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March 13, 2009

Is the owner of the Contra Costa Times facing bankruptcy? What does that mean? Should we care?

Bankrcupty: That's the word the New York Times uses in describing the current financial challenges of MediaNews Group, the company that owns the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Tri-Valley Herald—in effect, most of the newspapers ringing the Bay Area, as well as others across the United States.


The MediaNews Group, according to the New York Times, is seen “as being at risk of bankruptcy.” (Moody's Investor Service uses a bit more delicacy in referring to MediaNews's troubles. While the Service put MediaNews in its new Bottom Rung list of more than 200 companies, out of more than 2,000, most likely to default on their debts, it said defaulting on debt "doesn't necessarily mean bankrcuptcy." Still, being on this list means MediaNews is not in great shape.)

In its story, the New York Times looks at major metropolitan areas that have not only lost two major competing daily newspapers over the past five-10 years, but might soon be without one at all. “Now, some economists and newspaper executives say it is only a matter of time — and probably not much time at that — before some major American city is left with no prominent local newspaper at all.”


We’ve all read that San Francisco is facing the loss of the Chronicle, which bled $50 million last year. Its owner, Hearst Corporation, says it will need to sell the Chronicle unless its managers can rein in significant cost savings, probably from laying off a number of its staff.


With this report about Media News, it makes me wonder whether our East Bay suburban communities are also at risk of losing some or all of our newspapers? Or an even more severe cutback in reporters and coverage of our communities?


Does it matter?


Should we care, when we have local bloggers, like Claycord.com, rising up to provide the really local news that people want and that—yes, I agree—the Times sometimes fails to provide?

Then again, the Times and other local, regional, and national newspapers, despite their challenges, still do really good, vital reporting--the kind that bloggers like me can't--or don't--do. For example, Contra Costa Times reporters can dig around through public records in government offices or nag government or business leaders at work about some pressing local issue. On breaking news about some major crime or other calamity, they can also do the necessary on-the-ground reporting. I don't know about other local bloggers, but I have a day job; I do this in my spare time, and, for instance, government offices are closed at night and on weekends.

Which means that I sometimes—okay, I’ll say it—steal content from the Times and the San Francisco Chronicle for my own posts. Of course, I always give those publications credit for the information.


So, I care about the Contra Costa Times going out of business or cutting back on local coverage even more.

And, as a former newspaper reporter, I adhere to that whole notion of a free, independent press—the Fourth Estate—serving as a watchdog of government and as yet another necessary check on a system that so easily careens into the muck of inefficiency and corruption. That's the digging around and nagging of people in power that I was talking about.


We can rely on newspaper stories being professionally reported, written, and edited. I won’t say that the quality or objectivity of that reporting, writing and editing is always as top-notch as it could be, but the reporting, at least, sticks to basic standards.


I also don’t want to knock the hard work and quality control exercised by bloggers, including local ones like Claycord.com. Actually, there are several reasons that Claycord.com is as good as it is, and one is that its publisher, the Mayor of Claycord, according to his own biographical information, has a professional journalism background. That means, he knows how to gather and deliver information in a quality, professional, ethical way. That professionalism is apparent in his posts. In fact, the best blogs, locally or nationally, present a degree of professionalism.


Meanwhile, I am one of those anachronisms who likes to sit in the morning, early, before anyone else gets up, by myself and with my coffee, perusing the print editions of the Contra Costa Times and the Chronicle.


At the same time, I appreciate that this old print model is, in most ways, outdated. During the day, while at work, on or the weekends, I check the Contra Costa Times and Chronicle websites, as well as those of national news outlets, to see if anything pressing, interesting, or fun is going on in the world. So, do a lot of people. In fact, according to Time magazine, “Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people.”


It’s just that newspapers are having a hard time finding ways to make money off all the content they provide—for free, on their websites, which consumers have come to expect and take for granted. As Time says, “according to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines.” The idea was that newspapers and magazines would make money for the content they provided by selling ads. But newspapers haven’t been selling enough online ads. That has become even more of an issue in this tough economy with struggling businesses cutting back on their advertising budgets.


Newspapers need to find ways to make money off the content they provide. They need to stay in business and employ reporters and editors who provide that content.


