By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The Not-So-Secret Sharer
The content-sharing deal between the Register and MediaNews hasn't led to cuts at the Reg—yet
Last month, the Weekly broke the news of a content-sharing agreement between The Orange County Register and Dean Singleton's MediaNews Inc. (see "Singletoned Out?" Feb. 12)—a story that quickly became a source of panic among Register staffers, according to anonymous sources at the paper.
Among other things, the story included a Register staffer's account of editor Ken Brusic saying at a town hall meeting that sports and entertainment beats—specifically that of Hollywood reporter Barry Koltnow—could be discarded thanks to the deal. That source told the Weekly that Koltnow attended the meeting. Koltnow, who didn't respond to an interview request for that story, now insists he wasn't there.
"I wasn't at the meeting, so obviously, the exchange never happened," Koltnow says.
Brusic did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Koltnow won't say whether he was aware of the content-sharing deal, but two other sources at the paper confirmed it is already in place. (The fact that stories by Register reporters have already begun appearing in Singleton papers is additional evidence.) "The content is being shared," says one Register staffer. "It's all playing out step by step. I'm dealing with people asking what I'm working on in the next couple of weeks because they're sending it to the Daily News [in Los Angeles] to see what they want. That's never happened before."
"What's happened speaks for itself," says another Register staff member. "The content sharing is real, and it's up to the higher-ups to use as they see fit. We are in the dark as far as how it plays out, but we're all worried about it."
Although Register stories have been running in Singleton papers in recent weeks, the Register has yet to lay off any reporters or retire any beats thanks to the deal. However, since the original Weekly story ran, MediaNews has laid off dozens of reporters at newspapers throughout the chain, with some of the heaviest hits taking place at the Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram. On Feb. 29, 22 newsroom employees lost their jobs at the Daily News; that same day, Singleton essentially merged the Press-Telegram with the Torrance-based Daily Breeze, cutting almost a dozen jobs in the process.
The fact that all the attrition has occurred on the MediaNews end of the content-sharing deal suggests that Singleton is using the arrangement to ease the pain of his own staff cuts, not as a step toward an eventual takeover of the Register, as some have feared. (Singleton unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the Register from the Hoiles family in 2003).
"Everyone views this as Singleton trying to take us over, but I view it as Singleton using us to lay off his own people," one Register staffer says. "It's not a threat yet. Could it be in six months? Sure. But it's not a threat right now."
* * *
While Singleton thins his herd, things aren't going much better at the Los Angeles Times, according to a staffer at the newspaper's Orange County bureau. Ever since real-estate mogul Sam Zell purchased the paper from the Chicago-based Tribune Co. earlier this year, morale has steadily worsened amid a stream of layoffs, buyout offers and incendiary, somewhat embarrassing comments by Zell—our personal favorite being "It's un-American not to like pussy," reportedly uttered while he was expressing his support of selling strip-club ads in the paper.
"We thought the Tribune people were the most clueless people we had ever encountered," the Times staffer says. "When Zell came in, there was a lot of hope and great optimism. But very quickly, like in a week, when he made his 'pussy' comment, that came to an end. He doesn't seem very interested in journalism."
Although Zell had stated publicly that he wanted to hire more reporters to work in Orange County, that hasn't happened yet. "We have heard that so many times, but there are no indications he will do that," the staffer says. "It's sad. The Register deteriorates every day, but there are no indications [Zell] will beef up Orange County. It wouldn't surprise anyone if there are more layoffs and budget cuts. Just when you think morale can't get any worse, it does."