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LANG’s Wandering Eastern Tribes

April 7th, 2008 · 15 Comments · LANG, Sports Journalism, The Sun

Much has been written about the deep cuts in the L.A. Daily News newsroom, the subsequent ouster of ace editor Ron Kaye, and the gutting of the once-proud Long Beach Press-Telegram (essentially reduced to a bureau of the Torrance Daily Breeze).

Bad stuff. But it turns out that life as a professional journalist is even more brutish and short in what is known as the “Eastern Conference” of the Los Angeles News Group.

As ugly as things have been at the Daily News and PT … it’s been worse in the LANG properties east of the 710 freeway.

Just a few years ago, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun were thriving newspapers with long histories (more than 100 years, for San Bernardino), distinct and clearly defined markets and nice profit margins. Each sold more than 80,000 newspapers daily and had staffs approaching 100 editorial employees.

Then came MediaNews, which bought all three papers … and it all went to hell. Particularly in the past year. Blame it on the internet, blame it on changing demographics, the death of classified or the housing bust, but working in LANG’s Eastern Conference has turned into an ordeal, not a career.

Low wages, puny raises (if any), round after round of layoffs (including this writer, a month ago, after 31 years at San Bernardino) … and, in perhaps the most tellingly callous move of all, the ongoing forced relocations of newsroom production workers. A hardship that seems to have gone almost unnoticed in LANG’s Western precincts.

More than 100 full-time newsroom professionals have been ordered to report to a job site different than the one they were hired at. Sometimes 44 miles away. And some have been moved as many as three times in a year. All in the name of (phantom) efficiencies and all with the unstated but overt threat of “do it or get out.”

To make this clear: Employees were hired by the Tribune or Daily Bulletin or Sun … then later told (years and years later, in some cases) their jobs now were located in another newsroom in another city, and tough luck if it causes upheaval in your life.

A list of the jerking around just since the start of 2007 (or at least the ones I know about):

1. News desk employees of the Bulletin were ordered to work at San Bernardino’s offices, 20-some traffic-choked miles further east, early in the year.

2. In early July, sports desk employees in San Bernardino were ordered to begin reporting to the Tribune building, 44 miles west. That affected four full-time employees. One transferred to news rather than make the trek. Two gave up scant drives to the Berdoo office to make one-hour trips each way (nice carbon footprint, MediaNews). Another saw his commute go from 25 miles roundtrip to 90, and moved to cut down on his trip.

3. In August, San Gabriel’s news desk was ordered to report to San Bernardino for work — a nightmarish 44 miles east on the Interstate 10. Some chose not to go and left the business. Eventually seven full-timers started making the haul to north San Bernardino. It was “go or quit the company.”

4. In mid January, San Gabriel’s news desk was ordered to resume working at … San Gabriel, the plant they had left only five months before. They were welcomed back “like the Iran hostages after they were set free,” said one employee who was at the homecoming.

5. A week or two later, San Bernardino/Ontario sports desk people were ordered BACK to San Bernardino, after about seven months in Covina. (The LANG brain-trust finally tumbled to the fact that San Gabriel readers had few, if any, shared “local” news interests with readers west of Kellogg Hill. Like, duh.)

6. About the same time, features desk people AND reporters, who had been assembling in Ontario for more than two years, got their “walking” papers. The handful of people still doing San Gabriel-oriented features tasks returned to the Tribune building, 25 miles west. Meanwhile, the Ontario and San Bernardino people were sent 20-some miles east to San Bernardino.

7. Last month, after local advertisers, civic leaders, etc., realized the Daily Bulletin offices in Ontario were essentially empty of news employees, the entire Ontario/San Bernardino sports department was ordered to report to Ontario. As a PR move to make it look as if someone, anyway, was working in the Ontario office.

(Note: The Daily Bulletin’s publisher, editor, managing editor, city editor, features editor and photo editor all work in San Bernardino. So the Ontario citizenry have it right; they have been abandoned by their “local” newspaper. Actually, their paper had been turned into a bureau of San Bernardino, the same thing that just happened to Long Beach/Torrance, albeit with zero sturm und drang.)

This ridiculous game of musical offices was exacerbated by management’s contemptuous treatment of its employees. Senior managers made almost zero effort to explain why these moves were necessary. Perhaps they didn’t bother with explanations because the “thinking” behind it was capricious and spurious. With a self-indulgent dash of “because we can mess with you” thrown in.

