That Nieman Lab story mentioned above focused on Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund ownership group of Digital First Media, solidified a decision for me this week to discontinue freelancing for the Southern California News Group, the company that laid me off four months ago.
I thought I understood why I was OK taking one for the team after working for SCNG over the last 30-plus years.
But then stories started popping up concerning employees at other Alden papers — in Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area, St. Paul — that didn’t add up.
The chart with this story showing all the profits the company has made in the wake of massive layoffs at all the properties was just too much to stomach.
It’s a major disappointment that the top editors at SCNG — and the Orange Country Register is now the entity that apparently wags the dog for the group that includes the L.A. Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Riverside Press-Enterprize and five others — have not publicly stood up to Alden in the elegant way those have at the Denver Post, for example. Nor have they been transparent with the readers about any of this.
Their attempt to get people to understand the situation of local journalism a few Sunday’s ago, along with the paper hat sailing on a sea of newsprint, decided to bypass a major red flag and fear riling up the ownership while pointing the finger at those who keep accepting news for free. Even the L.A. Times’ rewrite of their collection of editorials, as well as the followup by LAObserved.com, could see that was missing. The SCNG stories never mentioned Alden by name. It cowardly tried to present the situation in another, pitiful way.
“We’re not giving up,” SCNG exec editor Frank Prine wrote. “We do, however, need your support.”
Alas, support from the public isn’t enough to save this. It needs strong local ownership who believe in the product and has the resources and guile to make it work in the 21st Century.
There was another story — this one by former L.A. Times sportswriter Mike Littwin, now at the Colorado Independent — to really drive home a point about what employees need to do if they didn’t want to be hypocritical.
“We are in a crisis,” wrote Littwin. “That’s why (Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck) Plunkett (who quit) and (Boulder Daily Camera editorial page editor Dave) Krieger (who was fired) risked their jobs. It’s a crisis not just for us journalists, but for everyone in the state and the community that values journalism. Applauding Plunkett’s bravery changes nothing. Waiting around for some hero — one, preferably, who doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck — changes nothing. So, what do we do? We follow Plunkett’s lead.”
I would like to follow Plunkett’s lead, and the lead of several SCNG former employees who walked away. Our following through on this comes with much less bravado.
Of course it would have been more difficult to quit as a full-time employee right now than had I not already been kicked to the curb. Even knowing the scarcity of the journalistic job market these days, enough people did voluntarily leave during the last round of layoffs. I’d like to think I would have as well. I got let go before I had the chance to make a real decision. Now, this is the best I can do to rectify that, after trying to take the high road and, feeling more upset for the readers than myself, deciding to freelance columns for SCNG and perhaps soften the blow. They wouldn’t notice if I was full-time or not.
While I have some limited financial security at home, but you gotta be able to live with yourself. I couldn’t do that any more.
Intellectually, it’s what journalism is supposed to be — making everyone, including ourselves, feel uncomfortable and rake the muck if we believe what’s true and accurate. The reality is that Alden, like most hedge fund companies, don’t seem to care how they affect people’s livelihoods. Free enterprise and the laws in place gives them the ability to pillage as they do, rescue stray businesses, put them on life support, then hope to sell it for a profit down the road. What Alden has done instead is gut local journalism to support the misfortunes of their other poor investments.
They could have allowed all the SCNG newspapers to go bankrupt and fold as many have done around the country. But at least that would have been a dignified death.
This is a public inhumane torture — buying the paper, selling off their brick-and-mortar offices for real estate profit, moving the shrunken staff into a smaller office space rental, demanding more voluntary buyouts, then resorting to a lot more layoffs after promising all had been done to balance their books.
There was a time when I promoted the cause for supporting local journalism by encouraging the public to buy a subscription. I can’t do that any longer here, with new knowledge that it doesn’t matter, and won’t help keep anyone employed. The readers aren’t idiots. They always could throw the argument back at me: Would you buy something that costs more than twice as much now than it did a couple of years ago for less than half the content it used to have?
I can’t defend that either.
I love my friends who still work at SCNG. It just wasn’t reciprocated by management. I tried to soften the blow for readers the last few months and continued to write despite all the emotional tornado going on inside me. I enjoyed the exposure and ability to write stories like the ones recently about Lindsay Amstutz and Donna Moskal. Even the firestorm that started with my piece about the Dodgers SportsNet LA folks gray area between reporting and acting like journalists.
I’m not disappearing. I just need a new gig.
I’m so very sorry it had to come to this.
Can I leave you my business card?