The Beehive Shrinks

Well, this is sad news to me: The Fresno Bee, which is the newspaper I wrote for lo those many years ago, has basically killed off its local arts and sports coverage, in the process laying off eight reporters, including my very dear friend Donald Munro. Donald worked at the Bee for 26 years and basically inherited my job as movie reviewer (among other responsibilities) after I left to go to AOL. Donald’s own take on events is here; he’s his typically gracious self, which is probably more than I would have been in a similar situation.

I’m sad to see Donald and the others laid off, and I also think it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to eliminate local arts and sports positions in the newsroom. Local news is the thing papers like the Bee (or the Dayton Daily News, my local) do that other papers can’t and won’t do, and which is actually needed — I mean, I don’t subscribe to the DDN for its national coverage. Local arts and sports is part of that coverage no one else will do.

It’s possible the Bee will now just freelance out that work; it’s cheaper that way and they won’t have to carry health insurance or retirement plans (which reminds me, hey, did you know that the GOP is even as I type this working really hard to make health insurance both expensive and useless to everyone again, especially the self-employed?). But here’s the thing — when arts and sports don’t have their advocates in the newsroom, even if editors remember to put them on their daily budgets, they won’t get covered as much, or as often. Which will make the Bee less useful to Fresno over time.

The Bee that Donald and I worked at 26 years ago — he had arrived just before I had, in 1991 — was a different place; it had just added a movie reviewer (me!) to go along with reviewers it already had on its entertainment staff for television, music, restaurants and local events. All those positions are gone now, along with many, many others, the casualty of the transition to digital and other economic forces in journalism. I miss it; I miss the features newsroom with all its clever and committed folks writing about what was going on in town.

Donald was my last link to that time, still in the Bee newsroom. And while I have no doubt he’ll land well, wherever he goes and whatever he does, I’m sad that link is gone now. And I’m sad the Bee is diminished. Whether it knows it now or not, they’re going to feel the loss. The Bee’s readers will, too.

28 Comments on “The Beehive Shrinks”

  1. I worked in daily newspapers until 2000, and wow has the industry changed for the reasons you say. I think quite a bit about the future of journalism, because OMG it is so needed.

    The family that owned my local paper for generations sold it to Buffett’s chain, so that was good, but the staff is so much smaller now.

  2. That is sad news. I grew up in the conservative SJV. The Fresno Bee was/is the big paper for the region and one you’d rely on for perspectives a bit broader than many of our hometown sheets.

  3. Here in Nevada County, further north in California, our small local paper, The Union, has doubled down on local news, sports, and arts. There’s some token national coverage from the AP but the front page is always dominated with local news. They know it’s what’s keeping them alive. You’d think the McClatchys would know that too.

  4. I was a newspaper editor in chief on the Presidio of San Francisco (my favorite job ever … still to this day). I lament the changes to newspapers and news coverage in general. I’m not shocked that the arts are getting short shrift in the papers, but local sports coverage is a real surprise. Usually that’s preserved at the cost of other things. The Bee is now going the same direction as our local paper, the Mercury News, and that’s not good. I concur with your assessment of penny-wise/pound foolish.

  5. I just don’t get it; I don’t have a reason to subscribe to a local paper except for the local coverage, so the Bee just eliminated one of the major reasons to subscribe to it, which means they’ll eventually lose subscribers.

  6. They will probably replace that section with another pound of advertisement they’ll add to the daily delivery :-(

    Today I got my daily newspaper. To remind everyone of the World Press Freedom Day 2017, they left the first page blank. There was an offset: the advertising supplement was weighing nearly the same as the complete newspaper. I do not think that kind of irony was intended.

  7. The city next door (Birmingham) doesn’t have a print daily anymore, we (Tuscaloosa) do. This is mostly because of local sports. Obviously, not every small city can have a well known sportsball team university dominating the local news, for good or ill, (and the high school sports are well covered as well based on the last time I opened the sports section) but at least we still have a daily. Local arts coverage is a bonus.