They screwed around with real people whose real lives were arranged around what they thought was a permanent work site … whose job titles never changed but who were with minimal warning instructed to go perform that job at a site far away, over the traffic-choked I-10. Maybe they were lucky their news offices weren’t in, oh, India, because the LANG editors probably would have fired them for not reporting, on time, to work in Mumbai.

Most employees gritted their teeth and endured this funny-if-it-weren’t-screwing-up-my-life run-around. Because, after all, they know their staffs are down to maybe half what they were five years ago, and questioning authority in the Eastern Conference is a quick ticket to unemployment.

And here’s the kicker to all this: Rumors are strong in LANG’s Eastern outposts that MediaNews honcho Dean Singleton plans to sell the Ontario building this summer … meaning the sports editors and reporters working there would return to San Bernardino — potentially their FOURTH move in barely a year.

This is how journalists are treated, in LANG/East. Like substitute teachers who can be ordered to report anywhere, anytime, and if they don’t like it, well, they don’t have to work.

It’s one of the most egregious examples of unconscionable treatment of workers in all of Southern California journalism. But because it happens east of the 710, at newspapers without unions, without strong (or humane) editors and with disengaged (and shrinking) readership … it continues to go on.

It’s a travesty.

One veteran of the LANG/East turmoil had this to say, via e-mail:

“I have been at this more than (several) years now, and they have succeeded in sucking all of the fun out of this job.

“And I guess that is my point. It has long since ended being a career and become just a job.

“Treating it like just another job is how a lot of … people seem to be getting by these days, from what I can tell. You come to the office, do only what you have to, then leave for home.

“I guess if I didn’t care about it like it was still a career, I could go home each night and get a decent night’s sleep.”

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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cindy robinson // Apr 8, 2008 at 4:04 am

    During the last five years the “Eastern Conference” papers have lost their identity, their news-worthiness, their ties to community, and have basically ceased to exist as a community paper along with their “news hole.” There is no longer any respect for these papers — not by the readers nor by their own staff. As a former staff member I’m embarrassed when I look at The Sun as well as the other papers. The current product is sad shadow of its former self. Competition among the papers is what made all of them thrive. That has ceased to exist. And when you don’t treat your employees right, they will either leave or mail it in since good work is no longer noticed, nor in LANG’s case appreciated/needed. LANG has created its own Frankenstein and no doubt it is a nightmare to be working for LANG.

  • 2 Matt Zimmerman // Apr 8, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Leaving LANG behind is no longer a bad thing. It is not a career move, it is not a disappointing layoff in the long term.

    It is an escape.

  • 3 Joe McCune // Apr 8, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Man, I got out just in time.

  • 4 Pogue Mahone // Apr 9, 2008 at 12:05 am

    SUN PARTY

    I went to a Sun party
    To reminisce with my old friends
    A chance to share old memories
    And see PaulO again
    When I got to the Sun party
    They all knew my name
    But I didn’t know the password
    I wasn’t one of them

    But it’s all right now
    I learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone
    So ya got to please yourself

    People came from miles around
    Everyone was there
    Schulte brought his exacto knife
    There was magic in the air
    ‘N’ over in the corner
    Much to my surprise
    Mr. Goff hid in Cohen’s shoes
    Wearing his disguise

    We read them all our new stories
    Our only claim to fame
    No one heard a word we said
    To them we weren’t the same

    But it’s all right now
    I learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone
    So ya got to please yourself

    Lot-dah-dah (lot-dah-dah-dah)
    Lot-in-dah-dah-dah

    If you gotta go to Sun parties
    I hope you don’t travel far
    But if hate was all I had to spread
    I’d rather write P.R.

    But it’s all right now
    I learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone
    So ya got to please yourself

    I went to a Sun party
    Though time has clearly past
    But all they did was knock our work
    So they can kiss my Irish ass

    But it’s all right now
    I learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone
    So ya got to please yourself

  • 5 Rico Gregg // Apr 9, 2008 at 1:50 am

    I thought what the radio companies of this world like Clear Channel were doing was despicable, but this is downright appalling.

    This a totally perfect example of The Dilbert Principle: The least effective employees are placed where they can do the least amount of damage: Management!

