikorian and Bob Keisser.  Neither has gotten much use outside of the Press-Telegram, of late.

Either that usage pattern changes … or someone is promoted to columnist from the handful of remaining staffers … or LANG newspapers go without a columnist.

Like, what? This at the very time when seemingly intelligent people are saying that what newspapers still have that no one else does … is local analysis, commentary, color and opinion. And if you don’t have that … what are you left with? Preps? Wire copy?

I feel badly for Steve. This is personal. We go back 30 years, to when he was hired at the San Bernardino Sun out of Cal State Fullerton and was made the Barstow bureau chief. Within a few years, he was in sports, and I hired him back full-time in 1984 — after he did a stint in real estate.

Since then, he’s seen … a lot. Every World Series for about 10-15 consecutive years. A batch of Super Bowls. Scads of Rose Bowls. The last three Olympics, four of the last six.  He was our Lakers guy for about 20 years, and was on the scene when the Lakers ended their Boston Curse — in the Garden — in, what, 1984?

He was a traveling baseball writer, covering every Dodgers game for about five years, before and after the 1988 World Series season. He saw Hershiser’s scoreless streak and Kirk Gibson’s home run. And then he did all the Dodgers’ home games for another 10-15 years.

Steve knew the area and its sports history and its players, and he cared about it and was a regular voice for nearly three decades, including the near-decade he spent with the Daily News.  He had the chops to put events in perspective. He knew a good team from a bad one. And he was a popular guy in every press box — a natural flirt (with women) and a regular guy (with men).

He was ferociously loyal to his friends and colleagues. He loves journalism. He loves writing. He was and is a great friend — and people all over this business will tell you that.

Anyway, this is just amazing. I imagine Steve is out of the business because he made too much money and the new editor didn’t consider him one of “her” people.

But still, you need to be careful about tossing all that institutional memory over the side, and LANG has been awful about that all along.

It is hard to imagine how the group could have inflicted more damage on itself. All its familiar names, gone. Forced out, transferred, fired. From Mike Waldner to Kevin Modesti to Steve Dilbeck … who sells those sports sections now? Who is the face of LANG sports sections?

And this is where I feel as if I might have contributed to Steve’s demise.

When I was fired, by High Panjandrum Steve Lambert, in March, Dilbeck did a brave thing. And, in retrospect, perhaps a foolhardy thing. He wrote a sharp e-mail to Lambert,  and copied it to this blog, and here it is:

“Steve Lambert,

“I write this in protest over the dismissal of Paul Oberjuerge.

“Have tried to figure out what the rationale was for this shocking decision, but I’m left completely empty.

“In my view, Paul is the absolute last person who should have been dismissed. He is the greatest hire in the history of The Sun. He should have local parks and buildings named after him, not be shown the street. He could walk into editorial right now and do better than anyone there at any job in the news room.

“He dedicated himself to The Sun for over 30 years. He’s still as sharp and relevant as ever. And for the past several months was being used by newspapers throughout LANG.
I’m more than confused. Tough times make for tough decisions doesn’t hold up with this decision. Paul deserves eternal gratitude, not a cardboard box.

“Sincerely,

“Steve Dilbeck”

We all know that Steve Lambert is a petty man who holds grudges, and goodness knows we are in an environment where he can sit around and even up scores with guys who second-guessed him (that would be me) or who wrote him impertinent e-mails (that would be Steve).

I hope what happened to Steve today was about his salary. About his age. I hope it wasn’t because he stuck up for me, and Lambert bided his time for 10 months before plunging a knife into Dilbeck’s back. But that could well be part of it. That’s what LANG is about, these days. Small people doing petty things.

There will be more LANG layoffs today. I fear some other veterans, guys who know the infield fly rule and the difference between a star and a superstar … will be gone before this day is out.

Hard to imagine any will create a void to match that made by Steve Dilbeck’s untimely ouster.

Steve, consider this my e-mail to Lambert protesting your firing.

Tags:

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ian // Jan 8, 2009 at 10:10 am

    It just never ends, does it? The first thing I thought when I heard about Doug was, “I wonder if Dilbeck will be out, too.”

