Robert Price

Friday, Jul 18 2014 05:26 PM

SOUND OFF: Did publisher have an ulterior motive for writing?

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

Reader: What a self-serving article. This (July 13 column, “Same community dedication, less paper,” by Publisher Ginger Moorhouse) isn't about promoting your digital offerings, but (is) rather an attempt to justify the ever-shrinking “paper” edition of your newsPAPER and perhaps to soften the blow of a rate increase for the print edition.

Still, this comes off as almost a backhanded slap at those who still prefer to read a “paper” newspaper as being backward and out of touch. I'm a very connected, computer literate person, with multiple advanced networking certifications and a household full of “gadgets,” yet I STILL prefer to read my LOCAL news on paper.

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This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday.

It doesn't matter that the content may be aged a little or that I may have already seen some of it on digital media. Yep. I stand at the kitchen counter and read it. More importantly, I sit on the “throne” and read the paper edition. Personally, I don't think that activity lends itself well to laptops, tablets or even smartphones.

— Frank Moore, from Facebook

Price: Self-serving? I guess that’s one way to look at it. Another is that her column was the pure, unvarnished, no-going-back, sorry-if-this-hurts truth. Some readers may think page-count reduction and other changes in your newspaper are issues unique to Bakersfield, but they’re not.

Ginger’s column could have appeared in any of the country’s 1,300-odd daily newspapers and been just as on-target. Paper-paper readership has fallen everywhere as subscribers have turned to digital news sources.

David Boardman, dean of the Temple University School of Media and Communication and president of the American Society of News Editors, described the situation in a recent article for the Poynter Institute’s website.

“... The percentage of Americans who routinely read a printed paper daily continues its dramatic decline, and is somewhere down around 25 percent. ... (Audiences)  may soon be reading pass-around copies in the nursing home. I recently learned from internal sources that for one major newspaper, the average age of its daily readers moved from 55 to 60 in just 18 months. What will it be by 2020?”

There’s a solution. It’s just as Ginger wrote: “There are other portable and enticing ways to enjoy your Bakersfield Californian.”

Ginger might have introduced readers to my friend Dave, an early-50s agricultural commodity broker who is on the road for weeks on end and reads The Californian’s replica e-edition cover-to-cover every day. He swears he’s never going back to paper.

She might also have mentioned that our digital platforms (including, eventually, the e-edition) allow us to provide much more content than the paper. Without the constraints of press deadlines or a set number of pages, we can devote more effort to things like niche blogs, video commentaries and photo packages.

We’re doing a lot of that stuff already. Take, for example, video: More than 700 guests have passed through our newsroom’s webcast studio since January for one of our nine weekly shows. Take, for example, still photography: Depending on the event, you might see only one or two photos in the paper (and the e-edition). But at bakersfield.com and in our SmugMug galleries online you'll get virtually everything the photographer turned in — often 15 or 20 photos.

Digital readership, though more difficult to measure, is slowly picking up steam in some markets. Some newspapers are reporting that digital gains are actually outpacing print circulation losses. One of those is the Denver Post, the ninth-largest paper in the U.S. in terms of circulation, which I had the opportunity to read, in print, all last week. Today The Post serves a metro area of 2.7 million people with a daily newspaper that often has roughly the same number of pages as The Californian. The Oregonian, another major metro paper, is on some days even smaller than The Californian. The die has been cast.

Many readers and advertisers have embraced these changes. Others have threatened to figuratively barricade themselves in their aging parents’ basements until the storm passes. (It won’t.) B.E. Mintz, editor and publisher of a New Orleans-based news and arts website, commenting on the dramatic changes at the 176-year-old Times-Picayune, had this to say of folks who can’t bring themselves to accept this historic news delivery evolution: “People took the position, ‘I’m so angry that I have to read the newspaper online that I’m going to go read my news somewhere else online,’” he said.

As for your two other points:

Was this all a pretense meant to soften up resistance to a subscription rate increase? Hardly. Management hasn’t seriously discussed any price hikes. Ginger’s column was meant to lay out much more weighty issues.

Is a laptop or tablet sufficiently well-suited to the throne room? That’s something readers will have to work out for themselves. Personally, I don’t see an issue, especially with a tablet.

•••

Reader: I know this paper wants to be rid of fireworks, I can tell by the headlines. Fire chief approves ban on fireworks, woman picking up her beloved Rover at the pound. What I do not see are families, friends and neighbors being outside and enjoying each other’s company and lighting off their “safe and sane” fireworks.

And as far as the professional shows not having problems, there are plenty of mishaps, one this year at Lake Isabella that I did not see reported in this paper or maybe I missed it because it was buried. Check it out: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkmZWjh05as

— Judd Stacy

Price: Maybe you missed our giant June 29 Eye Street consumer’s guide to “safe and sane” street fireworks, “Get the most bang for your 4th of July bucks.” Or the July 8 “Snap” photo gallery of families, friends and neighbors enjoying themselves at Shafter’s July 4 public fireworks display. I suppose we could have assigned a photographer to randomly cruise neighborhoods the night of July 4 looking for front-lawn parties, but I thought we’d be better served standing ready to cover mishaps like the one in Lake Isabella you mention. That fire, which was limited to one acre thanks to the quick work of U.S. Forest Service firefighters, is still under investigation.

