National news stories rip owners of Vallejo Times-Herald
By Roger Straw, October 23, 2021
Four national news sources have named the Vallejo Times-Herald in the last two weeks, in stories citing a corporate hedge fund that is gutting newspapers. (See links below.)
On Thursday, the PBS News Hour published How this ‘vulture’ hedge fund’s gutting of local newsrooms could hurt Americans. Judy Woodruff begins the discussion, “The hedge fund Alden Global Capital has been acquiring scores of U.S. newspapers across the country — then gutting newsrooms and selling off assets. It’s part of a larger trend in the erosion of local news and related jobs in the last decade.”
In three of the four national news stories, former Times-Herald reporter John Glidden is mentioned.
This reporter, John Glidden, told me that he started out as a general assignment reporter, which meant he was kind of covering local crime and community events and whatever came up. Within a few years, he was the only hard-news reporter left in town. He said he had this legal pad that he kept at his desk where he would write down tips that he got from sources. And a lot of them were tips for stories that he knew were important but that he would never get to. He was ultimately fired after criticizing Alden in an interview with The Washington Post. But, you know, when I talked to him, he said it was heartbreaking to see what this once-proud newspaper serving this proud city had been reduced to under Alden’s ownership.
Local readers should note that John Glidden has recently joined with Brian Krans and Scott Morris to publish an independent online news publication, The Vallejo Sun. Another former Times-Herald reporter, Katy St. Clair, also started her own online news medium, katystclair.com. The Benicia Independent has been in operation since 2007, providing news and views on Benicia, Vallejo, and select issues of concern including climate change and the environment.
Here are links to all four national news stories mentioning the Vallejo Times-Herald:
… Up first, a brand new 538 piece by Joshua Darr. The LSU professor worked with colleagues to show that “less local news meant more polarization” in communities. “Then, with a little luck,” he wrote, “we were also able to study the other side of the coin — whether more local news could actually bring people together.” The answer was yes, at least in Palm Springs, California.
But, Darr wrote, “the market is simply not providing local newspapers the resources they need to deliver the civic benefits they’re capable of, which raises the question as to what extent the government should step in to help.” He flicked at the proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in the Senate and pointed out that “even bolder policies have been proposed to help local news, such as giving direct payments to news organizations to hire reporters or offering Americans vouchers to spend on local nonprofit media.”
Local news as civic infrastructure? With Democrats controlling the levers of power in Congress, these ideas will at least get a hearing. Whether they’ll come to fruition is another matter altogether. But Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said earlier this spring that local news, “frayed beyond belief,” should be treated as “critical infrastructure” that “needs to be preserved.”
“National news outlets and social media have gotten a lot of attention for contributing to mistrust and disinformation, but local TV news is no less complicit,” Amanda Ripley wrote in this deep dive for The Atlantic last month. Ripley surveyed some experiments by Scripps‘ local stations to improve TV news and rebuild trust — from “increasing the length and complexity of its segments” to “backing away from crime coverage and other cheap thrills.” There’s a lot to think about here…
The “nationalization” problem
“Can local TV news keep politics local?” Matt Grossman of the Niskanen Center posed this question on a recent podcast. Here’s a transcript. Local coverage is “threatened by nationalization,” Grossman said, citing new work by two scholars. In summary: “Daniel Moskowitz finds that local TV news helps citizens learn more about their governors and senators, encouraging split-ticket voting. But Joshua McCrain finds that Sinclair has bought up local stations, increasing coverage of national politics and moving rightward. Local news coverage is in decline but offers one of the major remaining bulwarks against nationalization and polarization.” More here…
The Vallejo Times-Herald’s headline writer was decidedly NOT impartial this week.
Local commercial news media in one-paper towns are obliged to do their best to present a balanced perspective, especially on controversial topics. True objectivity is difficult, but the public’s primary source of news needs to do its very best.
