Los Angeles Times buys up U-T San Diego

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The news gathering business is a tricky game these days. If a traditional news organization doesn’t have a vibrant and very dynamic Internet presence, it is doomed. Newspapers have been falling by the wayside or getting gobbled up by multinational conglomerates for a couple decades. It’s no secret the Internet changed everything.

The Old Gray Lady (screenshot)
The Old Gray Lady

Now, venerable media giants like the New York Times, the Washington Post and even the broadcast networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — have to contend with online giants like the Huffington Post and Politico, to name just two. Plus, they have to compete with faux news sites like the Drudge Report, RedState.com, Townhall, NewsMax, and Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze (You can Google all of them).

Plus all the lesser known and mostly unknown sites — like this one. We’re the little guys. That kook Alex Jones has a site and here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed about TheBlaze.com: they often have actual news articles on their site — mixed in with the hyper-conservative, anti-Obama rants that define their mission in life.

The Internet has just opened up the news business and made it truly an anarchic mish mosh of competing and often extreme viewpoints.

If all you want to read, watch or view is anti-Obama, “I hate liberals” content, there are more than a few sites an angry white conservative can click on and watch. If you only want to read, watch and view “Conservatives are evil criminals” content, well the Internet has you covered. Daily Kos, one of the first online extremely liberal sites is easily available. I must confess: I get their email updates every day.

Big news at the time of these screen grabs: the NFL punishes Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. (screengrab)
Big news at the time of these screen grabs: the NFL punishes Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

That’s the other thing about news today: you can have it delivered to your email daily — for free. Sometimes you are asked to pay a fee for some content, or if you become a paying subscriber you get content that is available only to paying customers. I’ve done that with the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Plus, if you’ve been around the political block for a few decades, you’ll remember liberal icons like The Nation, Mother Jones, The Progressive, The American Prospect and of course Rolling Stone. Ah, Jann Wenner is still alive and kicking — and still in control of his baby, born in the salad days of the San Francisco Flower Power revolution of the 1960’s. All of those publications are in the online world, some better than others.

A note about Rolling Stone, which used to be my favorite American publication. Wikipedia calls it a “fortnightly magazine,” which means it comes out every other week. Ah, those British …

For the longest time RS was the authority in everything counter culture. Then it branched out to include popular culture and now it’s … slick and issuing corrections and apologies. At any rate, it is still a huge, multinational publication, especially now that it can be accessed and distributed online.

A new wrinkle: Nicole P. Eramo, associate dean of students at the University of Virginia, is suing Rolling Stone over the discredited rape story RS ran a few months back.

The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine (Wikimedia)
The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine (Wikimedia)

Some say Wenner “sold out” when he moved the RS to New York from San Francisco. At the time it seemed so, but with its expanding coverage of everything — I mean everything — it had to be centered in New York.

And this brings up another interesting thing about the World Wide Web: I just used Wikipedia to grab a few facts about Rolling Stone. One of the most widely mocked and derided websites available on the Internet, it is also one of the most popular and used websites on the Internet. Even the people who mock Wikipedia admit they often use Wikipedia.

The point of all this being: the Internet has changed everything. I have nieces and nephews that don’t know what the world was like without personal computing devices and the World Wide Web. They don’t even own or use desktop computers and laptops are quickly becoming relics. The big things now are tablets and smart phones and by god, if a news site doesn’t have an app to service all the various operating system platforms, well too effin’ bad.

Using a desktop computer, like the iMac I’m typing into, is old fashioned. But it has a 27-inch monitor. How can an iPad or smart phone compete with that?

But this isn’t about technology; it’s about the ever-changing newsgathering and distributing business, specifically here in Southern California. Last week it was announced the venerable Los Angeles Times bought up the San Diego Union-Tribune, or as it is now called, the U-T San Diego.

This is why people move to Southern California. (Tim Forkes)
This is why people move to Southern California.
(Tim Forkes)

The Times has been around since 1881 and was bought up by Tribune Publishing, which is the actual entity that bought up the U-T. But locally the story is the L.A. Times bought up the San Diego Union-Tribune — which, by the by, was once two competing dailies in San Diego — owned by the same family-owned company.

When I moved to San Diego from Milwaukee, WI, my friend Mark Shurilla (Rest In Peace Mark. Are you rockin’?) told me to look up a friend of his who was an editor at the San Diego Union. As it turned out, the Union merged with the San Diego Evening Tribune and voila! Dreams of furthering my editorial career were crushed just a little more. The same family, the Copleys, owned both papers … yeah, it’s a head scratcher.

The Union was created in 1868 and the Evening Tribune in 1895. In 1928 the Copleys bought both and then merged them 64 years later. Then, in 2009 the Copleys sold the publication to Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills and then it was sold to the Manchester Group in 2011 and now … well, let’s get back to my story.

