Newspaper enters uncharted waters

Sinking ship.

That term wins the prize. It’s been used the most in the last year to describe the Record Searchlight’s continuous decline.

I trace the beginning of the paper’s end to nearly one year ago after Silas Lyons replaced Kelly Brewer, a career journalist.

What an amazing feat Lyons performed when he, the paper’s former online manager, soared from his redding.com job over a host of experienced heads — news editor, assistant city editor, city editor and managing editor — to assume his position in the editor’s chair.

Surely talent didn’t land him that job. Read his Sunday columns. They generally fall into three categories: The apology of the week, The butt-kiss of the week and The obvious statement of the week. Some weeks he combines all three. Either way, they’re often riddled with silly errors and ridiculous word choices; completely understandable since the copy desk is a shadow of its former self. (If memory serves, the copy desk once employed eight or more journalists. Now on a good day it’s a triage trio.)

Surely his commitment to online media didn’t land him that job. Lyons sometimes goes months without a Web post. His last one was nearly two months ago: “Who shakes babies?” (Stay tuned for “Who steals from little old ladies?” and “Puppies are gosh darn cute.”)

Shanna Cannon, the paper’s publisher, gave Lyons his newspaper editorship. I wonder if she gave him the job because she also feels inadequate about her lack of education. Want to hear something weird? Nowhere on Cannon’s pre-RS resume is education mentioned. Not so much as a beauty school.

This very subject arose recently at a Redding club meeting where Silas spoke. The audience asked questions.

Q: “… the publisher’s degree is in what?”

Silas: “Her background is in business.”

Q: “I’ve been told she has no degree.”

Silas: ….

He said nothing.

A newspaper publisher without a university degree? Not possible. After all, the RS requires four-year degrees for many positions, from paid editorial interns in the newsroom to the press operator in the building’s basement. 

I called the paper to set the record straight on the matter of Cannon’s education, or lack thereof. First I spoke with Cannon’s assistant who said, “I could pull her file and look, but I won’t.”

So I left a message for Cannon. No return call. Maybe she’s out buying a degree from Betty Boop’s Kitten-Pump Bidness Skool in the Caribbean. (Or maybe, if the community’s really lucky, she’s out looking for a job.)

Meanwhile, through all this turmoil, the remaining RS employees hang on and watch in disbelief. In one year they’ve seen an exodus of their colleagues exit the building and never return. Some accepted last year’s corporate buy-out, others were manipulated out of their jobs, others resigned or quit in frustration and yet others were prodded and poked through the career-ending chute like animals led to slaughter.

Zero return options for the departed. Unlimited cautionary tales for those left behind.

Last year a low-wage employee was suspended for a few days without pay for talking crap about the paper in public. A few months later a mid-level manager was suspended for days without pay for not getting with the program regarding outsourcing her staff’s work. (Is that legal?)

So today:

  • More and more bylines belong to freelancers.
  • Just three people are on the editorial board, Lyons, Cannon and Bruce Ross, the editorial page editor. The new managing editor, who’s traditionally on the board, is not a board member. Makes voting easy.   
  • My local columnist position remains unfilled.
  • The entertainment editor’s position remains unfilled.
  • The paper’s award-winning Outdoors editor gave notice. Don’t hold your breath for his position to be filled.
  • The Currents reporter/blogger embroiled in the messy No Phat Pink Chicks hasn’t blogged since Jan. 25, and hasn’t had a story published in the RS in nearly as long. But she has had a few bylines in a Chico paper. Word is she and the RS are involved in some kind of legal tangle of their own. Newsroom insiders don’t expect her return. That will leave the Currents department with one editor — but no staff reporters — and the part-time Home and Garden editor.
  • The RS now outsources its advertising production work, and Friday was the final day for many RS artists.

