Why is it news when Dean Singleton competes in Eureka, but not news when he works to destroy daily newspaper competition in the Bay Area?
By Bruce B. Brugmann (B3)
In my first journalism class at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in the fall of l953, Professor Nathan Blumberg laid out the useful concept of Afghanistanism. This means, he said with gusto, that the press covers the big story in Afghanistan (obviously, times have changed) instead of covering the big local scandal in their own city (obviously, as I am reporting, times have not changed on this score). He spent the rest of the semester outlining local scandals that the local press in many cities was censoring or trivializing. He ended the semester with a rousing rendition of Upton Sinclair's "The Brass Check," his bible of the pattern of Afghanistanism in many American newspapers.
To bring the concept up to date, let us take the Sunday Aug. l3 story in the Sunday Magazine of the San Francisco Chronicle click here. It was a long, detailed, colorful story with lots of photos titled “RUMBLE IN THE REDWOODS, What happens when two daily newspapers duke it out in a market known more for its weed than its writing?” It details, way way up in the redwoods, out there by the ocean, up by the Oregon border, a long long way north of San Francisco, that rare example of head-to-head daily newspaper competition. A Dean Singleton/MediaNews group daily (the Eureka Times-Standard) is being forced to compete ferociously with a new upstart daily (the Eureka Reporter) founded by a local financier/tax attorney/banker called Robin P. Arkley II The lead sums up the point of the story: “It is the unlikeliest retail war in the unlikeliest market, a high-stakes game of chicken in a place so offbeat, it is now the setting for a new Sci-Fi Channel show.”
Just as in the old days when there was real daily competition in San Francisco, the publishers and editors and staff take public shots at each other. Arkley is quoted as saying that “I get tired of the Times-Standard saying ‘Rob is trying to put us out of business.’ I mean (the Times Standard and parent Media News) are a monopoly in every market they are in, whining like a bunch of babies…The first lick of competition they get they scream like they are getting (screwed)…They are not having any fun.”
Arkley says he launched the Reporter out of a desire for more local news. “I noticed over the generations the Times-Standard to the ‘Sub-Standard’ to the ‘Daily Disappointment.’ It was not publishing local news…Part of the challenge for local communities today is to keep our local identities. And one of the easiest and most direct ways to do that is with our local newspapers. I felt we needed a local paper again.”
Arkley says he no longer reads the Times-Standard but Singleton says he reads the Reporter, which he derisively calls “a shopper” because it is delivered free to people’s homes. “I watch (the Reporter carefully,” Singleton says in his Rocky Mountain twang (his company is based in Denver). “But when you get right down to it, it is not really a quality newspaper…I think it makes (Arkley) think he is a big man in town. I am not sure buying a printing press and throwing papers around makes you a big man in town, but he thinks it does.”
In short, Joel Davis, a former Times-Standard entertainment and news editor from l988 to l995 and now a Sacramento journalist and college journalism instructor, wrote a nice yarn that inadvertently made a most telling point on the state of journalism in California and the country today.
For Hearst in San Francisco, which finally got what it always wanted in San Francisco (a virtual morning daily monopoly), and for Singleton, who hates competition with a passion and now is moving lockstep with Hearst toward regional monopoly, old-fashioned daily newspaper competition is a slam bang big story—but only if it is up in Eureka. The real story, how Hearst and Singleton are destroying daily competition and imposing even more conservative monopoly journalism on one of the most liberal and civilized regions of the world, is not much of a story at all. It is only a story to be minimized, marginalized, censored, covered in fragments, and buried deep in the business section (See our coverage and our blogs)
The latest example: in Tuesday’s Chronicle, buried on page 2 of the business section, was a “Daily Digest” short under a wimpy little head titled “Foundation among MediaNews backers.” It was an Associated Press story out of Seattle which provided a nugget of new information from an Aug. 8th Securities and Exchange filing. The nugget: that the Bill @ Melinda Gates Foundation had invested an unspecified amount of money in the megaconglomerate deal.
The news was three weeks old. It was published a week after the Contra Costa times ran it. I did a blog on it a week ago. It was written by the Associated Press out of Seattle, not a Chronicle cityside reporter or one of the legion of Chronicle business reporters. The four paragraph story once again amounted to only a fragment of an item that begged for a real comprehensive story. Not once has the Chronicle or any of the papers involved in the deal (Hearst/Singleton/Gannett/Stephens/McClatchy) done the kind of full and complete story, on this unprecedented major local story, and its adverse consequences to their local communities, that they would have done on anybody else. Not once to my knowledge have any of the monopoly publishers or their editors or columnists had a cross word to say publicly about the others or about the march to regional monopoly.
Eureka! Here comes Eurekaism! B3
P.S.: One thing I like about Dean Singleton is that, when a reporter calls him for a quote, he is not afraid to give him some juicy ones.
P.S. l: Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps one of the megaconglomerators has done a real story on the real consequences of such consolidation and regional monopoly on their staffs, the health and welfare of their communities, and the competing voices concept underlying the First Amendment and all good journalism. So I will be announcing a blog game: LET'S PLAY EUREKA! And I will ask people to send me any articles or editorials or columns in any of the megaconglomerate papers that they think laid out the real story. B3