You point out one of the consequences of fireworks celebrations (grass fires), and wonder if we “buried” the Lake Isabella story, but then seem to criticize us for covering another consequence of the annual celebration — pets so frightened they break through fences and run for the hills. What would you like us to do? Cover negative consequences or not?

And if you are suggesting that the city fire chef’s declaration of his opposition to the sale of consumer fireworks is not a worthwhile story, we’ll have to disagree.

You’re right about the hazards of professional fireworks shows. Disasters large and small are always a possibility when you’re shooting explosives into the air. Fortunately, fire safety inspections are required for professional shows and firefighters are typically standing by. Those shows strike me as being much safer than street gatherings, but they’re still fireworks displays and those of us down here on the ground watching them are still living amid the kindling.

If, by your statement that “this paper wants to be rid of fireworks,” you mean The Californian’s editorial board has formally come out in favor of a citywide ban on consumer fireworks, you are correct. The editorial board made that decision a few years ago and this month renewed its call for City Council action. Columnist Lois Henry is also on the record as opposing consumer fireworks sales. But all of that is separate from the news side of things; we cover the issue as objectively as possible, and objectively speaking, fires, fire chiefs and panicky dogs are worthy of our attention.

•••

Reader: On behalf of the Kern County Board of Education, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and Kern's local school districts, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your news team for the outstanding and positive coverage you provided of the many graduations throughout Kern County and the personal stories of students who have succeeded in their academic careers.

The Bakersfield Californian's graduation photographs, the stories of foster youth who have succeeded, and the coverage of youth who will serve in the military are an important reminder that Kern County students are successful and have amazing potential in the next phases of their young lives.

Thank you for showing the positive side of Kern County students and the many positive aspects of education in Kern County. Please note that it is certainly appreciated!

— Christine Lizardi Frazier
Kern County Superintendent of Schools


Price: Who says the newspaper is all about bad news? Graduation season is full of uplifting stories, and we had plenty of them, thanks mostly to education reporter Lauren Foreman. We also published full-page photo galleries of the graduation ceremonies of 15 high schools in late May, including 11 on consecutive nights. (We also covered graduations at Cal State Bakersfield and Bakersfield College.) Credit is due Director of Audience Development Louis Amestoy, Digital Content Editor Christine Peterson and our splendid photographers, among others. And I’d be remiss to forget our annual photo gallery of College-Bound Seniors, which took up an entire Eye Street Section in May. Editor Jennifer Self and several of her assistants worked their tails off on that project. Thanks, Christine, for taking the time to let us know that you noticed.

•••

Reader: The weather is always a topic of conversation that permeates our lives. Invariably the question always comes up, “How many days 100 or above have we had this year and how does that compare to last year?” It sure would be good to know the YTD number as well as the total number of 100-plus days we had last year. Any chance of including this statistic in our daily weather report? Our gas, water and electric bills do this, why not the weather?

 Thanks for your consideration.

 — Jim W.

Price: Weather Underground, with whom we contract for our weather page, does not have an automated system to calculate the total number of days over 100 degrees, but it does have an online almanac that anyone can check out at tinyurl.com/wundergroundBako. Through July 17, Bakersfield had had 18 days of 100 degrees or more, including 11 straight from June 30 to July 10.

•••

Reader: In the July 10 edition of The Californian, the Associated Press stated that NO STATE had year round Watering Restrictions. This was Totally Wrong. Florida has had watering restrictions for the past 12 years, and those Caught are Fined Heavily — $500 the first time, then it keeps Doubling Each Time Thereafter.

The Associated Press MUST check its Facts PRIOR TO PUBLISHING THEM. THIS IS CALLED ACCURACY.

— William Goldman

Price: That’s an impressive scolding, there, Bill, with the capital letters and all, but you’re wrong. Watering restrictions are determined by each of Florida’s five water management districts. Counties may apply to have more stringent restrictions on top of district restrictions and many have done so. But Florida does not have state-level restrictions.

You can send your apology to the AP by writing to info@ap.org.

•••

Reader:  You've got to love Theo Douglas. His dedication and love of his profession is so evident. The guy stood on Jenkins Road in 108 degree temperature at 7 p.m. last night (July 8) covering the Rancho Stockdale Estates sound wall meeting, a full throated exercise in civic democracy. Douglas was intense in his duties and decked out in his usual GQ attire.

I like his positive attitude and gentlemanly nature. A gentleman is a gentleman everywhere.

— Mark Salvaggio

Price: Since Theo came to The Californian exactly one year ago to cover city hall, many of us have been shamed into dressing much, much better than before. He’s also pretty good at what he does. Thanks for noticing.

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won’t be published.

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