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."
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?)
- 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.