    Doug and I never really saw eye to eye, but he was a very good writer and a damn good reporter. And for that, the industry is lessened today.

    Dilbeck is someone you could talk about anything with. Not just sports. He’s witty and smart and funny and nice and, despite his love of the Beach Boys, someone I always looked up to.

    Good luck to both of you. I mean it.

  • 2 Ian // Jan 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

    As a follow-up, I just did a little memory check of my era of the Sun sports dept. I might be mistaken, but it could be that Nate, Chuck, Joel and Mikey are the only ones still working in daily U.S. print as of today.

    Oh, and Baggerly, right? He’s in NorCal?

    But still, more people out of the biz than in it. What a difference 10 years makes.

  • 3 David Lassen // Jan 8, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I’d say this was unbelievable, but nothing at LANG really qualifies as that any more, does it?

    Steve is one of those guys who make it fun to be in a press box (Doug is another one), and in this environment, those guys are cherished. Of course, they should have been cherished for their work, too, but it’s pretty clear content, at LANG, has become no more than that troublesome stuff that fills in the space between the ads.

    I hope they both land on their feet, and that I’m running into them at events again, soon.

    Another truly dark day for L.A. sports journalism. We’re having too many of those.

  • 4 Brian Robin // Jan 8, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve shared many a press box with the talented and classy Steve Dilbeck, but one experience stands out.

    It was at a Lakers game in the late fall of 1998. I know this, because my wife was 8 months pregnant with our second child. And considering she had miscarried two years earlier and had a ruptured ectopic that nearly killed her the previous year, this was — shall we say — a touch-and-go pregnancy.

    As you know in this pre-cellphone day, when it came to sending, you were at the mercy of one of the publications that had phones installed at various venues. Since I didn’t have a courtside seat at the Antelope Valley Press, I stayed in the press room and monitored the game from there.

    Yes, Paul, I used the Sun’s phone to send my early story. I also used it to call my wife to see how she was doing.

    When Steve came back to the pressroom in the bowels of the GW Forum and saw me on his phone, he started to get mad, asking me WTF I was doing.

    I told him I was talking to my pregnant wife, whereupon, he immediately apologized and said if I needed to call her back after he was done sending and checking to see if the desk was OK with his story, to go right ahead.

    There’s not much more I can add regarding Steve’s obvious talent, since it’s not only well-documented by those who worked with him, but it’s well-documented that talent, ability to deliver for your readers, insight into what they care about and the innate skill in bringing that all together doesn’t matter anymore.

  • 5 Nick Leyva // Jan 8, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Sometimes I think I’m going to wake up from the nightmare that has claimed many of my colleagues in the shrinking LANG. After you were shown the door, Paulo, i figured everybody was fair game and unfortunately I’ve been right the past two days.
    I’ve known Steve since my Sun internship days of 1984 and he’s really been a guy you could go to for any kind of help, willing to help young reporters and sharing his experiences.
    I don’t know what else to say, except good luck to you Steve and the Dilbeck Family.

  • 6 Chuck Hickey // Jan 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    The Beast is a class act, someone I’ve known for 20-some years. His letter to Lambert when you were shit on like he’s being shit on now shows you how loyal the guy is.

    This is just sickening. I’m sick of it. There is no rationale behind this garbage. From you to Doug to the Beast and others. And yet, other people are keeping their jobs, namely “management.”

    To show you how screwed up LANG is, an ACE at the LADN volunteered to take the buyout. But L.A. Observed reported he had another job lined up. Whoops, no severance for him from LADN.

    The only thing missing from the LANG team is the freakin’ Volkswagen for everyone to hop out of with their red noses and floppy shoes on.

    A freakin’ disgrace.

  • 7 Jim Alexander // Jan 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I pray that Steve and Doug land on their feet. Good guys, good journalists who absolutely don’t deserve this.

