CVIndependent

Wed07172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

A confession: I’ve been in a bit of a funk as of late.

I was dismayed by, among other things, the seemingly continually depressing news from the newspaper world. To the west, the once-mighty LA Weekly is in dire straits—with print editions down to 24 pages thanks to the ineptitude of new ownership. To the north, Oakland’s East Bay Express recently laid off the majority of its staff due to an employment-related legal decision that did not go its way. And here in the valley, the owner of The Desert Sun, Gannett, just laid off a bunch of reporters, and is in the midst of a takeover attempt by a hedge-fund-owned company known for gobbling up newspapers and making deep cuts to improve profitability.

Sigh.

Then I started to assemble our February print issue … and I started to feel a lot better about things.

Yeah, the state of the journalism world still stinks (although we’re doing OK here), but it was impossible not to be inspired by all of the great things happening in our community. The aforementioned February print edition is our Art Issue, thanks to the behemoth cultural events February brings—Modernism Week and Art Palm Springs. Beyond stories on those events, which will be posted next week, we have coverage of upcoming happenings ranging from a wine event benefiting the amazing Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, to the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival (more wine!), and from the classic 1960s group The Lettermen playing at the McCallum Theatre, to the traveling HUMP! porn short-film festival (yes, you read that correctly) coming to the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our very own Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which is an event I love (yes, I am biased, but I’d love it if I didn’t have anything to do with it), because it places a spotlight on amazing drinks created by the valley’s most talented bartenders—and does so while benefiting two great charities: Desert AIDS Project, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.

Thanks, as always, for reading the Independent—and be sure to pick up our February 2019 print edition, hitting streets this week. I hope our stories uplift you like they did me.

Published in Editor's Note

Gannett—the nation’s largest newspaper company, and the owner of The Desert Sun—today laid off dozens, if not hundreds, of employees across the country.

The Independent has heard from a source that up to a half-dozen Desert Sun staffers, including one person from the news side—an editor—were let go today.

Emails sent earlier today to publisher Mark Winkler and executive editor Greg Burton have not received a response as of this writing.

A Facebook message sent to the veteran editor who was reportedly laid off has also gone unreturned.

As of 5 p.m. Pacific time, Gannett Blog’s Jim Hopkins had received reports about a total of 202 layoffs and position-eliminations at 36 Gannett operations across the country.

(Update 6:20 p.m.: Commenters at Gannett Blog are pointing out that a fair number of the people who were laid off are longtime Gannett employees—and therefore on the higher end of the pay scale. The same goes for the Desert Sun case, presuming our source is correct: The editor who we're told was laid off has been with the company for not quite two decades.)

Gannett corporate spokesman Jeremy Gaines confirmed that layoffs were going on to media watchdog Jim Romenesko via this bit of corporate-speak “Some USCP (U.S. Community Publishing) sites are making cuts to align their business plans with local market conditions.”

While local market conditions may vary, Gannett has been slashing newspaper staffers at its operations across the country for about a decade now. And the results, as daily-newspaper readers can see, have not been pretty.

Witness The Desert Sun: While the newspaper still has a lot of hard-working and talented employees, some coverage areas are undeniably weak. Just one example: In some recent weeks, the paper’s “Weekend” entertainment section, published on Fridays, has been completely devoid of locally written copy: Other than locally produced listings, the content has come entirely from wire services. The same lack of locally produced stories has afflicted the Desert Sun-owned Desert Post Weekly at times.

Of course, Gannett is not the only newspaper company making cuts these days. Just yesterday, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, owned by Advance Publications Inc., cut around 50 newsroom employees, and later this month, the venerable daily will trim home delivery to just four days per week.

In a somewhat cruel twist, employees were warned layoffs were coming, and told to wait at home for a call during a two-hour window. If a call came, they’d receive severance information; if a call didn’t come, they presumably were still employed, and should report to work like normal.

At least the poor folks at The Desert Sun who lost their jobs today presumably didn’t have to suffer through such a stressful indignity.

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Published in Media

What's 32 pages, has a total of zero locally produced stories, and is most decidedly not read all over—because there's nothing in it to read?

The Desert Post Weekly, that's what.

This week's edition (Jan. 10-16) is notable in that there are a grand total of zero locally written articles. Zero. None.

The content in the issue, owned by The Desert Sun and its parent company, Gannett, consists of:

  • "The Burning Question," in which four people affiliated with the paper—people for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, as they're forced by Gannett to put their name on this embarrassment of a publication—disclosed their personal highlights of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (However, the festival was only about halfway over by the time the DPW went to press. To which I reply: WTF?) After that 46 words (yes, I counted) were:
  • A quarter-page or so of events listings. Apparently, only five worthy things are happening this week in the Coachella Valley, because that's all that's there.
  • A page of music crap from USA Today that has no local ties whatsoever. (There must be no local bands in the Coachella Valley to cover. Oh, wait ...)
  • Two pages dedicated to mountains in Southern California from McClatchy-Tribune Media Services. Yes, mountains. Did you know that Southern California has mountains? In the winter? OMG!
  • Two Associated Press film reviews.
  • Three pages of movie listings. (At least someone presumably local took the time to type in the local theaters at which the films in question are playing.)
  • A page of classified ads, followed by 19 pages of legal notices. Those legal notices are presumably the reason why the DPW still exists: Gannett can pass notices that don't require publication in a daily from The Desert Sun to the much-lower-circulation DPW—saving a lot of money on newsprint in the process.
  • A crossword and a sudoku puzzle from King Features.

That's it. 32 pages, and the only local editorial content consists of five events listings, someone typing in theaters, and four answers to a premature question.

This bothers me, because I love alternative publications—I have edited two of them, worked at a third, and served on the alternative newspaper trade group's board of directors. Heck, I moved here to launch the one you're reading right now.

And the crud that the DPW has become chaps my figurative hide, because once upon a time, the Desert Post Weekly was an honest-to-goodness real alternative newspaper. 

It's hard to find, in public at least, a copy of the DPW from the first half of the Aughts, back when it was a real newspaper. (I tried; I contacted the Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage public libraries, and was told they didn't have copies of the DPW, old or new.) DPW does not have a website (Let me repeat that so it can sink in: In 2013, there's a newspaper that does not have a website!), so there are no online archives to peruse.

However, the Internet does offer some documentation of the Desert Post Weekly before Gannett bought it and slowly started squeezing its life away. You can find a fair number of links and references to old stories, and the Wayback Machine has some snapshots of www.desertpostweekly.com back when it was an actual thing. A capture from Jan. 20, 2002, shows a preview webpage promising that the paper is about to go online, and includes a graphic with a rotation of old DPW covers touting stories about imprisoned women caught in the drug war; dowsing; the McVeigh execution; "America's obsession with reality TV" (a prophesy, perhaps?); "Will e-books replace the real thing?" (more prophesy); and gambling addiction.

In other words, real stories. In a real newspaper.

The paper carrying that once-proud name today is a sad joke, a paper in which there's no there there. If Gannett had any decency—and it does not, as the company has proven time and time again—it would retire the Desert Post Weekly with some dignity.

Published in Media