And yet, consider the Times-Herald’s headlines Oct. 13-16, each of which accompanied a sweet photo of the fast-tracked Trump/GOP sham nominee, Amy Coney Barrett:
VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD HEADLINE DEPARTURES FROM ORIGINAL AP HEADLINES
Original AP headline on Oct. 13: “Barrett vows fair approach as justice, Democrats skeptical”
VT-H headline: Barrett vows fair approach
Original AP headline on Oct. 14: “Barrett bats away tough Democratic confirmation probing”
VT-H headline: Barrett unscathed by tough questions
Original AP headline on Oct 16: “GOP pushes Barrett toward court as Democrats decry ‘sham’”
When approached by email, Times-Herald Editor Jack Bungart let me know that staff does not write the paper’s headlines. Their “pagination hub” converts from an Associated Press headline according to “what fits in each situation.”
So who or what is the “pagination hub” serving our friendly staff at the Vallejo Times-Herald? Is there bias at work here? Who, exactly, is responsible for the seemingly partial editing of the AP headlines that came up with these pro-Barrett Times-Herald headlines?!
Come on, Vallejo T-H “pagination hub”. Who are you? In the future, give us a more nuanced and accurate first look at the day’s highly controversial news.
As I read the headline, “Times-Herald staff will work out of Vacaville office,” my heart sank a little. It’s a sad, albeit inevitable, sign of the times to see the Vallejo Times-Herald leave Vallejo.
My relationship with local newspapers began before I could read. Twice a day, the Vallejo papers (morning Times-Herald and evening News-Chronicle) were tossed onto the porch by a kid flying by on his bike. Between the covers of each issue lay a fascinating world of first, pictures and comics and later, articles and ads. As I grew, my favorite stories were society-related. Each baby shower, wedding and anniversary event carried 2-3 pictures, an extensive guest list (using the “Mrs. [husband’s name]” designation for the women) and descriptions of the fashions of the day on display.
There were the columns like Dave Beronio and Marion Devlin. Oh, and the ads — for the Redwood Inn, Levee’s department store, Terry’s Waffle Shop, the Grotto, City of Paris, Stillings toy store, Higgins shoes, Home Bakery, Market Town, Liled’s candy store, Casa de Vallejo, the China Barn, Red Top dairy, the Golden Bubble, Tarantino’s, Helen Lyall’s, the Village, Palby’s, Vallejo Travel, the Elbow Room, Passini’s, and later, on the growing east side of town, Rudy’s supper club, Purity market, Toby Jean’s hamburgers, Gentleman Jim’s, Springhill Foods and Yardbirds.
Over the years, I turned to the Vallejo paper daily for horoscopes, Ann Landers’ sage advice, to catch a movie (at the Rita, then then El Rey, and later at the Cinedome 7), see who was racing at the hardtops, and to check out the newest sounds at Munter Music.
As TV news gained prominence, the morning and evening editions of the Vallejo newspaper were combined into the one evening edition. However, the paper’s strengths of excellent journalists, columnists, photographers and staff were undiminished. The Vallejo Times-Herald gave us in-depth stories about the in-our-backyard Zodiac killings, lurid Associated Press pictures of the Vietnam war along with how our hometown recruits were faring, and extensive coverage of local sports.
We got the big Vallejo stories, like the sinking of the Guitarro, a nuclear submarine, in the Mare Island Channel (for which Vallejo was awarded “Laugh-In’s” ‘Fickle Finger of Fate’), Joey Pallotta’s world-record catch of the largest sturgeon ever out in the Carquinez Strait, and the amazing boosterism of local residents like my Aunt, Donna Jean Hines, to bring the Marine World theme park to Vallejo. We also got the “little” but vital stories, like upcoming class reunions, GVRD summer playground dates, and the annual County Fair prize winners.
The Times-Herald kept me informed as the city leaders tore down our Carnegie Library for an ugly, needed-but-not-right-there senior high-rise and closed lower Georgia street in the first of 37 failed attempts to “save downtown.” I heard they passed on Sunvalley Mall to build Larwin Plaza. Our community college left our community.