  • 8 Danny Summers // Jan 8, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I was surprised to hear the news. But not shocked. This is the way the industry is going. Good writers. Good guys. Gone! I, too, have shared the press box with Steve Dilbeck and Doug Padilla. Heck, I’ve been to their houses. I sat in the same newsroom with them when we all worked at The Sun. Those were the good old days. Those were the days before the threat of Dean Singleton – who lives here in Colorado with me – and Steve Lambert.
    I have been a newsman for 23 years. I am still writing for newspapers, and whoever else will pay me to write something clever or to the point. I miss the “good old days.” But I’ve got news for you and I, my friends, the industry as we knew it is gone. Gone forever. It is now this Internet crap and cheap blogs and fast news for the people who don’t care to get newspaper ink on their fingers. I wish you all the best of luck. Keep the faith and hang in there.

  • 9 Luis Bueno // Jan 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    What a joke. Steve Dilbeck is a great reporter, great writer and above all a good person. How is it possible LANG does not value that?

    I learned a lot from Steve just by reading his columns and was in awe a bit over his presence, like I’d think “Wow, this guy is big time.”

    I hope that he does not spend too much time without a job. I hope that even now there is a market for his services because it would be a downright shame if LANG silences him for good.

  • 10 Mike Rappaport // Jan 8, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Amen, Paul. Lambert is a very petty man who makes everything personal. When I refused to bend over last January and he fired me, he made a point out of saying something I knew not to be true — that people at the Daily Bulletin I had known for years and considered my friends actually could not bear to have me around.

    I do believe in karma, so I believe that guys like you and Steve will land on your feet and guys like Lambert, will … Well, whatever happens to guys like Lambert will happen to him.

  • 11 Michael Martinez // Jan 8, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I am immune to the news that good people are being laid off in this business. It happened to me last March in San Jose. I have survived, as Paul has and as Steve will. I view my situation as a reflection of those who let me go, not as a reflection of my work the past 35 years in newspapers. It hurts, but we all move on. They can’t take our successes away from us. Best of luck to both of you.

  • 12 Albert Bui // Jan 8, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Sad news. To me, Steve was always the guy you wish you could be. Kinda like the BMOC of sportswriters. I never got the chance to thank him for showing me the ropes while I was a kid fresh out of college when we worked together at The Sun… Well, thanks my OG and I’m sure you’ll be in a better place six months from now.

  • 13 Landon Negri // Jan 9, 2009 at 3:52 am

    Another good person I grew up reading, and later got to work with, is gone. This just sucks. My best to Steve and his family, as well as to Doug and his. Geez … I just saw both of them at the Rose Bowl.

    Sometimes, I just want to go out and shake all of the people out there who dismiss newspapers and say, “uh, I don’t have time to read the paper,” as well as all the prep moms and dads. I want to tell them to buy the damn papers —- all of them —- and read them. Often. Because if you don’t, we will be gone. And you can’t clip out articles for your scrapbook from maxpreps; you can’t get quality analysis from a blogger fatter than me rolling around on his couch in Alhambra; and you can’t get breaking local news from yahoo or google.

    One other person I wanted to mention, Darin McGilvra, a sports copy editor who was hired at The Daily Bulletin about the same time I was in 1999. Darin was laid off last year, then came back a few months later as a part-timer … only TO BE LAID OFF AGAIN yesterday. What a terrrible way to treat people. My best to Darin and his family, as well..

    Good luck to all.

  • 14 Ed Wilson // Jan 9, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Don’t worry Rappy, you’re not the only one to hear the “nobody in Ontario wants him around” line. It’s a convenient lie. And even if it was true, so what? What do you want for reporters … pleasant, malleable people who produce predictable fluff and don’t make any waves? Or people who question authority once in a while and stir the pot and give people a reason to read the paper and the Web site? Wait, don’t answer that.

