Dateline San Diego-Time of Uncertainty

Posted by on May 13th, 2015  •  0 Comments  • 

Wall Street says the economy is improving in America.

You couldn’t tell that from the media industry. Yes, there may 225,000-new jobs last month nationwide, and yes unemployment may be 5.8%, but the world of the working media continues to shrink, with layoffs, consolidation of jobs, and a talent pool of quality people still looking for new opportunities.

Just ask the employees at the San Diego Union Tribune, where their world was rocked when the newspaper was sold by non-media owner Doug Manchester, to the Tribune Company, parent company of the Los Angeles Times.

At first glance, you say great news, for the LA Times is a standard bearer in the industry. News content globally, out of Washington, DC, and from the state capitol Sacramento, probably means better content for the news sections for the UT.

But if I were working in sports, I’d be concerned about the numbers of staffers in the newsroom, for when the Times starts shipping some of its content to San Diego, there may be not be a need for the numbers of reporters working in that sports section.

Manchester may well have been the entrepreneur in the purchase of the UT a couple of years back. The real sports advocate was John Lynch, the broadcast exec, who loved sports, and pioneered expansion of the staff and the building out of the Sunday sports section, hoping to make it what the legendary Boston Globe was on a Sunday.

But Lynch is gone, done in by his 7M-investment in the boondoggle that was UTTV-the TV studios and product that was supposed to rival the morning TV-news magazines already on the air in an overcrowded market. They hired a lot of staffers for that TV side, and they are all gone.

The sports section is very good, if you have time to read all the creative content they put in it, though I am not sure you need four people writing about the Chargers and columnist after columnist writing point-counter-point pieces on this Bolt topic or another.

There has to be concern about the sports writing jobs at the UT offices in Mission Valley, especially if the works of the LA Times lead columnists Bill Plaschke or Bill Dwyer are imported here. Granted I doubt few want to read much about the Lakers-Clippers-Dodgers-Kings-Ducks-UCLA or USC except on an occasional big story basis. However their weekly MLB-NBA-NHL columns outshine San Diego’s content. There just won’t be enough space for all that content in the merged sport-sections.

And will San Diego invoke their ‘I hate all things LA’ mind-set and revolt against reading anything based out of LA?

Once upon a time, there were diverse talents and opinions in our San Diego market. In the 25-years I have done sports-talk here, we have had the Morning Union, the afternoon Tribune, the Escondido Times Advocate, the Oceanside Blade Citizen, the Daily Californian, and access to the LA Herald Examiner, when it was alive. There was even an LA Times edition for San Diego County just a decade or so ago. They all had different beat writers, different takes, different agendas, different styles.

There are a combined 23-to-25 full time staffers in that sports department corner in Mission Valley, and another 10-to-15 stringers too. The circulation is in the neighborhood of 230,000. The website gets maybe 1,200 hits a day, not much for a 3.5M market. It is what’s left of what was a pretty vibrant, competitive newspaper market. They, the reporting staff and the business side of the paper, will be moving out of their corporate offices within a year, and may be actually printing the paper out of market also.

The print media as we knew it then, now they are all gone. The Union and Tribune merged. The UT’s new owners bought up the consolidated Times Advocate-Blade Citizen merged paper (North County Times) and the Californian, and folded them, putting people out of work.

The industry has indeed changed; less money for advertising; less subscribers; fewer jobs in the industry. And I am not sure for the better.

If I were king, and if the Union-Tribune internet is to grow as a digital money-maker, I’d keep the sports staff intact, divide the responsibilities.

Give me a columnist for the paper, and a separate one for the website. Ditto, by breaking up the Chargers and Padres writers. Give me an across the board college writer for that website to cover and write lots for all schools, not just San Diego State, but everything down from USD to Mira Costa. Do the same deal with the ever interesting high school beats. Make these guys compete against each other as if they were separate outlets.

Tough days ahead for people you know, read, might like or dislike. No one, not Nick Canepa, Kevin Acee, Chris Jenkins, the columnists, or the host of Chargers-Padres-Aztecs-Golf-or High School beat writers know what lays ahead once the format of the LA Times takeover happens.

The economy may be improving for Wal-Mart type jobs, but it surely isn’t in the working media. Manchester takes his money and leaves, and the sports-staff is left behind to face buyouts, layoffs, firings and sadly the end of some careers.

If I were king, I’d try to keep as many good people as possible, to serve the widest audience possible. Try it. It beats a staff meeting where everybody gets a brown envelope with exit papers to sign, and box to pack your desk and leave. I hope it works out for some of my friends.

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