Speaking of outsourced ads, feel free to join me in this fun game. Send me the most hilarious advertising mistakes you find in the RS, such as “Mr. Shasta” (instead of Mt. Shasta) in the full-page ad for Gaia Hotel in Anderson and “Main lobster” (instead of Maine lobster) in a Buz’s Crab ad.

  • The Redding.com bloggers section continues to shrink. Phil Fountain and Ryan Sabalow dropped their blogs in January. Scott Mobley dropped his in April. Many remaining newsroom bloggers haven’t posted online since last fall. Why should they? They aren’t paid to blog, which I think most labor lawyers would find fascinating. Even so, some bloggers keep plugging away, like Constance Dillon, who discussed in this post how much the paper’s changed.
  • Editorial corrections are common, not because the reporters aren’t capable but because the copy desk has fewer people to catch mistakes, the editorial department has fewer remaining reporters to do the same amount of work as before and the paper employs more freelancers, some of whom wouldn’t know an AP Stylebook from shinola.
  • And here’s something I never expected: Online journalists are reporting local stories that sometimes appear days later (or not at all) in the Record Searchlight.

A partial list includes Stillwater Business Park’s construction bid, sudden city firefighter openings, Shasta County’s mosquito fish shortage, Win River Casino scales back its expansion plans, Chrysalis Charter School leases the former St. Francis Middle School, REU penalized for auction rate bond, exec leaves Haven Humane, Redding Convention Center manager resigns, 2nd Saturday Art Hop unveiling, the Cottage Tour, upcoming openings of the Downtown Eateryand Posh Mama in downtown Redding and, my personal favorite, RS’ outsourcing.

As the RS sinks, so does employee morale. Many of the remaining RS workers feel weary, dejected, disgusted and fed up. How does management handle this crisis at its once-proud, once-respected newspaper?

It hires motivational speakers to conduct customer-service sessions for stressed-out employees, many of whom have no time to spare for such corporate b.s. nonsense since they now do their jobs as well as former co-workers’ duties.

It imprints T-shirts with the company’s core values for employees.

It creates cornball weekly sections like Scene, an entire page crammed with grip-and-grin photos and captions better suited for an elementary school newspaper. (No offense to elementary school papers.)

The RS is a sinking ship.

Man the lifeboats.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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31 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice says:

    Don't you love these stats that Lyons threw out in yesterday's paper?

    "… we'll sell somewhere around 35,000 copies of today's paper (that's roughly what the figure was as of March). In the spring of 1994, we were selling 41,000 Sunday editions, and 10 years ago we were selling 38,100… Our daily circulation has also declined, despite population growth, and is now 32,100. In April, 240,000 unique visitors viewed 2.9 million pages on the Web site. That is a 35 percent increase within a single year.Our entire audience, composed of both print and online readers, has grown 5.3 percent so far this year on weekdays — coming off a previous year when it grew 6.6 percent."

    You can spin it any way you want, but it isn't difficult to see that this paper's in trouble. The Redding population is something like 100,000 now – yet the only local newspaper's sales are going down, and sales (read: money) are what count. It's not hard to see why: increasingly what passes for "news" are "stories" that aren't news per se, but which are juicy: at least one hateful local columnist, Letters to the Editor that are illiterate but inflammatory, lots and lots of stories about animals.

    The R-S's most popular emailed story was about a horse trainer. For comparison, the New York Times' most emailed story was a column by Maureen Dowd about Scott McClellan's book; the San Francisco Chronicle's most emailed article was about home foreclosures. If you teach people to lower their expectations about what news is, they will learn to accept it.

    If there was an alternative newspaper I would gladly pay to read it.

  2. JimG says:

    <img src="http://www.childrencomefirst.com/animations/peacock_using_computer_hg_clr.gif&quot; alt="" />

    240,000 Unique visitors?

    Does that include the contractors that took the local jobs?

  3. sue says:

    How sad. I predict that within a year we read the following headline: " Scripps to Sell Redding Paper". Look for this to appear as a blurb in the business items on the back page.

