Breezin’ Along with the Breeze

south-bay-scene-for-blog.jpgI have been trying to keep in mind Tony Soprano’s sixth-season admonition, “‘Remember When’ is the lowest form of conversation.”

I’m in my fifties now, I’ve seen a lot of things here in my little world, and I find history both pleasurable and important. But I also think change is good, new things excite me and as a father of an incoming high-school senior, the future is far more important to me now than the past. For me, too. It has to be. What I once thought of as my life has ended abruptly, twice, with no turning back. This is a condition of everyone’s existence. Sometimes this truth is hidden, but it’s there.

I remember floating on a water taxi in Venice early one foggy morning, seeing these ornate palaces emerge from the opaque dampness, one-by-one like a procession of ghosts. Whoever built these gilded homes never imagined that mighty Venice would ever lose its grip on the world of commerce. But it did. When the end came — in the form of Napoleon’s armies — Venice didn’t even put up a fight. They wanted to save the palaces to remind them and future generations of how rich and powerful and glorious they were, once. So, in exchange for no bombardment, Venetians handed over the keys to the invader. And now the whole place is sinking.

Someday they’ll say of Venice: “Remember when?”

Curiously, I thought of all that when I came across LA Observed‘s link to a post on Life on the Edge, a San Pedro blog. The post is about the Daily Breeze, the supposed newspaper of record for my part of Los Angeles, the South Bay and Harbor areas. When longtime owner Copley News sold it to Dean Singleton’s Los Angeles Newspaper Group a year or two ago, it was inevitable that we would read about the Breeze’s descent into the lower depths of journalism. LANG’s a cheapo-cheopo organization, proudly so. They buy up newspapers in a region, they consolidate as much of the operation as they can, and then they cut cut cut.

So here are the agonies of the Daily Breeze:

Word around the cooler is that the transition from the Copley Press to Dean Singleton’s Los Angeles Newspaper Group has not been good. Morale is very, very low. People are leaving in droves. The paper considered the paper of record for the South Bay is adrift.

Does anyone care? It doesn’t look like it. It appears that The Breeze is destined to die a slow and tragic death at the hands of a beast called media consolidation. Its writers, an undeniably talented bunch, are now competing for resources with the Daily News, and do not appear to be a priority for LANG.

Here’s a list of things that have taken place since the transfer:

– The entire janitorial staff was laid off.
– All of the pressmen, who were union, were laid off too.
– Some ad people whose jobs overlapped with other existing Singleton ad folks were laid off also.
– Any extra costs have been removed, they ask the staff not to mail copies of stories to sources because of the postage costs. All of the plastic forks, spoons, knives, napkins, and condiments (salt, pepper) are no longer provided in the eating room.
– The soda vending machine was unplugged and a sign was placed on it that said it will not sell cold drinks anymore.
– One of the photographers who developed a medical condition that prevented her from lifting heavy things, e.g., a camera was axed.
– A good amount of people are leaving, one without even giving notice.
– The introduction of a section known as LA.com was widely panned by readers, receiving 53 comments, nearly all of them negative, on the Breeze’s website.

When the blogger asks if anyone really cares about the future of the Daily Breeze, the answer is, pretty clearly, not too many do. The South Bay is funny. It’s a pretty big area, with a lot going on. Some very wealthy people live here, and some very poor people. It lacks a center. The biggest city is Torrance, but no one in Redondo Beach says they live in “the Torrance area.” We don’t have any great attractions here except the beaches. Although there are local productions, we go into the city if we want to see a ballgame, a symphony orchestra or a play. We have colleges — Cal State Dominguez, Loyola Marymount — but they’re in the shadows of larger institutions like UCLA, USC, Pepperdine and Cal State Long Beach.

The entire region’s economy is propped up by two facilities in the South Bay — the LA Harbor and LAX. But locals mostly see them as nuisances. What happens downtown, the locus of most local news coverage, doesn’t matter to most of the South Bay. We live in incorporated cities not named Los Angeles, unless we live in San Pedro, Wilmington or Harbor City.

Newspapers try, but they can’t make smaller city councils and small-city mayors interesting. Seldom does anything urgent happen. So the Daily Breeze always felt kind of boring, even though it usually wasn’t. The headlines weren’t jazzy. A good writer might appear once in awhile — David Zahniser, the most notable recent example — and there are some reporters who have covered the same beats for a long time and know them well. The local columnist, John Bogert, gets nowhere near enough credit.

The Daily Breeze is, itself, a consolidation. From Santa Monica down to San Pedro, there used to be three newspapers: The Evening Outlook, the Daily Breeze, and the Daily Pilot. (Remember when?) The latter two were always owned by Copley, and the Pilot’s pages were mostly filled with Daily Breeze copy. In the 1980s Copley purchased the Outlook, which maintained its identity, but was increasingly filling with Daily Breeze copy. By the late 1990s, all three brand names were rolled into one.

And, based on what seems to be happening, you have to wonder whether there will still be a Daily Breeze in a few years. Maybe all the LANG newspapers will become the Daily News. The Breeze already runs the DN’s coverage of City Hall and sports. The replacement for the Rave section (which was pretty good), LA.com, is a cross-platform section. What little local arts scene there was down here, which the Rave used to cover, will now be ignored.

Maybe LANG will just shut the Breeze down. I don’t know how many people would miss it. I can’t imagine it has made much money lately.
A brilliant entrepreneur might figure out a way to create a network of full-time bloggers who would focus intensely on their communities and interests. An LAX blog, a Port of LA blog, a high-school sports blog, blogs for surfers and in-line skaters, and blogs for each of the dozen or so cities down here. Hey, even a “Remember When” blog. There are a lot of writers already writing such blogs–for free. There is clearly an advertising base here, if you aim it and price it right.

The South Bay blog network site would have to be very scenic and pithy — lots of pictures and video. Instead of (understandably) demoralized reporters, you might find a band of gritty bloggers with an entrepreneurial streak. That wouldn’t be bad. Maybe that’s what the South Bay has been waiting for all along.

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