The Times-Herald covered local politics, protests, and picnics with equal zeal. It supported local arts organizations and locally-owned businesses, sponsored Little League teams and maintained a staff of crack reporters whose focus was (and has been) relentlessly local — bowling tournaments, Fourth of July parades, water and sewer rate hikes, church socials, car washes, Hal’s Appliance sales, elections, and the heart of any community: Births and deaths.
Vallejo’s diversity was and is its greatest strength. While much coverage was positive — Filipino community Pista Sa Nayon festivals, and (later) homegrown Black hip-hop stars, for example — the racism that stained every aspect of community life (so deep that Black residents had to literally build their own housing development, Country Club Crest, in order to buy a house in Vallejo) was seldom mentioned. The city leaders remained almost exclusively white, male — Mayor Florence Douglas notwithstanding — and (and since the closet was firmly shut, who knows?) straight, long past the Civil Rights and women’s movements and the rise of the fight for LGBTQ rights.
Times continued to change. A failed VTH strike in the ’70s, which birthed the short-lived Vallejo Independent Press, mirrored the nationwide decline of unions, manufacturing and working class-prosperity. Mare Island Naval Base, arguably the lifeblood of the local economy, closed after 125 years. Again and again, the city leaders’ nostalgia for a ’50s-style downtown won out over common sense, and commerce fled to Fairfield, Concord and Vacaville, resulting in even fewer print ads.
With the rise of the internet and the collapse of ad revenue, the Times-Herald, like most print journalism entities, began to shrink in earnest. The paper was sold to a chain, its building on now-Curtola Parkway, with its giant printing press, clocks of the world, darkrooms, news bays and clattering Linotype machines, also sold and eventually demolished. The staff downsized again and again, reporters doubling as photographers, columns and editorials increasingly nationally-syndicated, and local sports the biggest driver of community news.
Yet the Vallejo Times-Herald hung on, covering local arts, politics, education, business, sports and community events. I still subscribe today, from our retirement home in the foothills above Sacramento, to see who died, the specials at Gracie’s Barbecue and who’s appearing (pre-Pandemic) at the Empress. I read the wacky letters to the editor, featuring endless debates among five or so locals whose beefs go as far back as the Hatfields and the McCoys, and whose letters should be serialized so the occasional reader could have even a clue as to what they’re writing about.
I enjoy the latest jewel of artistic creativity otherwise unnoticed in our midst that Richard Freedman illuminates, and Brendan Riley’s periodic chronicles of our more distant past. Sadly — but glad that it is being covered — I keep abreast of the developments in the deaths of Vallejo residents of color at the hands of police that, if not in part for the dogged persistence of Vallejo journalists in continuing to shed light on these events, would not finally be gaining some statewide and even national traction.
The announcement that Vallejo Times-Herald operations are moving to Vacaville marks the end of an era — for journalism and for Vallejo. We all know what happened when the Contra Costa Times became the East Bay Times. Want to know about Oakland? Just pick up the EBT. Concord? Not so much. And local in general, vs. national/world news? Even less.
So I predict I will be learning more about Vacaville, and less about Vallejo, from the VTH (or soon-to-be “Solano Reporter?”) in the future. No offense meant. It’s the way of the world, and I want the VTH to survive in some, even regional, form so that our talented local journalists can continue to work, and so that “USA Today” doesn’t end up our local newspaper!
I guess we were lucky to have a hometown paper survive this long. That said, give me a moment to mourn and mark the passing of an enterprise that has informed and affected my entire sentient life. Maybe not perfect, just like our world, but trying its damndest to fulfill its mission – to reflect one community, at its best, worst and most mundane, for posterity.
Vallejo Times-Herald reporters, editors, circulation and advertising staff, I salute you for your diligence, integrity and commitment to my hometown, Vallejo. Thank you and farewell.