  4. Jackie Summerville says:

    When I moved up here in 2001 – I thought this was a great little paper – I had been used to the Fremont Argus and the San Jose Mercury News – both papers I loved – I really thought the Redding Searchlight was great – but it is awful now – you are so right – Now that I am retired I just love to take time for coffee and reading my paper in the morning – and it is trash – the one lthis morning had nothing in it -now I know why – your columns – all of them – not just the food – were among my very favorite things to look forward too – that's what happens when people get hired for who they know not what they have talent and training for – I have seen it happen many times in my former industry "title insurance" – in a 30 year career – it ran rampant – not so much up here in Redding – but in the San Jose area where I worked – a few good ones – and the rest were friends of friends – ridiculous – well now it's all "outsourced" and everyone lost their jobs – what's happened to the middle class continues to amaze me –

    My son – who had over 25 years in the business – finally got a job at State Comp up here in Redding after being unemployed for almost a year – he had to completely start over – but we are all greatful for the job – so many of my former colleagues are out of work – I was just lucky enough to be of retirement age – My heart goes out to the Redding Searchlight employees – I truly know how it feels to watch a great industry go downhill – Been there, done that!

  5. Canda Williams says:

    The game of finding the most hilarious mistakes sounds like fun, but it would mean I'd have to read the paper. Worse yet, it would mean I'd have to waste $.50 a day, unless I could find a used copy somewhere. No thanks, but I'll enjoy reading on FFT what other people find, and I can sit here with my coffee, and chuckle along with everyone else. I really do love getting on this blog each morning. It's like the online version of "Cheers"-where friends meet to stay connected to the world and each other. Thanks again, Doni, Bruce, and wonderful staff, for giving our community something informative and fun to read each day!

  6. Larry says:

    I can't argue with your appraisal of the RS. I let my subscription run out two months ago. The RS has become a shadow of it's former self. Once Jim Dyar left, I couldn't open up the DATE knowing that Jim was no longer on page two. That said, about your comment "After all, the RS requires four-year degrees for many positions, from paid editorial interns in the newsroom to the press operator in the building’s basement". I can't address whether or not editorial staff require degrees, however I retired after 41 years in the "basement" of the RS as a pressman. I didn't have a degree and didn't know anyone that did, although I'm reasonably sure someone may of had a degree.

    Doni Greenberg.com is my home site. Keep up the great work!

    P.S. The press is not in the basement, the reel room is down there.

  7. Michelle says:

    Larry,

    I was a reporter at the RS from 1999 to 2004 and reporters were required to have degrees (I have my now worthless journalism degree stored in my closet). There was one reporter hired while I was there (Doni, remember Margo?) and she told the editors she was getting her degree. I heard later that she actually wasn't getting her degree like she said she was and she was let go.

    There is hope for those former RS employees! I am now a pre-nursing student and couldn't be happier. Not only is this field much more interesting to me, but there are literally nursing jobs everywhere and they pay so much better than journalism jobs do. I hope those who have survived the RS find happiness and fulfillment on the other side!

  8. Budd Hodges says:

    Doni…Like I've said before, Paul Boddenhamer would be ashamed of what his old paper has become. Just a shell and a mast head of it's former self.

    This Silass Lyons is a jerk and should never have been the editor. His ideas of what a newspaper should be are stupid. Stupid is as stupid does. I'll be looking for those outsourced ad mistakes.

    And hi to my old pressman friend Larry.

  9. pam says:

    when i moved here in 75, the paper was nicknamed "the wretched flashlight" but i always enjoyed a good, local paper. and it was. now, with the purchase by scripps, the layoffs, the outsourcing, i think the term wretched flashlight is out of line. it should be called "useless blurbage". i really enjoyed your "It imprints T-shirts with the company’s core values for employees" comment. i have been trying to figure out what the one or two words could be and came up with "what value?" that would certainly fit the decision to outsource, lay off capable personnel and transforming unknowledgable folks into positions that require education and lots of previous experience. you were the reason i gave up the paper and i shall continue not to read it. thank you for your hard work in bringing news back. scripps couldn't sell out fast enough for the folks around here!

