Who will weep for the Daily Breeze?
by Garrison Frost
A few months ago, as rumors about the potential sale of Copley’s South Bay newspapers to MediaNews were swirling, I contacted someone familiar with the newsroom of the Daily Breeze to see if he had heard anything about how the situation was affecting the paper’s staff. He told me pretty much what I had heard elsewhere, that people were worried about losing their jobs and that, needless to say, a lot of resumes were circulating. Everyone knew the slash and burn reputation of MediaNews head Dean Singleton.
Then my acquaintance said something that I didn’t expect. I paraphrase: “Even though I have a lot of friends over there, I really hope Singleton just cleans house, fires the lot of them and starts from scratch. There’s a culture of mediocrity there that has just taken over and there is no other way to get rid of it.”
Just a few weeks later, word came down that Hearst was buying the Daily Breeze and the South Bay weeklies. Through an elaborate deal, MediaNews will run the papers and eventually buy them from Hearst. I couldn’t help but think of my acquaintance’s words as I read these reports, but my speculation went much further:
Will Singleton cut staff at the Breeze? Will he shut down the weeklies, rather than sell them and compete for ad revenue? Will the Breeze adopt the tabloid style of many other papers in the Los Angeles News Group? The possibilities are endless, particularly when, like me, you don’t know anything about anything. But while all these questions are essentially meaningless, one leapt out at me as a bit more pertinent: Does anyone in the South Bay care what happens to the Daily Breeze?
If there is a lot of concern in the community about the future of the paper, I’m not hearing it. Not from people I talk to, not from local websites that discuss such things, not from the letters to the editors of the Breeze and the other local newspaper affected by the purchase. Sure, this could mean that I just don’t talk to the right people. I would be the first to confess that my network isn’t what it used to be. Still, I have yet to talk to a single person who has expressed any concern that the quality of the Breeze might be affected by MediaNews ownership.
By comparison, look at the angst that has gripped the community over the operation and potential sale of the Los Angeles Times. Sure, the Times is several orders of magnitude grander than the Daily Breeze, but the situation is instructive. The ongoing quality and operation of the Times is a constant conversation among government officials, top blogs, competing publications, and in whatever halls of power that exist in this city. Sure, lots of people complain about the Times, but that at least means that people care about it. When word trickled out that Tribune might consider selling the Times, billionaire philanthropists lined up to preserve this important community asset.
I haven’t smelled anything even close to that with the Breeze. Hoping to drive up the price of the South Bay papers, Copley let it be known to everyone and their brother that the properties were for sale, but there were no South Bay Eli Broads that made grand public plays to save this essential community resource. And it’s not as if there isn’t any money around here. When it became known that Singleton, who is often described as putting profit above quality, was interested in the Breeze, not a single public voice that I heard stood up to demand that the integrity of the paper be preserved. And now that the deal is done, I don’t see any public figures throwing down the gauntlet on behalf of the paper. All is silent. Clearly, Singleton can do what he wants and no one will move to stop him. If he shut it down tomorrow, would the action generate a single resolution from one of the City Councils in its circulation area?
The Daily Breeze has been a South Bay institution since the 19th Century. Sure, its ownership wasn’t local when it was sold to Singleton, but the Copleys had run the thing for decades, and one would think that this would prompt some loyalty around here. Apparently not. The Copleys vanished without much acknowledgement. There were some kind words for the Daily Breeze’s last publisher, Art Wible, but little beyond that.
There aren’t that many old things left in the South Bay. A house that’s more than 20 years old is practically a historical artifact. People go nuts over potential loss of a rusted sign for a restaurant that closed decades ago. And yet, there are few public words for the Daily Breeze, which has been around for more than 100 years. I see that as a particular failure not of the community, but of the Daily Breeze itself. It has had plenty of time to put its hooks into us. A newspaper should be a mirror, but also it should be a flag. More than any other single thing, a local newspaper is what tells a community that it matters, that what goes on there is important enough to be called news. Somewhere down the line, maybe the Breeze didn’t accomplish that. The Copleys gained no foothold here. Few in the South Bay look to their local newspaper for validation.
So again, the question: Does anyone care what happens to the Daily Breeze?
(Jan. 8, 2007)
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