    You might think that with the growing population in SoCal in general, and the IE in particular, there would be a need for even more staff, and perhaps even more newspapers. There will always be a place for newspapers. The Internet will never wipe them completely out.

    I would hope that someone with the means to do so would buy at least one of these papers and have them do what they were meant to do – serve the public to the best of their ability, not appease a few suits.

    I hope this isn’t a bad omen of things to come, but several months ago, the Pasadena Weekly outsourced two LOCAL writing positions to India!

    Heaven help journalism.

  • 6 Chris Woodyard // Apr 9, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Paul,
    Love your blog.
    You and your readers should consider joining us in the LA Press Club. We’re trying to rededicate the club to helping displaced reporters get through this crisis. In fact, on Thursday night, May 22, we’re going to explore ways that journalists can protect their careers. We’ll focus on areas of that aren’t hurting as bad as newspaper, TV or online. (Yes, online. Yahoo just went through deep news layoffs). Membership forms and more at http://www.lapressclub.org.

    Best,
    Your loyal Daily Forty-Niner reporter….

    Chris Woodyard
    USA TODAY
    Prez, LA Press Club

  • 7 Gary Scott // Apr 9, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I once did a story about the heavily gerrymandered 59th Assembly District and how completely screwy it was for the state Legislature to lump together cities so geographically and culturally distant just to save a Republican seat.

    Now Singleton has followed the same screwy plan with his LANG-east newspapers. All of the forced movement chronicled here by Paul was preparation for the consolidation.

    There is one thing that does bind the region – besides the traffic-filled freeways – and that’s the fact that this is the birthplace of the McDonald’s fast-food empire. Singleton appears to be applying the same business model to journalism.

    Note: Rico, the outsourcing of city hall coverage was done by Pasadena Now, a relatively new online publication, not the Pasadena Weekly.

  • 8 Mark Masek // Apr 9, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I was one of the seven copy editors at the SGVN who were sent out to wander in the San Bernardino desert as part of the August Exodus. (See “Jerk Around No. 3”) At the time, I was the News Editor — officially in charge of the copy desk, allegedly part of the “management team.” And I was literally the last person to know about the move. They announced it to the staff on my scheduled day off, less than two weeks after they specifically told me that a consolidated copy desk plan had been considered, but the idea had been rejected, “and is officially off the table.” (I found out later that a few of the metro editors had known about the move for weeks, and that the plan had already been approved when I was being told that it was “off the table.”)

    I can’t say whether a combined copy desk would have been a good idea, considering all the issues related to coverage, communication, work flow and processes, etc., and also considering the MediaNews financial picture and long-term plans. It might have been a good idea — perhaps the only possible idea — but none of the people who were actually expected to do the work were involved at all in any discussions or planning for the move. We were simply told to pack up our desks, drive out to San Bernardino, knock on the door, and see what happens.

    This was part of the prevailing atmosphere of fear, secrecy, mis-information and arrogance in the newsroom. They didn’t come to us and say, “Here’s our situation, here’s what we’re facing, and here’s what we want to do. You know the copy desk operations, what works and what doesn’t. Since you work on this every day, you might even have some suggestions or ideas that we hadn’t thought of. Now, how can we make this work?” Instead, they shipped us out with no plan, and told us to make it work. The fact that they brought the copy desk back a few months later shows the success of their way of doing things.

    Management certainly has a right to run things the way they want, and allocate their resources however they want. I won’t argue that point. I didn’t quit because of what they did. I quit because of the way they did it.

  • 9 Len Cutler // Apr 10, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    As much as I hate to say it, the folks that are happy to leave might have the right idea. I loved my LANG gig because of the great team at the P-T, and hated it for almost everything else. I have a hunch that’s pretty common across LANG. Once they gutted our office, there was little reason to stay.

    The problem is that since Singleton has bought up virtually every paper from LA to San Bernardino, there are fewer options than ever before. As things stand, no one in MediaNews has even an ounce of job security, and as uncertain as the future might be, the present is unfortunately downright bleak. MediaNews’ intentions are perfectly clear. At some point the remaining staff have to realize how this story is going to end, and make a stand like the Bay Area News Group (BANG) folks are doing.

