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Tony Jackson Fired; One Reporter Left on Dodgers Beat

May 1st, 2009 · 3 Comments · Baseball, Dodgers, Newspapers, Sports Journalism, The Sun

Tony Jackson, Dodgers baseball writer, was laid off Thursday by the L.A. News Group.

LANG getting rid of solid, veteran journalists is nothing new. It’s what Dean Singleton’s collection of imploding SoCal suburban newspapers have been doing for more than a year now. The L.A. Daily News, the San Gabriel Tribune, the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Torrance Daily Breeze, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the San Bernardino Sun … all of them had solid-to-strong sports sections a decade ago. Now they are smoldering wrecks, forced to pool resources, but the pool has been pretty much drained empty. It’s sad.

And it is the steady (and now frantic) winnowing of talent and personnel out of the LANG gulag that has brought the Los Angeles market to an embarrassing state:

The second-biggest media market in the nation now has one newspaper covering the Dodgers beat full-time.

You saw that right. One. O-n-e.  Los Angeles has become Kansas City. It has become St. Louis.

The sole survivor? Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Hey, Dylan, pay special attention, OK? It’s just you now, bud.

Some people count reporter Ken Gurnick as a full-time reporter, and he sorta is. Except he is paid by Major League Baseball’s Web site. Ken is a very good reporter, and I don’t question his ethics, but isn’t exactly an impartial observer when it comes to Major League Baseball. Most of the site’s team reporters are former print journalist, but still … they know they work for MLB.

What makes Dylan Hernandez’s situation so astonishing is how busy the Dodgers beat was as recently as the 1990s, when as many as 10 newspapers covered the team home and road. (Let’s see how many of them I can name: Steve Dilbeck, Lew Price, Geoff Smith, Matt McHale, Terry Johnson, Gordon Verrell, the Times guy, the Register guy, the LADN guy …)

As recently as 2007, four newspapers were on the Dodgers beat, full-time.

As recently as March, three newspapers were covering the club home-and-road.

Then the Riverside Press Enterprise fired Diamond Leung during spring training, and that left two Dodgers beat writers — Tony Jackson of LANG (who also covered for the Orange County Register) and Dylan Hernandez.

Now, Jackson is gone. Just a day after coming back from his last road trip.

This is bad for fans.

Sure, nearly all games are televised, but those of us watching on TV can’t get into the clubhouse. We can’t sit for an hour with the manager or a coach or a couple of players. We can’t watch what happens when the cameras aren’t turned on. We don’t hear the asides or see who plays cards together or who never speaks. All that. Only the full-time beat guys have the rich context of a whole season. And the more of them, the better. Because each guy has “his” guys in the clubhouse who tell him the good stuff, and often those guys and those reporters don’t overlap. Every time another full-time beat guy is subtracted from the equation, another 2-3-4 players go quiet.

So having just one newspaper guy out there … well, I hope Dylan Hernandez gets along with more guys than usual, because our understanding of what goes on in the clubhouse now is dependent entirely on him.

Another note about LANG. It was Dean Singleton’s purchase of so many of the suburbans that was most responsible for the steady decline of SoCal baseball writers. Whenever he bought a paper, the new management ended downtown coverage (Dodgers and Angels), depending on the Daily News to cover nearly all the major beats. Which worked, more or less … until the Daily News itself began dumping people.

Firing the Dodgers writer — and the club sells more than 3.5 million tickets every year — tells you just how desperate times are in LANG. Only the Lakers are a bigger sports beat. To give up in-house coverage of all the road games — that means a dramatic dropoff in the quality of coverage. It leaves the entire LANG group, and the Register, at the mercy of the Associated Press — which won’t do Dodgers notes packages, won’t blog on Dodgers events and won’t even write a Dodgers angle if the other team wins.

And Tony Jackson. A good guy. A very good guy. He loves ball. He never took days off if he could help it. A grinder, in the good ol’-fashioned way. He had good sources, he was fair, he was thorough. I worked with him more than a little, especially in 2006, 2007, when I was writing columns for LANG and Tony was my go-to guy if I needed insight into what was going on behind the scenes. It was a good relationship, because the beat guys sometimes are aware of trends or moods that they can’t quite write about … but a columnist can, and the writer sometimes is happy that those angles get out there.

I loved working with Tony Jackson.

The Dodgers understand that a press box with one print guy in it … is bad. Very bad.

Josh Rawitch, the team’s top public relations guy, writes a blog, and on his blog today he wrote the following:

It’s a sad day around here, as many of you have already heard that Tony Jackson has been laid off by the Daily News due to budget cuts. Not only was Tony the host of the “other” Inside the Dodgers blog, but he’s among a dying breed of baseball beat writers who covered all 162 games of a season. In many ways, Tony has been the Cal Ripken of beat writers, having missed only a couple of games over the past five-plus seasons (including home and road). You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder-working guy or someone who has a greater passion for the game of baseball. I know you’ll all miss reading his work and we’re going to miss having him in the press box. It’s a really interesting media world right now and as we all try to figure out the best way to get news to the public in a timely and correct fashion, this blog continues to become one of our top ways of communcating directly with you.

So, yes, the Dodgers know this is bad … but their solution is to have you read the blog from a club vice president. And media guys are, always, apologists for the club. It’s what they are paid to be. They do not approach a story the way a reporter does.

Things aren’t quite as horrible on the Angels beat. Yet. The Register still covers the Angels home and road (Bill Plunkett). So that’s two guys on the Angels, but only one on the Dodgers.

I feel badly for Tony Jackson, but he said he felt it coming. He thought he might get through the season, but things are disintegrating so quickly now, it’s hard to project past next week.

Jackson being fired had nothing to do with him. It had everything to do with LANG not being willing to pay the cost of sending a guy on the road, and if they’re not going to do that, why even have the guy? (Which is the same decision Riverside made in March, when it dumped its Dodgers, USC and UCLA writers on the same day.)

I don’t know how or when this will be turned around. Will there someday be some independent Web site with enough money to staff the Dodgers on the road? More than one? Will some laid-off writer come up with a coverage scheme in which he covers all the games on a free-lance basis? I guarantee you, somebody is at least thinking about that.

This is bad. This is sad. The Dodgers are worth in-depth coverage. What subscribers are still out there want it.  The reality is, for now, if you want any sort of thorough Dodgers coverage, you have one (and only one) choice: Subscribe to the L.A. Times.


3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Lassen // May 1, 2009 at 11:00 PM

    Just unbelievable that it’s come to this. Like you, I really enjoyed having Tony as a colleague — knowledgeable, good sense of humor, willing to fill in a drop-in guy like myself when I had a “what’s going on with …” kind of question. He was incredibly devoted to his job, and deserves way better than this.
    It’s absolutely sickening to see what Singleton has done to Southern California journalism.

  • 2 CJ // May 2, 2009 at 4:06 PM

    I always enjoyed editing Tony’s stories when I was copy editing over at the Breeze. Though I felt his cynicism with the organization (aimed largely at the McCourts, no shock there) sometimes seeped into his game stories and notebooks, he was a pro and obviously dedicated to his job. I have been telling (the fewer and fewer) friends still working for LANG to get the hell out if they can. Sadly, as I have found out (no fulltime employment since I was axed back in Feb. ’08) there is nowhere else for journalists to go. All the PR jobs are gone or being cut back. Education is being slaughtered around the country. There seems to be very little options for anyone these days. I wish Tony the best of luck, but I fear he’s got nowhere to go. Sad stuff all around this crumbling country.

  • 3 Chuck Hickey // May 4, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    I continue to be at a loss for words at what has happened in the past decade to Southern California journalism, especially sports journalism.

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