  8. Every time I hear about a newspaper cutting back, I feel like we’ve gotten more bad news about the prognosis for our republic. Fooey.

  9. My grandparents used to run a really small town newspaper in South Dakota up through the 1970’s. The sole focus of their little paper was the local news, local sports, school news, country and city announcements, and the local social column (ex. Mrs Dilbert’s grandchildren visited from California…). When my grandmother retired and sold the paper, the new owner dropped all of the local news and just ran copy from the national news services. The new owner didn’t realize that the local news was the whole reason people subscribed to that paper. He quickly gave up and had to sell to another person because the subscribers had lost the reasons for getting the paper. The latest owner returned to the original format (local local local) and the subscribers eventually returned.

  10. This is a terrible shame. I love local papers. As a teen I lived in the suburbs of San Francisco. My best friend and I would run to the school library every morning and catch up on Tales of the City, Herb Caen, the agony lady (Ann Landers? Dear Abby?) and the comics. I think the librarians thought we were a little nuts, but it was a great way to get a sense of what was going on in West Coast culture, as well as a peek into an adulthood that would be nearly obsolete by the time we got there (we graduated in 1979, just before the first round of Prop 13 budget cuts really started to kill off the public schools and the AIDS epidemic hit San Francisco). I still miss Herb Caen.

    Hell. I miss a lot of things.

  11. My local paper is The Daily Astorian and virtually all content is focused on Clatsop County, with state news thrown in when appropriate. There is about a half page of national news and always at least one full page on local school athletics. I started reading it online before I even moved here and read every issue. It’s a great little newspaper.

  12. I’m the sole editor/reporter for the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal in the interior of British Columbia (the paper was established in 1895, and still operates out of the building it moved to in 1898). Weekly circulation is around 1,000 copies.

    This week’s paper is a bit of an anomaly, in that there is a fair bit of provincial election stuff (we go to the polls next week). I did interviews with all four candidates in our riding, and there’s coverage of a local all-candidates meeting. Usually, though, I cover the purely local stories no one else would: the slo-pitch tournament last weekend, the local choir’s Tribute to Broadway concert, the Ladies Auxiliary to Royal Canadian Legion Branch #113 celebrating its 70th anniversary, the new gift shop opening at a local heritage site, the annual fine arts show and sale (and tragically, this week, the death of a local man in a terrible car accident just outside town on the Trans-Canada Highway). Sometimes I take a broader provincial topic and give it a local spin (especially in relation to seniors’ issues; 35.7% of our population is 65+).

    The only time outside (i.e. big city) media come here is in the event of a disaster or a tragedy. I cover those too, but once big media goes off chasing the next big story, the Journal is here to do the follow-up coverage (the story of a train derailment or flood doesn’t end when big media head out of town a day or two later).

    Three years ago the Kamloops Daily News closed down (Kamloops is our nearest big city, with a population of 90,000). Why did it go under, when the Journal, serving a population of around 4,000 scattered between five villages, survives? In my view, because it had too little purely local content, and ran too many wire service pieces about national and international events. Don’t tell me there isn’t enough local content in a city of 90,000 (plus all the surrounding communities; we’re 60 miles from Kamloops, and people here subscribed to the Daily News) to fill the paper, without running articles about national and international stuff people will already have read about (if they’re interested) in a national paper.

    From my perspective and experience, papers serving a purely local market need to focus on that market almost exclusively, and deliver the content no one else will. I think the Bee’s decision is short-sighted, and really hope I’m wrong.

  13. I grew up reading The Fresno Bee over breakfast, every single day. It was a great paper and I’ve never found its equal because there just aren’t those papers anymore.

