South Valley bureau, Clovis Independent and Madera’s Sierra Star take hit for the rest of the company
Someone just punched me in the stomach.
I’m winded because The Fresno Bee is laying off 44 of its staff to keep pace with McClatchy’s directive to cut 10% of its workforce. But more personally, it’s because the Bee is concentrating that pain on the Clovis Independent, Madera paper, and the South Valley bureau (Visalia) where I worked for two-and-a-half years as a business reporter.
Those were the days
I was there at it’s zenith. Just a few years ago, at the height of the real estate advertising revenue, the Bee was pushing hard to conquer new territory in the South Valley. Visalia, bursting with new housing developments and served by the Times-Delta (known for overworked and inexperienced reporters) seemed like good pickings. At one time, I think we had almost as many journalists (13) working in the bureau as the Times-Delta did for its daily paper. The competition was fun and friendly. But the competition made everyone better.
Down to 3 journalists
In 2006, as the economy and advertising revenue slowed down, the bureau stopped filling positions from attrition. The bureau, as of today, is almost half that size: 4 reporters, two photographers, and one editor. In a few weeks it will be down to three. Two photographers and two undecided reporters will be laid off. Its editor is being transferred to Fresno.
I don’t have details, but I have also heard that The Clovis Independent–a fine, weekly publication that gave me my first job– will be completely shuttered by the end of June and that Sierra Star in the North Valley will go from twice a week to once a week starting the first week of July.
Why am I writing this? No, I’m not a vulture, hungry for a juicy scoop. I’m not that kind of journalist anymore. I’m writing this because this is information that in today’s media environment, is begging to be released. As librarian Meredith Farkas says, “Information wants to be free.” If I don’t write it, someone else will and should. This is news in today’s times. The Bee and McClatchy in general has been struggling to make a transition to online journalism. Although Fresno’s online community isn’t developed enough to have a dedicated blogger serving as a watchdog on traditional media, it’s only a matter of time before someone takes up that necessary role.
Another reason is to list, as an outsider now, my ideas on how I’d like to see the Fresno Bee evolve to serve my current needs as a news consumer. This list is short. I’m not a futurist, and I’m also hampered by my history. I think like an old-fashioned journalist. I encourage anyone who is reading this to also send ideas to the Fresno Bee on what they would like to see in its news outlet of the future. If the Fresno Bee is to survive, and believe me, it may not, they need to give us what we want and need.
All these suggestions could have been made in 2007, but here are some ideas inspired by what I’ve experienced as a consumer trying to READ the Bee, and also heavily influenced by USC’s Online Journalism Review, which for some reason is ALSO shutting down today…(Is nothing sacred in online media?)
Ten ways I’d like to see the Fresno Bee improve online:
1. The entire website needs to change. It makes no sense to me, I see national stories on the front page, when I have already seen those played out everywhere else and on my news feeds. It’s a major turn-off period. Even when I figure it out, I can’t bear to navigate past the first page.
2. More in-depth packages like the Saroyan package. Unlike the birth of Christ, multimedia packages should not arrive just once a year. But also, write more about less, like McClatchy’s DC bureau recent work on Guantanamo. Leave the minutiae for bloggers.
3. More user-generated content. The Bee should have gotten the hint from one-man-band Adrian Rodriguez at Lateupdate.com on how possible it is to be a hub for Fresno-made YouTube, blogs, etc.
4. Create deep, informative pages where I can see past coverage of what a reporter has written and what beat he or she covers. Reporters such as EJ Schultz, the Sacramento correspondant, should have his own page where I can see at a glance the status of 5-10 different bills pertaining to the Valley. And a running list of stories he has written about them. Or for Mike Oz fans, how about a page dedicated to all things Mike, music and more Mike.
5. A better pipeline of citizen bloggers. Online Journalism Review does a good job of explaining how to encourage them, but the Bee should anoint someone to be a head blogger/volunteer coordinator inspiring, motivating, and rewarding quality posts. There are SO MANY smart, inspired professionals already blogging: scientists, policy wonks, food lovers. Wouldn’t it be neat to read blogs from homeless people in Fresno, or teenagers, or farmers? I’d like to see all these blogs collated at Fresnobee.com.
6. More transparancy. The Bee should be frank with its readers about its challenges. Why, for instance, is it taking so long to redesign the site. And why is it so hard to find the “news” beehive–the blog for most of the news reporters? If there’s a good reason, let it be known, otherwise, please make it easy to find. I LOOK for it, and I still can’t find it sometimes.
7. This is also an idea I’ve seen on OJR, but I’d like to see “evergreen” stories updated and maintained by reporters or copyeditors, maybe on a wiki. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see the most recent update of the Fresno mayoral race without gerrymandering a google search for “fresno mayoral AND race site:fresnobee.com” and “fresno mayoral race site:fresnobeehive.com”?
8. WRITE FOR THE WEB!!! There aren’t even any hyperlinks in the online version of the news stories. Add the recommended reading that served as the foundation for your reporting.
9. Make the archives free. Sure you can find it at your local library, but it’d be nice to be able to search without the hassle. It’s also silly to let all those in-depth articles wither away because it’s past the two week searching period. How can anyone link to them from their blogs, knowing that they’ll be inaccessible in a few weeks?
10. Make more mistakes. Take more risks online! Would readership drop any more?
So I’ve just blown this out of my a$#, really I’m just shaken up about my poor colleagues–both victims and survivors– that I could think of little else to do. I really loved working with my colleagues and professionals at the Bee.
What ideas do any of you have? I’d really like to see the Fresno Bee around for years and years. Writing this blog reminds me of how time consuming it must be to produce one story and to fact check (which is pretty much absent from blogging, including this one). At the same time, I find it shocking how out of touch its online presence is. I hadn’t visited in two years and when I returned, it seemed like I had never left. In the meantime, I am encouraged by the aggressive and relevent work of bloggers like Mike Lukens at San Joaquin Valleyfornia. That’s a citizen journalist that makes me hopeful for the future.