Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

State Republicans Dead Wrong on Budget

For as pro-business and anti-tax as this Blue Dog is, California’s Republican state legislators are way off base by rejecting Governor Brown’s call for putting a tax extension vote before the electorate. It is a pathetic, albeit classic, case of extreme ideology getting in the way of problem solving, sacrifice and compromise.

Extending taxes should really be a no-brainer that the Legislature and Governor should man-up for and even pass on their own without seeking the political cover of the ballot.

First, this is an extension. The taxes are already in existence. Our politicians are fond of putting things in terms of kitchen-table talk, so look at it this way: If a household is in dire financial straits, it cuts expenses and seeks to preserve existing income. Christmas money from relatives? Check. Bonus from work? Check. Rental deposit? Check. Refunds from car insurance or other sources? Check.  You get the idea.

Second, Brown is exhibiting dogged determination in making harsh cuts. We all know there is a ton of government waste and programs on the bubble that should be cut. But he also appears to be going all the way to the bone in a way that will shock liberal Dems. The Republicans need to bring more than the word “NO” to the table.

Third, perhaps worse than taxes, most moderates and independents despise spinelessness. But this dearth of leadership and lack of problem-solving is precisely what we are seeing and hearing from the California GOP.

To wit: “This is really not our problem,” Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, said Tuesday after meeting with Brown.

And this, in the Los Angeles Times from Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) the highest-ranking Republican budget leaders: “Listen, the drill is, we come up with a budget, it gets vilified by everybody and at the end of the day we don’t have the ability to pass it. It’s a majority-vote budget. We’re not the majority. We respect that. We’ll be part of the process but it’s not like we’re going to lead with all the things where we become the bad guys. The majority has the ability, they have the authority. God bless them, we’re here to help.”

Whining, hand-wringing and lobbing grenades is no way to attract people to your cause. The Republican position here is pure Stone Age. It’s embarrassing and exactly the type of unreasonable position that has marginalized the Republican party in California. Also it is why conservative and moderate Dems cannot bring themselves to embrace the party.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate taxes as much as the next guy and would not support new taxes. But the $9 billion or so already on the table needs to stay on the table until we get out of this mess. Republicans should hold their noses and see the common sense in this.

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Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

dog_snarlingA state media insider tells the BlueDog that the Los Angeles Times has issued an edict to cut down the length of its front-page news stories. The new policy mandates that no A1 news story shall run more 28 or so column issues — a cut from the previous maximum length of 35 column inches.

This is a 20 percent cut, and is in keeping with a business goal of achieving a 50-50 balance of advertisements and news. Page A3 — the showcase for California and Capitol news — is a meager shadow of its former self. Consider the Thursday, May 7 edition, which contains just one article and a weather photo.

The Times has always considered itself a national paper — a claim increasingly suspect given erosion of interest in state news. Some speculate the short shrift stems from the fact the Times’ top two editors are alumni of its business page, which has now replaced the once robust California section’s mix of local and state news as the B-section of the newspaper.  With that shift, news from the state Capitol, matters of public policy, politics or state issues of import are now crammed into the A-section. Meanwhile California goes to hell. 

This internal news from the Times is hardly earthshaking. But it’s a another disconcerting symbol — not only of the amazing shrinking newspaper, but the anorexia Californians (leading the nation again) seem to have when it comes to substance in its media and information diet.  

Earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee eliminated its Monday morning commentary page, which now runs print advertisements opposite editorials. The op-ed is evolving into the ad-ed.  There is just something unseemly about this, even if it is sincerely designed to stanch the bleeding. 

The once derided USA Today even looks robust against the inevitable trend toward morsels of democratized, digital media. We are now compressing sound bites into nano bites; decentralizing news from established sources to random blogs (yes, even fairly credible ones like this one), Twittering “tweet”communiques maxing out just over 100 characters (not words or inches).  Against this benchmark, the 28 column inches in the Times is a veritable encyclopedia that warrants continued reverence. But the ink continues to ooze quietly from the newspaper industry like a shaving nick that refuses to coagulate. And we’re running out of band aids.

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Eating Its Best & Brightest

 

main_dog When the Blue Dog was reporting for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, an editor ripping up one of his stories joked that “newspapers eat their young.”

Nearly 20 years later, that adage needs to be revised. Like flesh-eating bacteria, newspapers are no longer content eating their young, they are devouring many of their best and brightest veteran journalists. The brain drain among the capitol press corps — especially at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle — over the past few years (and months) is as disturbing as it is disheartening. And the problem is just as bad at the bureaus’ mother ships around the state. This is hardly a news flash; we all know this. But the wince factor just seems to grow with each departure.

The most recent example is Stuart Leavenworth’s announcement he is taking a hiatus from the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board. For the next six months to a year, he’ll be delving into the culinary arts at a restaurant in the Bay Area. One hopes this is really what it is portrayed to be — merely a sabbatical — and that Leavenworth will indeed be returning. Otherwise, it’s a big loss. Leavenworth has always embodied what is good and necessary in journalism: decency, open-mindedness and the ability to simultaneously be reasoned, critical and fair. 

Newspapers need to survive. But survival has many dimensions. There is the economic one, of course. And the question: will print last in a digital age? But the notion of qualitative survival too often gets short shrift in the discussion, as if it is an afterthought.

Not all journalists are created equal. Losing the best and brightest strikes the Blue Dog as a way to speed up the death spiral. When seasoned, respected and sometimes feared journalists get shown the door or decide to bail, newspapers lose much of the stature, credibility and value that makes them so essential to our society.

By eating its senior class, the Fourth Estate is devaluing itself and is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant. This is especially true in Sacramento, where along with Capitol staffers and lobbyists, the press corps is a vital keeper of institutional memory. Without  it, the watchdog role of the press diminishes. How can we mourn the demise of something once it becomes inconsequential?

As they push numbers around and ponder the next round of buyout offers, the non-journalist bean counters at the Times, Chron, Bee, et al  should realize that cannibalizing the core value of a newspaper is hardly a recipe for long term survival.

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