By: Mark Fitzgerald
Long Beach, Calif., City Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga wants her old Press-Telegram back.
“Historically, Long Beach has always prided itself in having its own home town newspaper,” she said by telephone. “Even tough the Press-Telegram was regional, Long Beach was the big fish. And we also had the Los Angeles Times here with a Long Beach bureau, so we really had some good competition for news in Long Beach, and we thought that was a good thing.”
“But now, we are kind of able to see the demise of the Long Beach Press-Telegram,” she added. “I can’t say it any other way — it’s getting thinner and thinner.”
What most upset her, though, was MediaNews Group’s decision to move the P-T’s copy and design desks to its sibling The Daily Breeze in Torrance. As part of that move, P-T Publisher Dave Kuta and Managing Editor were fired and replaced by their counterparts at the Daily Breeze. Another eight newsroom employees are expected to lose their jobs in the reorganization.
So Councilwoman Reyes Uranga is raising the possibility of having the city protest those cuts by pulling its legal notices and events advertising from the newspaper.
“We spend a couple of hundred thousand a year because we’re mandated (to advertise) public hearings, and we also spend a lot advertising for our community functions,” she said. “So what I want to say is, from a taxpayer’s point of view, what are we getting for our money?”
At a City Council meeting attended by some 50 current and former P-T unionized employees, Reyes Uranga proposed a motion asking the city manager to compile a report on how much Long Beach spends for ads in the P-T, and what its spending has been historically. The proposal passed unanimously.
P-T Executive Editor Rich Archbold said at the meeting pulling ads would be just one more blow to the paper.
“As I said at the meeting, I think it’s a terrible idea,” he told E&P. “It just means there’s more revenue they’re going to take from the resources we have to do our job.”
Archbold said that he’s as unhappy about anyone about the cuts, but that they can’t be avoided given the California economy with its deep housing slump and the newspaper industry’s woes.
“I simply told everybody in the audience, and the City Council, that the Press-Telegram is here to stay,” Archbold said. “There are all these bloggers saying, ‘It means the end of the Press-Telegram, the demise of this great paper, blah, blah, blah. … But local (coverage) decisions are being made here. We’re not losing local control.”
Archbold said the paper has as many reporters covering Long Beach and its environs as it had before.
“We’ve been here for more than a hundred years,” added Archbold, who’s been at the paper for 30 of them, “and we’re not going anywhere. And these budget reductions, as painful as they are, ensure we are going to stay here — and we’re still the dominant voice of news and information in Long Beach, and that’s not going to change.
Reyes Uranga, though, is skeptical of Archbold’s case to the City Council.
“He was adamant about the city not touching their advertising dollars because that would disable the Press-Telegram, and really help them have layoffs,” she said. “Well, we have been putting a lot of money into the Press-Telegram — and they are still making layoffs. So where’s our money going?”
There seems to be surprising support for Reyes Uranga’s protest of the reductions, said P-T reporter Joe Segura, the union steward of Southern California Media Guild/CWA Local 9400, which represents the paper’s newsroom and circulation employees.
But he adds that reductions at the paper are nothing new. “Our problems here track back to 1997 when (MediaNews Group CEO William Dean) Singleton first took over here,” Segura said in a telephone interview. “We’ve been downsized repeatedly. We don’t believe we can deliver the type of journalism that this city deserves, and is entitled to.”
He said people are “stunned” when they learn how small the staff is. Take away sports reporters and other beat reporters and there are seven journalists “remaining to do everything else” in the sixth-largest city in California.
“The math doesn’t add up — they’re giving us an impossible mission so we’re fighting back,” he said.
The union has worked without a contract for a year now, and talks, he said, “have gotten nowhere.”
Three council members have written the paper in support of the union, Executive Editor Archbold said. “They’d like to see a contract — and so would we,” he said.