Thursday, October 23, 2008

To David Black, Beacon Journal

OPEN LETTER to David Black, owner of the Akron Beacon Journal, Victoria, British Columbia:

Dear David, 

The exodus of many of the Akron Beacon Journal's most experienced news room staffers in recent weeks has created a sieve in the institutional memory of the once-proud Knight newspaper.  We need to talk about its consequences.

        The paper's former reputation as a leader in the state's governmental, political and hometown coverage was the proud creation of John S. Knight, a widely respected publisher, editor and, most of all, journalist whose determination to provide quality on its daily pages worked its way down to the exacting placement of commas in the most routine stories.  He had a love affair with Akron while building a newspaper empire. 

        The city that he  loved thrived with a strong industrial base,   an important university campus in its midst and a cultural heritage reaching back nearly a century or so  to Gertrude Seiberling's music salons at the Seiberlings' Stan Hywet  residence.  Even today, when many cities are losing their orchestras, The Akron Symphony Orchestra  remains strong and vital.  So does the more than century-old Tuesday Musical Club.  And in the visual arts, it recently opened its door to an impressive addition to its art museum. 

        I make a special point of the city's  cultural commitments  only because  the Beacon Journal's longtime music critic, Elaine Guregian, turned off her BJ computer and joined the Cleveland Orchestra's front office, with no indication as yet that the BJ will replace her with someone of equal professional value.

         But there's more:  popular sports and general columnists have vanished through the front door, unwilling  to commit their future to a paper that you have been decimating since you entered the scene as a reclusive publisher largely concerned with weekly newspaper ownership (roughly 150, many that are said  to be easily circulated free of charge to the readers' doorsteps.)

        Lest you accuse me of being ignorant of the great pressures on newspaper publishing in the modern world, I am not.  As a  veteran newspaperman myself, I regret the threatened demise of my profession.  However, I remain confused by an apparent game plan that a  half a loaf is better than none, and then a half of a half, etc.   I must ask: What do you have mind as a publisher?  At what point because of the shrinkage do we stop referring to your paper as a newsaper?  What is your obligation to treat not only the paper but the city with professional concern so that you would still merit with pride your name on the paper?
       Many people in this town would like to know.  Unless you can explain how the loss of your best reporters and editors can improve the ailing look of the Beacon Journal these days,  you will only make matters worse for yourself  with the paper's readers.  Perhaps you might consider a visit to Akron someday to offer some answers to these questions.  Otherwise, why should anyone care about the bottom  line for a newspaper that has already lost its soul?

Respectfully, Abe Zaidan 




Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know how many of the people bemoaning the ABJ cutbacks still buy the paper
seven days a week.

Anonymous said...

Here here.

Incidentally, I stopped subscribing to the paper years ago when it was clear they had given up most of their journalistic ethics and concern for getting the facts right.

I do not feel guilty for not subscribing nor should I. If the Beacon Journal was a better paper I would gladly subscribe as I had done for decades. It isn't and I don't. It stopped being a great paper years ago and now the bleeding just won't stop. For that . . . I do feel bad.

I want the paper to be healthy and I want it to be good. I am allowed to complain when it is neither.

Anonymous said...

Black is the undertaker, not the murderer.

There isn't a daily in this country that hasn't been affected by layoffs and buyouts. The digital revolution is strangling newspapers much the same way the Industrial Revolution strangled thousands of jobs ( yet created thousands of others ).

The newspaper business has a rich and glorious past, but the challenge for journalists is to adapt and reinvent, and not curse the pouring rain trying to stay dry by holding a newspaper over their heads.

Anonymous said...

At The Red Deer Advocate daily newspaper in Western Canada, wages have been frozen as the newspaper recently cheated its workers out of a 3 1/2 per cent pay increase by threatening to lay off staff if the workers' union didn't agree to give up the pay increase. Working conditions have really gone down hill at the Advocate ever since Black bought the newspaper about 15 years ago. Staff morale is in the toilet.

Anonymous said...

Black Press has closed four newspapers in British Columbia: Nelson Daily News, Prince Rupert Daily News, Quesnel Advisor and 100 Mile House Advisor. Also stated for closure are another (so far unnamed newspaper in B.C.) and reportedly soon the Red Deer Express in Alberta.