Sunday, July 15, 2007

Why It Matters

Hey folks,

When I opened my copy of Time magazine this morning, I found our rather ashen-looking mayor staring back at me from page 18. Alongside Michael Chertoff warning about the dangers of terrorists and Richard Carmona complaining about the politicization of the surgeon general's job, Villaraigosa said "I don't believe tht the details of my personal life are relevant to my job as mayor."

The reason people from Chula Vista to Bangor, Maine know that the mayor stepped outside his marriage to take up with Mirthala Salinas comes directly from our newsroom. Had Beth Barrett not broken that hotly anticipated story, he wouldn't have to be answering those tough questions right now. And it's not just a national story-- this showed up in the Guardian, leaving many Brits to scratch their heads, no doubt, and wonder, "who's this Villa-what's-his-name bloke? And what are those crazy Angelenos up to now, anyhow?"

As they keep reading, they see that "the little Daily News outhustled the LA Times," to borrow a line from a recent Kevin Roderick podcast. It didn't take fancy gizmos, a staff of hundreds or anything besides good, hard work from Beth, Nancy, Minerva, Miriam, Judi, Ron and everyone else who pitched in on it. With dedication and great reporting skills, they broke a story that grabbed the eyes of people all over the world.

And though that was essentially a print story, without all the online hoo-ha that we've been building up lately, it was through that the world paid attention. That's the same Web site that was named best in the state by CNPA yesterday. With our tiny staff, nickel budget and clunky system, we held our own against newspapers large and small all across California. We did so due to your hard work and excellent content. You (and Josh Kleinbaum, most of all) made people care.

While my main purpose here is to recognize everyone's fine contributions to this paper, I'm not doing this just to brag. As I've noted before, the industry is in an extremely rocky patch right now and conditions are terrible everywhere. As our corporate overseers look for more ways to wring every last cent out of the Daily News with minimal investment in return, we're going to have learn to adapt and survive.

The only way we'll be able to do that is if we work together. We've got to put in a universally solid effort every day and look out for one another all the time if we're going to get through this. We're blessed with an amazingly talented staff, innovative editors and a wealth of subjects to cover, but we've got a hard fight to stay alive in this rotten corporate environment. The more we hang together, the easier that fight will be.

And it's worth fighting, too. I was reminded of that recently when I went out to cover a funeral mass of a soldier killed in Iraq. We'd run a front page obituary the day before and several people at the mass came over to talk to me afterward. Neither one knew the man who died, but they came to pay their respects because they were moved by his story of sacrifice.

"Thank you for coming," one guy told me. "I'm glad the Daily News is here-- you always let me know what's happening in my community."

So whether it's for people reading us in Nottingham or North Hollywood, we've got to keep at it. You guys are smart, talented and hard-working and it shows every day in the product you put out. Let's keep that alive.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know Brent, you are a nice guy, BUT you have to stop cheerleading for the suits...

The truth is, we are being exploited...people - good people - keep leaving the newsroom and they don't get replaced. Instead, the work get spread among us who are staying and who are ALREADY working hard, almost slaving...

And now, I read comments like yours:

"The only way we'll be able to do that is if we work together. We've got to put in a universally solid effort every day and look out for one another all the time if we're going to get through this"

Oh, my mistake..we've all been working half-assed all this time.

My advice to my fellow journalist: Find a job somewhere else.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

While I'm glad you think I'm a nice guy, I respectfully disagree with your anonymous comments.

First off, I have no love for the suits or this corporation. I think what MediaNews has done to its papers and the good people who work for them is reprehensible. In the interest of making money, it's starved communities of the quality journalism they deserve.

I've watched many of my friends walk out the door, never to return, in my seven years here. I've seen the staff shrink, coverage get tighter and all of us shoulder greater burdens. It sucks, no matter how you look at it. I've gone to too many farewell lunches and told too many sources, "I'm sorry, we don't cover that anymore." It makes me furious.

And I don't begrudge anyone who leaves-- we've all got our responsibilities to families, bills, and ultimately, ourselves. But I also have tremendous respect for everyone who's stayed to keep the paper going. I've stuck around because I believe in the paper, not the company. Perhaps there will come a day where it doesn't make sense anymore, but until that day comes, I will keep at it.

Since you've chosen to remain anonymous, I'll go ahead and assume that you're like most of us, a hard-working person who's just frustrated with the workload. With few exceptions, both among employees and management, this is a great staff and everyone does put in that extra effort without complaint.

I never said you (whoever you are) or anyone else is working half-assed. We've come a long way from the dysfunction I saw when I first got here-- in fact, as resource-starved and body-strapped as we are, I'd say this is the most talented, unified staff I've seen in years-- but if we just sit back and complain that things aren't as good as they were 15 years ago, we're not going to get anywhere.

We can complain, fight back against the bottom-liners and cheap jerks who care more profit goals than good journalism -- and we should -- but we can't let our frustration get in the way of the product. We have to keep this paper alive, because, left to the guys off in Denver, it would be a far different product than what this community loves.

I understand your frustration, believe me, I do. I feel it too, every time I look around at the empty desks, every time the system crashes, every time I have to let a story slide because we just don't have the time or the resources to cover it. I have plenty of sleepless nights and, as I've noted before, I have a lot less hair than I did in my old press pass photo. It pains me to see the staff and the product suffer.

But this is the only job I've ever wanted to do since I was 15 years old. It's the only thing I have any experience or any skills in. I love what I do for a living. I want to make this into a place where I can do that job the way I want to, with the people who've become like my family. That's why I stay and why I work those same long hours you do. And I'll keep doing that until I can't see the light anymore.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brent's a nice guy who's an apologist for some not-so-nice guys.

He's basically a Vichy leader, exhorting his oppressed charges to toil ever harder on behalf of their oppressor. He does this because his union is too weak to effectively challenge the forced downsizing of the newsroom or other management prerogatives.

But what choice does he have, really? He could encourage his fellow-unionists to give up the fight, to put in minimum effort because their employer doesn't care and won't pay for quality anyway, or he can do what he's doing to slow the Daily News' sad descent into irrelevance and financial collapse.

It's not an enviable position to be in.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you're an apologist, and I certainly think you have a clear view of reality.

And I also think you know that we're only working for ourselves, and because we're too dedicated not to give it our best shot, no matter what.

But don't think for a minute that dedication and loyalty means a thing in this business, and certainly not with this employer. Dedication, loyalty, talent, experience, awards -- none of those mean a darn thing. The only thing that matters if the bottom line, and it's pretty hard to care about an employer who I know doesn't care a bit about me.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

Wow, now I'm a nice guy who's a Nazi sympathizer. Thanks for the kind words, anony-commenter number three, but I think I'll pass on that compliment.

While there's some truth to what you're saying, you're mistaken when you say that our union can only sit back and take what MediaNews crams down our throat. As a result of our contract and our relationship with management, we've been able to work through quite a few rocky situations that could have gone much worse for all of us. While I wish we had a stronger contract that would prevent some of the poor decisions the company's made in the past, you're right, there's only so much we can do with the tools we have.

But why are we spending this time attacking each other? That's not going to make your job or mine any easier. I wholeheartedly agree with the fourth commenter, that we're all too dedicated to this product and to ourselves (if not our cheap-o company) not to give it our best shot. I'd rather focus on taking that shot than bickering with my coworkers. While you're welcome to pick on me all you want, I'm hoping that we can put aside some of the rhetoric and move on.

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Brent, I'm sorry you've taken these comments the wrong way. We have nothing against you. You are in the same boat as the rest of us - only you refuse to see the situation for what it is....

Good luck my friend.

12:11 AM  

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