Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Bee

The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento's hometown newspaper, has undergone a number of changes in recent weeks, none of them positive. A reduction in size, a reduction in staff, and subtle changes here and there have all contributed to a reduction in the quality of the newspaper, and if the slide continues at its current pace, within a year or so there may be no reason for the paper to continue - it will be nothing more than a compendium of wire stories and articles from other newspapers than can be found elsewhere. There are still a number of talented writers on the staff, but that number is dwindling at an alarming rate.

Yesterday, The Bee had a small story, one they did their best to hide from readers, announcing that The Public Editor position was being discontinued. The incumbent in the position, Armando Acuña, will be retained, but no longer play that role. According to the article,

The decision at The Bee "acknowledges several realities, the most pressing being our company's need to focus our resources on newsgathering, advertising sales and customer service," Publisher and President Cheryl Dell said in a memo. "Times have changed since the era in which many ombudsmen and public editor jobs were established. Readers now have multiple ways to be heard within the newspaper and in the community."

It may seem like a small thing, but this decision, more than any which has preceded it, is a clear indication that The Bee is a paper in the throes of a major crisis (and that the industry, unless it develops a new business model, is one facing the prospect of extinction in our lifetime). Set aside for a moment how insulting the Bee's rationale for the decision is to its readership (which is an arguable point, but that's my opinion). Instead, consider the description of the Public Editor function that Mr. Acuña himself wrote, in an email exchange I had with him earlier this year:

"...The Public Editor designation was established to give my office more territory to talk about things occurring not only at the Bee, but at other papers and with the media generally, such as various trends or controversies. The ombudsman designation implies a more rigid structure, where all a person does is take complaints and looks into it. I do that, too, but much more as well."

And that function is what The Bee has decided is no longer necessary to have as a regular feature in the paper. It's a terrible decision on the paper's part, and one that I hope is reconsidered. But I'm not holding my breath.

1 comment:

ByJane said...

I saw that announcement and cheered. After the past two weeks when he called readers "knuckle dusters", I'm not surprised that he was relieved of his position. His distaste for the incursion of the internet on his pristine journalistic territory (is that possible in sports?) has been obvious for a long time. And since the answer to the Bee's problems has everything to do with their ability to meld themselves with multi-media opportunities, his absence can only help the cause.