  • 15 Cindy Robinson // Jan 9, 2009 at 8:33 am

    I had lunch yesterday with a friend, who is a young reporter. We talked about the way of the newspaper biz — is it really still a news-gathering biz with ethics? Do editors still care about breaking news, investigative pieces? I don’t believe so otherwise so many of us would still be working for newspapers. I left almost seven years — could see the writing on the wall — and while I like to think I still have ink in my blood — Miike Martinez is right (and by the way, how the heck are you? I’ve thought about you often and had no way to contact you when I heard what happen), it is a reflection on the people running the paper, not of the work one has done. My point to the young reporter is they now have no one to learn from; no great stories to listen to, no great memories of camaraderie in a press box (playing poker waiting for rain-delays or being part of a pool during a no-hitter when it was going to go bust, going to the local bar after deadlines to decompress), no feeling that when you worked on a paper it wasn’t work but time spent with family. Veterans like Steve and Doug made working so much fun, gone; editors like Paul and Leah, who helped one learn and improve, gone. We are fortunate to have cultivated so many good friends from this business. The younger reporters have no clue what it really means to be a journalist. This isn’t a slam to the younger generation — just a sad notation they will not have had the opportunity to share what we were all so fortunate to enjoy.

    Are any of us surprised at the state of affairs of the fourth estate? Shocked when we hear who got cut from the latest rounds? And it’s not just LANG, although Singleton is obviously the biggest dope on the block. Papers are no longer being ran by journalists but by dopes who don’t care about ethics. CEOs who don’t understand the value of experience or what a reporter brings to the paper.

    It is sad in the way veterans are being tossed aside. No one deserves that sort of treatment. I said to Leah the other day: “Could you imagine if we had the capital to put together our own newspaper what kind of newspaper that would really be?” People would read it because of the talent of the staff. It’s kind of like the “Field of Dreams” movie. If you build it they will come. If the product was truly a newspaper like it was, people would read it. But who wants to read fluff?

    I love you Steve and Doug, and Mike is right, you will survive, but unfortunately the writing is on the wall newspapers will not.

  • 16 George Alfano // Jan 9, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I saw Doug Padilla at the Rose Bowl. He is a good fellow and it is sad what happened to him, but hopefully he can go to a better place. The idea of sharing baseball coverage with the Orange County Register is sad.

  • 17 BGoff // Jan 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Steve Dilbeck was one of the first people I met when I started at the Sun (12 years ago now).
    A real pro, unless you got on his bad side, just ask Andy Badgerme (I think I still have a copy of Steve’s note somewhere).
    We used to love when Steve worked the desk, because that meant a food run to Alfredo’s.

    In my 12 years at the sun and the numerous people I have had the pleasure of working with, Doug Padilla was my favorite (no offense to the rest of you clowns).

    A fun guy and another real pro. We have only had brief contact in the last couple of years, but on his final day, he called me at the office to break the news.

    I am sure better things are on the horizon for both of these guys, because they would not have it any other way.

    and I am looking forward to Doug opening a comedy club in Redlands. It would be a place I could stop off after putting the sun sports section to bed (from the San Gabriel office in West Covina).

  • 18 Audrey Fogg // Jan 9, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    It saddens me as a Daily News employee(almost 12 years) to hear about Steve Dilbeck. As a big sports fan and someone who grew up in the Valley and still lives in the Valley ,I was always so proud of the accomplishments of our Sports Dept. I would brag about our paper and the numerous awards our sports dept has won. Always looked forward to reading about high school sports. Now it is nothing, not to take away from the current reporters, but I remember when they would hold their meetings around tables in the lunchroom or conference room, their were so many of them. I was so envious, I wished I was one of them.
    Laying off such talented people is such a great loss. I wish the paper was what it once was but I know that will not happen.

  • 19 Nate Ryan // Jan 9, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Not much left to say that hasn’t been said already about two great journalists and even better people.

    During last summer’s Sun reunion in Vegas, Doug and I roomed together — first time in 12 years — and I quickly was reminded why no other person on this planet ever has made me laugh harder and more often than Doug. And there are few who have taught me more about having fun and not taking life so seriously.

    Steve shepherded me through many firsts (prep game, Dodgers, Lakers) during my fall 1993/summer 1994 internships at the Sun, and I felt privileged to be following him around press boxes and locker rooms where his presence always was met with great respect and genuine warmth.