Huffington Post, the brainchild of Arriana Huffington, has now merged with AOL. (screen shot)
Huffington Post, the brainchild of Arriana Huffington, has now merged with AOL.
(screen shot)

After hearing that I no longer had a contact at the Union I went to Plan B: apply to the San Diego edition of the L.A. Times. I called up and made an appointment with the managing editor of the San Diego bureau and as I was driving to the meet I heard on the radio the Times was closing its San Diego bureau, effective immediately.

This was before cell phones, satellite radio and other technological wonders, so I exited the freeway and found a payphone. The managing editor said it was news to him that morning as well and we agreed meeting would be pointless.

Here we are today. The Tribune Company, which owns a lot of media across America, just bought the U-T San Diego and is looking at ways to merge the paper with the Los Angeles Times. But, the publisher of the Times and the U-T, Austin Beutner, told the Times (his paper) “We’re combining two of the most enduring institutions in California. We can take the best of what each newsroom can offer, and offer it to a broader customer base.”

Okay. So, will it be one “paper” with a San Diego Bureau? No, according to Beutner and the Tribune management. He said the U-T will maintain an independent voice reflecting the San Diego community. Which is currently just over three million surf daddy souls. Six and a half million if you count the burbs.

This means there will be layoffs in San Diego. The U-T currently has just over 500 employees. If the Tribune Company decides to have the U-T printed at the L.A. Times, there goes that group of employees. And there will no doubt be a reduction in editorial staff because the combined news organization doesn’t need writers duplicating coverage, like of the state government for instance.

The first issue of the Crazy Shepard debuted 33 years ago this month. (Jeffrey Jay Worman)
The first issue of the Crazy Shepard debuted 33 years ago this month.
(Jeffrey Jay Worman)

Like newspapers everywhere, there will be some painful downsizing. The publishers of this fine online news establishment have experienced downsizing first hand.

Everything needs to be distributed by electronic devices now. Not just online, but delivery as well. My email gets alerts from a number of different publications. People need to read their news on smartphones and tablets. Just about everything that is available through a computer is accessible by handhelds. If this new company is to grow, they will have to start penetrating the handheld market. The new company by the way is called California News Group. Not the Southern California News Group … Did the rest of California take notice? So which daily is next? The Orange County Register? How about the San Francisco Chronicle — SF Gate online?

Thirty years ago the publication I worked for at the time ran a blurb about how 15 companies owned all the media in the U.S. and we — The Crazy Shepherd/Shepherd Express — were proudly and defiantly independent. It still is, as far as I know.

Today six companies control 90 percent of the U.S. media, according to Business Insider. Even the Huffington Post merged with AOL — what? AOL is still a thing?

Fifteen years ago AOL merged with Time Warner. That was a disaster for Time Warner employees who were pressured to invest a lot of their 401ks into the company to support the merger. The price of AOL/Time Warner stock crashed, deflating the retirements of millions of workers. Oh well …

HuffPost actually moved into the AOL offices in New York, so they really merged. If you go to the AOL website (I just looked at it for the first time today) you will get news from “HuffPost.”

But will they ever give the Over-The-Line tournament the coverage it deserves? This year the 62nd annual OTL begins on July 11 & 12 and then July 18 & 19. The usual rules apply. (Tim Forkes)
But will they ever give the Over-The-Line tournament the coverage it deserves? This year the 62nd annual OTL begins on July 11 & 12 and then July 18 & 19. The usual rules apply. (Tim Forkes)

We can expect the newly formed California News Group to grow. Will it be good for readers and subscribers of the publications it buys up? The one benefit is these communities, like San Diego, will still have a local news outlet, other than the local TV stations. There are still people in this world who like the feel of holding a newspaper or magazine (or book) in their hand and reading it. I still read books, but I haven’t held a newspaper in my hands for more than 10 years. Transferring circulars and fliers from the mailbox to the trash doesn’t count. Odds are most people won’t even notice, as long as the U-T is available for purchase in convenience stores and corner boxes.

But how independent will the news be, if it is all controlled by one group? That’s what we should worry about. Ironically, I’ve always preferred the Times to the U-T anyway, but we should be concerned about editorial independence.

It also means a lot to journalists. We’ve been watching the job market shrink for the past 25 years and this is just one more squeeze. Plus, news outlets report on less and less actual news, preferring the big splash of celebrity news and gossip. Every news organization has published more than a few photos of Kim Kardashian over the past 10-plus years.

My suggestion to the reader: subscribe to this site and receive email alerts from the LAPX in your email. There’s a tab at the top of this page to log in. Click on that and sign up. We are still defiantly independent.

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Late breaking news: It was just announcedthat Verizon, the giant telecom, is buying AOL, which recently merged with the Huffington Post. Did HuffPo management know this was coming, or were they blind-sided by the news?