Because, we do need our local newspapers, even if we’re reading them online, just as we need radio and TV stations covering local news, and just as we need local bloggers. All these outlets offer different choices and perspectives and they all complement one another in providing the information we the public so desperately want.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting to hear the words "Free independant press" and "Contra Costa Times" in the same sentence.

The times has not been a free independent paper since Dean Lesher died.

The Times like most other "authorized media" for the last decade has traded oversight for access and allowed their franchise to be used to practice slight of hand with local and regional politicians for the benefit of both and to the severe detriment of the "citizens".

I say let the Times close and go away - they (and most newspapers and TV "news" organizations) have ceased their watchdog role and sold out the people. They deserve to be ridiculed, disdained and shut down.

FightislamNow

Anonymous said...

Crazy lady, I used to be like you. But now all my news comes on line. I think they could shut down their print and focus on line personally. But their online version sucks too because as soon as I "sign up" just to read the g-damn articles, it forgets who I am , I have to get a new one, or I have to say forget password and get a new one, even though there is only one I would've used. It sucks! Why do we have to register just to read their news. THey are losing more than just me by doing what they're doing. They suck at their online media and they need a real media shark to advise them on how to rise above the ashes, but they probably can't afford anyone "real" over there anymore.

Anonymous said...

I am ready to cancel my subscription to the Times because
(1) I am sick and tired of trying to read news stories written by reporters who do not know how to construct a sentance or use proper punctuation, and (2) there are just way too manyads to plow through in order to find the news.

So far, the only thing that keeps my subscription current is that I love to be entertained by the same dolts with their same rants on the letters to the editors page. That and the daily Sudoku

SusanSearcher said...

I do respect the opinions left in the comments. That said, I do agree with Crazy in Suburbia. While we can criticize the writers and publication management all we want, the Contra Costa Times provides a service that is sorely needed in our community. Frankly, the job the newspaper does is commendable.

Granted, due to escalating costs and declining revenue, there have been significant changes in the publication. The publication is smaller, there seem to be more formatting, spelling and grammar problems, but you know what - the folks writing the articles and managing the editing and production are human. Just like most (if not all) businesses, they are forced to do more with less due to sheer economics. The deadlines and timelines for production and distribution are extremely tight. They make mistakes - we all do.

I contend that it would be a travesty to lose our local publication. I too enjoy reading the copy over my morning coffee or on the train on my way to or from work. I like reading the stories about what is happening in our community - you cannot easily get most of that information anywhere else.

With or without our support, I think we are going to see the demise of our local information source. It's a sign of the times, unfortunately.

Where does it stop, I ask? Will we lose the ability to buy a hard-copy book as well? A magazine? Will all advertisements and solicitations for our business and recreation be online? Should we digitize all publications and let that be the only mode of communication? How will those not fortunate enough to have ready access to the digitized versions get their information?

I say heck no! I prefer multiple communication streams - that's why the call it MULTI-media.

MisterWriter said...

As anyone who has had a CCT subscription will tell you, you cannot cancel it - they keep coming. I suspect that is why they are now broke!

Anonymous said...

The story doesn't say they are broke, just that they are in bad shape.Who isn't? The Moody's thing is worrisome, being so low rated. Even if MediaNews Group says we're bankrupt doesn't mean the paper closes. It just isn't good.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am one who loves to read the newspaper with my coffee in the morning. But I'm tired of being told what to think. There's a difference between reporting (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) and editorializing, which is what we get now. I'll pick my own sources and that way I can read all sides of a story, not be force-fed one person's opinion.

Anonymous said...

I cancelled my subscription and they kept on sending the paper.

They then told me I owed them for the time the continued to deliver it.

I told them REPEATEDLY to go to hell.

After about 6 months of this, they called me and said they would forgive my "debt" if I would agree to pay them $10 for 3 months of delivery service.

I did. They forgave, I pay $10 for 90 papers, delivered. How can they survive on .11 cents a paper, delivered?

I assume that they want their circulation numbers artificially inflated so they can claim to advertisers that they reach 2.1 million customers.

Anonymous said...

I hope they go bankrupt. They are so dicey. I tried to cancel for several months and then they finally canceled but not without making me pay almost 40 for them sending me papers for several months. Then harassing me saying they would send me to collections if I didnt pay. They are the worst.

Anonymous said...

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