    I don’t have enough words for how much those guys meant professionally and personally to someone who stumbled into this biz 15 years ago with no experience. Just as it was with PaulO, it’s again hard to reconcile my disgust as the newspaper industry circles the drain with my love for the craft of sportswriting that grew mostly out of knowing guys such as Doug and Steve.

  • 20 Bob // Jan 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I have nothing but anger at LANG and Lambert, but not everything is about you, Paul. It’d be nice to believe that layoffs happen to people we like because some evil LANG VP had it in for them or for us, and not because of their high salary or possibly a cold, hard look at what the newspaper appears most likely to be able to lose. (Notice I did not say “should” lose.) But sometimes fate is just random and crummy, and people get dealt bum hands.

  • 21 Danny Summers // Jan 9, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I have had the pleasure of reading such kind words from so many of the wonderful people I worked with through the years. And yes, that includes you Chuck Hickey. I just had to follow up with a few more words of my own.

    As a young boy growing up in Redlands in the 1970s, I read The Sun Telegram daily. It was my sports friend long before ESPN and all the other television and Web sites existed. In 1976, PaulO joined the staff. He was followed by Dilbeck, Mike Davis, etc. I had breakfast with them every morning.

    When I graduated from Redlands High School in 1981, I went to college to be a sports broadcaster. I wanted to be like Chick Hearn, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg. By the time I graduated from Long Beach State (PaulO and I share the same college alma mater) I was working in Hollywood. I thought my calling was in television as an on-air personality or producer.

    But something kept tugging at me. Newspapers still had a hold on me. A friend called me up in the fall of 1987 and asked me to “cover” a high school football game for the Anaheim Bulletin. Whatever that meant. I covered it and I was hooked. Four years later PaulO hired me at The Sun. I was in heaven. I sat in the same office with PaulO and Dilbeck and Davis and other guys like Nick Leyva, wonderful Cindy Robinson, and yes, Chuck Hickey. He was an agate boy at the time. Do they still call them agate boys? I worked at The Sun through 2003 – two years after I moved to Colorado to start a new life at the suggestion of PaulO. (Paul, you had a great impact on my life. Thanks) Then lambert fired me over the telephone for writing an unflattering story about his buddy, Dave Oldham, of the then San Bernardino Stampede. I called Lambert an “ass wipe” and that was the end of that.

    Through all those years I developed a respect for my fellow newsmen that I still hold today. I covered the Stampede for six years. Doug Padilla covered them before me. I played basketball with Davis and Hickey, Damian Secore and Brian Goff. Baseball with Landon Negri and Nick Johnson. We were a family of sorts, even if you guys all ragged on me most of the time.

    Those days are gone, as is our industry as we knew it. But the memories live on. Though I still sit in press boxes to this day, things just aren’t the same. I miss the old days.

    Thanks, guys, for letting me be part of your lives.

  • 22 Pogue Mahone // Jan 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I see no reason why we can’t still call Chuck Hickey “agate boy.”

  • 23 Chuck Hickey // Jan 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    If it means a job …

    And, yes, Jack, we were a family.

  • 24 Cindy Robinson // Jan 10, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    the sad part is those days shouldn’t be “old days” because given the right management, it is the way things should be done today…

    and we all recognize that so, perhaps, this is why this is such a sad state of affairs…

  • 25 Pogue Mahone // Jan 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Just joking about the “agate boy” thing, Chuck. You were good to work with and great at what you did … which means your butt would probably be out the door too if you had stuck around. Thank God some of us have gotten out.

  • 26 Chuck Hickey // Jan 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks. I knew you were kidding. All we have these days, it seems.

  • 27 Gregg // Jan 11, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I’m still a little too sick to my stomach to expand much, partly because I know Steve so well and partly because all these hits are coming so close to home.
    Just wanted to say that Steve has always made the job fun for a lot of people, one of the best people to ever grace a press box. He will be missed.

  • 28 Nate Ryan // Jan 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

    I’m sure many, if not all, have seen it already but in case someone hasn’t: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-simers25-2009jan25,1,4742815,full.column

Leave a Comment