  10. ReddingBlog says:

    If many former RS writers collectively worked together to form a single news site, they could be a formidable online alternative to the RS and quickly generate comparable numbers. Currently, many of you have a loose collection of personal blogs, many of which are excellent, but none are cohesive enough.

    Collectively, folks like Doni, Kelly Brewer, et al have quite a few things in their favor:

    (1) Intimate experience with both the community and the news business.

    (2) Name recognition

    (3) Barrier to entry – Time is your biggest cost. There are many affordable news focused CMS scripts out there, and web designers are a dime a dozen. Good ones a are a little more costly.

    (4) Immediate flexibility – I can imagine that making simple adaptive changes requires making a lengthy journey through the Scripps chain of command.

    (5) Many of your blogs are popular, and therefore could be used as feeder sites to jump start local traffic.

    Some of the challenges:

    (1) The RS has a huge head start and tens of thousands of pages archived and indexed by the search engines.

    (2) Promotion – Not having a huge subscriber base, it's going to take more work to convert Joe reader from the RS.

    (2) Selling online advertising to local businesses is TOUGH.

    (3) $$$ – They won't come easily. Maintaining consistency and motivating an entire group to regularly work for zero dollars to start is a huge challenge.

    I think Doni's site is a great start and an excellent first attempt. She has the right idea bringing on guest writers, and delivering different types of useful information. I don't think it alone can be contender, as it is still driven by a singular persona which I think (whether true or not) is harmful to the perception of unbiased reporting.

  11. Mitsy says:

    “It imprints T-shirts with the company’s core values for employees.”

    ———————————-

    When I first saw those 'core values' plastered on the wall all the way down the corridor, I started laughing out loud. What a bunch of Orwellian doublespeak spin! They handed out pens, magnets and other such nonsense with that fakery printed all over it, and the first place mine went was the trash.

    I have never seen such overt propaganda and lies.

    Thanks for the information on the lack of credentials noted above. It lends more credence to the grapevine scuttlebutt of how 'they' achieved their 'positions'.

    I can tell you of myriads of errors I see in the advertising arena everyday. There are only three employees left where ten were before in the ad creation dept., so proofing ads coming back from offshore is a luxury not often afforded. They have my condolences.

  12. Maria says:

    Who needs outsourcing when RS can fill up a whole section with ads??? i.e. the recent demolition of the Saturday home and garden section. Disgusting. takes me 5 minutes to breeze through. Start your own paper. Please. I'll be the first in line to subscribe

  13. Karen Calanchini says:

    Maria, five minutes to breeze through is right….nothing there! I really think papers are on their way out. They can be read online – anywhere in the world. I still love having my breakfast and coffee with the paper in front of me, but I've even taken to reading the want-ads because the paper is so worthless. My favorite is the Pets for Sale! And for what it's worth….I never buy anything from an ad.

  14. JeffG says:

    Everyone rises to their level of incompetence.

    –Laurence J. Peter

  15. Marv. says:

    Karen, sorry to bother you, but while i was reading the latest on Doni, i saw your comment, I was in Alaska quite a few years and now that i have returned, i was wondering if you are the wife of Gene whom was leasing Benton Field, when i was flying back in the 50's and 60's….also he had the apartments, near KVIP studio, and the Shasta College where the high school is now…..I have not seen Gene since i left and went to Alaska…sure would like to know if he is still around……..Thank You Marv…..P. S. please don't proof read this i know there is mistakes. LOL

  16. Ink-stained wretch says:

    Doni,

    The flaws of management at the R-S are ample and, now, amply documented. But could you kindly point to the newspaper that isn't shedding subscribers, staffers and profits?

    If one exists, I'd sure like to know what it's doing. But I've not heard of one.