  14. It’s interesting how well some of these small local news websites are doing to provide coverage of stuff. We had here in the East Bay (Walnut Creek, CA, specifically) a murder by an estranged husband of his wife in a local park. Not a surprising crime, as these things go, but the time and place was out of the ordinary (broad daylight, in front of a wildlife museum). Anyway, there was plenty of helicopters and whatnot looking for the guy but the news from local TV or the Chronicle was purely “there was a murder, they are looking for a suspect”, but a local website, had a lot of up-to-date information about the ultimately stand-off with the suspect a few hours later, a few miles away. That stand-off lasted 18 hours or so. Anyway, the big papers were useless, the little news sources terrific.

    Likewise, the local coverage is the only thing worth subscribing to any more. I can get AP stories 24/7, I can’t get a run-down on the drama of a restaurant where the owner in the front of the house pulled a knife on the chef in the back of the house, but somehow — despite a restraining order — kept the business operating. That’s good local coverage that is lost if a paper like the Fresno Bee kills this stuff. Too bad.

    (Also, it’s interesting to me that you’ve got the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, the Fresno Bee right there in the Central Valley) — and not that many other papers in the US named the Bee (and then mostly in NE/NY)

  15. As a former Fresnan, I hate to hear that! As others have said, the local coverage is about the only reason to read a newspaper these days, and from what I could tell, the Bee was still doing a pretty good job in that area. Cutting local sports especially does not make sense, since Fresno is a pretty decent sports town with Fresno State and lots of interest in high school sports.
    I remember Donald’s writing from back when I used to live in Fresno, I hope he finds a good place to land.

    Fresno has around half a million people, but it’s a small fry in the California media market. The Bee was one of the main sources for local journalism, so this is a big blow.

  16. I got laid off from my town newspaper in 2001. I can’t help but think they did me a huge favor, because most people I knew then have been laid off. The paper still exists but runs every other day now.

  17. “(Also, it’s interesting to me that you’ve got the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, the Fresno Bee right there in the Central Valley) — and not that many other papers in the US named the Bee (and then mostly in NE/NY)”

    I wonder if that doesn’t indicate some sort of Mormon presence in the region at the time those papers were founded. Bees are a big Mormon metaphor; that’s why Utah is the beehive state. NE/NY could also be either early Mormonism of the kinds of cultural threads that fed into the founding of Mormonism.

  18. It’s a shame. I don’t know about sports in Fresno, but in the arts, Fresno has a truly fine symphony orchestra that deserves to be better-known. I’ve driven out there (from the San Francisco area) just to hear them a few times that they’ve been playing something really interesting.

  19. @Andrew Lloyd “(Also, it’s interesting to me that you’ve got the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, the Fresno Bee right there in the Central Valley) — and not that many other papers in the US named the Bee (and then mostly in NE/NY)”

    The Sacramento Bee (originally called the Daily Bee) was the first, then when the McClatchy brothers went on to found or purchase other papers (mainly in the 1920s and 30s) they called them or renamed them “The [City] Bee.” In those days it was common for a newspaper company to rename a paper when they bought it.

  20. @Doug I don’t think it has anything to do with Mormonism, at least not in California. A bee was common metonym for industriousness, especially at the time, e.g. “busy as a bee.”

  21. I used to be the AME for online coverage at The Bee in question, but I left a few years ago. I get so tired of the phrasing “we’re going to do this so we can concentrate our efforts online.” It’s the journalistic equivalent of the political “I’m retiring to spend more time with my family.” Total cop out.

  22. Unfortunately ‘penny wise’ has long since taken over the world of corporate finance.

  23. ..sad to see Donald and the others laid off…

    I’d be quite happy to see one Donald laid off….

  24. This is truly sad news. I’m stunned at the sheer stupidity of the decision. But then I was stunned back in 2003 when I was let go from a newspaper (where I was the managing editor!) because my salary was too expensive for the bottom line.

    My local newspaper (my first job) was the flagship of a small chain that was recently sold to a far larger group notorious for ruining newspapers. It was just announced that the production and design parts of the business at this paper and two others would be moved from Kansas to Austin, TX. So the pages will be designed and built in Texas and e-mailed back to Kansas presses. These are dark days, indeed, for local journalism.

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