Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My first official post to The Sacramento Bee's 'Street Talk'

The Sacramento Bee started a new feature - today - in which it has asked some readers to comment on what's going on in the community.

I used my first posting to ask Sacramento Bee editor Melanie Sill to release the names of the people who have been laid off by the newspaper - a list she has refused to let loose, citing privacy concerns of the people involved.

I have sympathy. But for those folks whose names have appeared on the front page of the newspaper (in their bylines), I think readers have the right to know.

But that's what I said below:


his new Sacramento Bee feature called Street Talk – the one you are reading – is supposed to help prompt dialogue about the city.

So I apologize - in advance - for making my first comments about The Sacramento Bee itself, and for publicly asking editor Melanie Sill for a favor, on behalf of the community.

No, I am not going to go off on the newspaper for being either liberal or conservative. (I would not characterize it as either.) And really, The Sacramento Bee is a huge part of the community, in good part because it helps define the city and its people.

That’s why the travails of the plummeting advertising revenues – which has now translated into layoffs and buyouts of longtime news employees - is such a tragedy. The reporters and editors of the newspaper represent a collective historical record that is immediately lost when they head out the door.

In my years as a journalist in Northern California, whenever I moved to a new newspaper in a new town (which I did frequently, much to the chagrin of my children and wife) the first person I sought out was the police reporter. I wanted to know what areas of the city or town were safest.

Since last summer, the Bee has been hemorrhaging staff, including news reporters and editors who are taking valuable knowledge with them. More to the point, these are people who regular readers of the newspaper have come to know through their bylines in the newspaper and come to trust (mostly).

And though editor Melanie Sill has done a fair job of reporting about changes in the newspaper, the only way readers know that a staff member has left (either voluntarily or through a layoff) is their name disappears.

In my case, I usually figure it out when I ship off an email and bounces back, telling me the person does not exist.

So, in this first Street Talk posting, I want to send a message directly to editor Melanie Sill: please tell us who is leaving. These staff are more than just employees of your newspaper and the corporation. They are our neighbors, often friends, and certainly people about whom we are as curious as the endless doings of the state legislature.

I did receive one comment from Dan Weintraub, who is the editor/controller of this feature.


Mike--Melanie has her hands full this week so I am not sure she is going to respond here. In case she does not, let me tell you what she has said both publicly and privately about this issue: Some people who are laid off want their names to be public, and some don't. Some think it will help them get new jobs, others don't care about that or simply don't want their job status to be broadcast in public. Also, many of the people who have lost their jobs are not public figures at all. They work in circulation or production or advertising. Would you suggest we post their names as well? Finally, being a resourceful journalist yourself, I bet if you googled long enough you just might come up with the list you are looking for.


News staff whose bylines have been published in recent years, certainly. Why deny the Legislators - who have been skewered - the knowledge that their most vigilant observers are headed to the unemployment lines? Ditto for photographers...

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