  17. Olivia says:

    Hi Doni,

    I have read your articles for many years. I really enjoy them. After reading todays article I feel like you need to let go. Yes, the RS is wrong but let it go. We have enough negativity in the world we don't need anymore. The RS will fail, but for you to get enjoyment out of seems really sad. You are a better person than that. Your web page is great. Full of information and everything that anyone needs to know. You have been gone from the paper for months now and look what you have done. Let the RS fail, you will prevail, but just let all the bad feelings go.

  18. Michelle says:

    Well, obviously Olivia has never worked at the RS and put up with the crap there that some of us did.

    If Doni wants to talk about this on HER blog, she should. You don't have to read it. Better believe I will, though.

  19. Darcie says:

    It is obvious from the comments and statistics that Doni's web site has a large following. It gets better every day and I have no doubt it will become THE source of local news, information, entertainment and interesting articles.

    If you really value this site and want to see it grow, you can help.

    1) Shop at Food for Thought advertisers and tell them you saw their ads on donigreenberg.com.

    2) Encourage everyone you know to read Food for Thought, and encourage business people you know to advertise. (Have them contact Bruce and talk about all the extremely reasonable advertising options.)

    3) e-mail your favorite Food for Thought articles to people.

    4) Post and share ideas on the forums, add your events to the calendar and your comments to Food for Thought posts.

    Doni has said many times this is a "WE" site. Well, it is time "we" all stepped up to the plate and helped in any way we can.

  20. justme says:

    I get more news on this site on any given day, then I do by picking up the RS at the library and taking the two minutes required to read everything I would be interested in.

    If Doni is enjoying the demise that is taking place at the RS, it is a well earned enjoyment and I do not begrudge her the small satisfaction she may be feeling.

    Silas threw away MANY good people with no consideration for the cost to each of them, and no consideration to us "the former subscribers" and now he is paying the cost, little by little as the RS wilts and dies.

    I find it incredible that whoever put Silas in charge is apparently blind to what is happening at the RS.

  21. Barbara Rice says:

    Blogs are where a person can vent safely without fear of reprisals. If the reader doesn't like it, the reader may go elsewhere for reading material. The web is large; there are plenty of other blogs out there. Or the reader may create his/her own blog and write about whatever pleases them. There are numerous free sites available.

    If it wasn't for Doni, numerous items would never come to light because God knows the R-S won't cover them. Be thankful for this alternative source.

  22. Luweezy says:

    Employees were handed there raise in paper form yesterday…..the nice shiny full color Scripps news booklet that they get monthly, quarterly, I don't know. I don't pay attention, it goes in the round file. But it sure is shiny and colorful. Must cost a fortune to produce and deliver.

  23. Dianne says:

    Doni,

    I am glad that a reporter (you) finally "broke the story" that we the public have been witnessing at the Record Searchlight. Silas defends himself repeatedly in every other Sunday’s editorial. (It’s a strange pattern I have been watching.) I have never seen an editorial used to this extent for self-promotion and newspaper marketing.

    And what I really want to ask Silas is this: Is it really fair and accurate reporting when a newspaper editor, who will delve deeply into an issue and subsequent firings at city hall, won’t objectively report on his own newspaper’s issues? Is it really fair reporting to publish extensive articles on another business’s failings while continuing to use his own third-page editorial to promote his newspaper and gloss over his own scandal?