  • 10 Chief Bender // Apr 11, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    The Chief has to call B.S. on that anonymous e-mailer to PaulO who is lamenting how their job is no fun anymore and The Man has sucked the fun out of everything and they are the only one working hard and everyone else is merely punching a time clock. Been hearing this jive for years. It is so misleading and self-serving and says to me desperation and inferiority complex. Your job isn’t fun? Tough. That’s why they call it work. Find your little pieces of joy where you can and stop trying to elevate yourself by dragging everyone else down.

  • 11 Jay Collier // Apr 14, 2008 at 6:16 am

    The Daily Bulletin, then owned by DonRey, was my first copy desk job in 1999. Glen Rabinowitz hired me to work with a team that included Bob Evans (God rest his soul), Art Kuhn, John Tisdale, John Bruno, Bridget Lewison (who later helped me score a PR job that has since become my life’s work), and Jim Mohr, among others.

    I was struck by the seriousness of the newsroom, the gravity of the job, and the importance everyone on the desk placed on the smallest of details. Bob Evans taught me to linger over copy like sipping fine brandy, swishing it around and savoring the complexity of words while massaging them for our readers. All of the other editors displayed a commitment to the Fourth Estate that made me feel like I was part of a great enterprise.

    Then came the purchase by Dean Singleton. Jim Mohr famously proclaimed he would punch him in the nose if he ever saw him in the newsroom. He wasn’t the only one to regret the purchase. Copies of articles in which The Dean commented on “news” taking a back seat to business made the rounds in the newsroom. But we kept on working amid the slow bleeding.

    I left the Bulletin, along with several other IVDB staffers (Chris Urso, Marc Campos, Joel Taylor, CJ Fogel, Sal, Felicia, etc) to join the Inland Valley Our Times (anyone remember Times Community News?), where I was part of an incredible team that fought really hard to make something of nothing. But the rug was pulled from under us and I bailed to PR in 2003.

    Fast forward to late 2005. I came back to work part-time on the Bulletin’s copy desk where I remained until moving to Nebraska in late 2006. Most of the familiar faces were gone. The desk was a bunch of eager new guys (and gals) shored up by the senior Bruno and a couple of other veterans. They were talented and committed, too. But the atmosphere was gone. The bleeding was profuse by then. Too bad.

    I was an accidental copy editor who ended up in the profession just in time to see Singleton’s corporate attitude rip the pride out of an important part of the region’s cultural landscape. There are still consummate professionals out there committed to the ideals of the craft, no doubt. Bearing witness to this chapter of the bloodletting left me convinced that the soul of the newsroom is found not in the people watching the bottom lines, but in the hearts of those with the bylines and those who help make those bylines shine.

  • 12 Bridget Lewison // Apr 15, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Jay, Mark, Bender, Cindy … great to see you all here!
    Jay, you eloquently captured the atmosphere of the pre-Singleton DB.
    Good times.
    I miss Bob. He was a bit of a father figure to me and came out for a visit shortly before he passed.
    I miss Glen saying “d’oh!”
    I miss John and Seiler trying to out-grump each other.
    I miss Art’s placid demeanor and Bruno’s East Coast style.
    And I miss Jim’s enthusiasm and out-of-the-box approach to life. If you’re out there, please e-mail me.
    I miss it all. The day it was announced Singleton was taking over the DB was not a good one for me. Having been through it before, I did my best to stay positive through all the disagreeable familiarity.
    Still in the newspaper business (but out of the newsroom), I’ve actually found new optimism for this business in working for an organization that truly cares about its readers, and preserving its reputation as a credible and trusted source.
    There is hope out there.

  • 13 Jim Mohr // Sep 13, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Paul,
    Great read on the situation. As you know, I left inThe Sun in March 2005, and I have never regretted the day. I miss journalism, but not the business of it. I think the newspaper industry is more than bottom line. It is about passion, constantly challenging the mainstream mentality and always being on the lookout for a good idea. It is not only LANG that is suffering from ridiculous cuts at the expense of ideals.

  • 14 Workforce Blogs - The Business of Management // May 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

    […] Those pale in comparison with this one, though: how MediaNews’ Los Angeles News Group (owned and operated by Dean Singleton) is constantly forcing many of its workers to move from office to office around Southern California, according to blogger and former L.A. MediaNews sports columnist Paul Oberjuerge. […]

  • 15 paibleunlip // Jun 11, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Just read the topic. great job.

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