  24. sickofthegoodoleboy/ says:

    Doni, you may not want except this but you were part of the problem at the R/S. Redding is growning up, finally. We need a paper that doesn't cater to the powers that be, as the R/S was for many years, thats how you got your job there. As many of you have noticed the way things have been done in Shasta co, is not bringing any new businesses ( except stores that sell imported crap) to Redding. Sadly this is due to the reputation that the county has all over California. The only good thing that people say about Shasta co is that we have beautiful natural surrrounding mtns. After that, they want to know if it's true that we are the "convict capital" , or the "food stamp capital" or worst yet the "capital of bad heart surgeons" of Calif. I, for one was very tired of getting the "news" from a paper that was always on the good ole boy/girl side of every story that was written. Do you really think the "old R/S would have run the story about the mess at "city hall" or the story about Mike Warren's sweet retirement deal, or any part of the Ken Murray family scam, never those stories would have been dumped, and never printed. We need people running the local paper that are not beholden to the good ole boy/girl network here in Shasta co. It's time for a little sunshine on the real news in Shasta co. I for one, just don't see Donigreenberg. com as the source, for the real news of Shasta co. It doesn't matter how many of your childhood friends read your thoughts, the rest of us are hopeful that someday we will have a paper like the San Jose Mercury News, a award winning paper for investigative journalism, not gossip.

  25. sickofthegoodoleboy/ says:

    Michelle;

    Hope you're a better nurse. You're reporting was,_____ well I'll be nice. I'm sure that the R/S was no fun place to work. You hear the same about alot of employers in Shasta co. The fact that, jobs in Shasta co are still hard to come by is the biggest reason still. Let the R/S morph into a big city paper that it should be, and you will see "sunshine" on some of the local stories the old R/S would never print, unless the story made national news.

  26. Michelle says:

    sickofthegoodoleboy/girl network (could your name *be* longer??),

    I will admit I was NOT cut out to be a reporter. And not a day went by that I didn't absolutely hate it and regret my decision to get into the field. You are entitled to your opinion, but damn, do you have to be such a d*** about it? Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?

  27. Bill Beatty says:

    A community who works together can accomplish much, I see a positive spin to this which allows people to stay employed… In with the good, out with the bad.

  28. Royal Pain says:

    Doni,

    Did you used to talk like this about your managers at work? No wonder they canned your ass.

  29. Mitsy says:

    A community who works together can accomplish much, I see a positive spin to this which allows people to stay employed… In with the good, out with the bad. ~unquote.

    ————–

    Positive spin as in being made to work excessive overtime, week after week? Positive spin as in a burdensome workload that results in you having to take part in creating a product that is inferior, rips off the customer, and strips you of anything positive and gainful other than a paycheck?

    If I am part of the 'out with the bad' crowd…then I am bad to the bone, dude.

    'Staying employed' is not always a blessing.

  30. Barbara Rice says:

    Don't feed the troll: People will make outrageous statements, and they will make them in a way that invites heated refutation. These people (and their postings) are called trolls; the best way to defeat a troll is to ignore it. Not even the most seasoned infighter can get traction when no one else is willing to get in the ring.

    Remember Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Which means, as I interpret it, that once you see those words in anything other than a discussion of World War II, the conversation has pretty much played out and it's time to move on.

    God bless the bozofilter: This is a handy little tool that allows you to block out all the postings of a specific person. When that tree falls in the forest, you don't hear it, however loud the crash may seem to others. There are serial offenders online, but they can't offend if no one is around to be offended.

    Ban the jerk: Webmasters have absolute power over their Web sites. They can just boot people, for good reasons or for bad. It's not about free speech; the Web is large. But just as you have the power to boot people out of your home, you have the power to boot them off your blog. And remember: Stalking and harassment are still crimes. Sometimes the real world is a useful place.

    If you spend half an hour in an online forum and you're not sure which poster is the clueless one, probably it's you.

    – Jon Carroll, SF Chronicle

  31. Linda R says:

    While I do love this site, and sorely miss Doni's column in the R-S, there was a valid point made above. The cronyism of the former paper would have precluded any mention of the City Hall debacle, etc. In that respect, there has been one improvement in the paper. Whether that balances out the rest of the negative changes…probably not. Don't get so upset people, journalists are supposed to embrace free speech, even if they don't agree with it. Doni, it makes you a more respectable journalist to allow those whose viewpoints are offensive to have their voice anyway. Keep doing what you're doing; you're on the right track. =)

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