Dawn of the dead papering over the cost of dying
Expanded from the 7-22-2001 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 12-20-2006, 12-12-2007, 1-18-2009
Some people consider newspapers as dinosaurs but such Jurassic journals are eating pretty good in most places these days. Pulp peddlers have never been displaced as the biggest advertising medium in this marketing driven country.
People who buy stock in such superannuated reptiles have usually seen the gamble pay off handsomely, but many critters are now in danger of collapsing under their own weight.
Increasing concentrations of corporate conglomerates control more and more media. The economics of greed eventually produce a disconnect between newspapers and their readers. No better example exists than that of the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The day is not far when the paper will become no more than a local insert inside the Gannett-owned USA Today. The RGJ has become such a tourist-oriented publication that news stand sales eclipsed household subscriptions more than a decade ago.
The disconnect from the community just reached a new low.
The Gannett greedmongers are now exploiting the dead.
Don't take my word for it, call and find out for yourself. Try (775) 327-6748 or 348-7355 and inquire about an obituary.
The first question from some sunny-dispositioned, teen-sounding clerk will concern whether or not the deceased was someone of prominence. In that case, "we contact the newsroom and that's something they determine."
What if it's just an average person? Some poor lout who worked for living? A garden variety schlub nobody ever much noticed?
Nevada's largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, still gives a few lines to local decedents. The Reno Gannett-Journal now charges for everything. If you are poor and die, your passing goes unnoticed, violating the precepts of most religions as well as the journalist's primary responsibility to accurately report the first draft of history. FIGHT BACK! Join the campaign to do something about it.
"The first 20 lines are free, that's the header and 14 lines. Figure about five words per line. After that, the charge is $2.50 per line. A picture is extra and takes about 11 lines," Miss Sunnysounding told me last week.
The chain gang is now exploiting the dead for fun and profit. (To its everlasting credit, this newspaper does not charge for obituaries.)
It's become increasingly difficult to get a death notice printed over there. A few years ago, the RGJ refused to run an obituary written by the deceased. Why? She noted that she intentionally chose not to have children and some bluenose objected. The Carson City Nevada Appeal printed it without question and without charge.
The Reno Gazette-Journal was the highest profit paper in the Speidel chain before the Gannett takeover more than 20 years ago. Today, they make a net profit exceeding 40 percent, a level approached only by the occasional Mafia family. (For chapter and verse, read The Chain Gang  by Richard McCord at your local library.)
All money is taken out of the community and wired to New York every night. They give very little to charity. What crumbs they sprinkle, they promote mightily. (See Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss by Amy Silverman in Phoenix New Times.)
They also shamefully suck up to advertisers. Any Rollan Melton column mentioning downtown Reno casino overlord Don Carano must be cleared through several levels of senior editors. Don't want to piss off a major advertiser. (Melton, former head of Speidel, sat on the Gannett board for many years.)
How tight are they with the Carano clan? Look at the recent full page ads promoting today's Russian National Orchestra concert conducted by Sophia Loren's kid, Carlo Ponti, Jr. They carry sponsorship identification from Carano's Eldorado Hotel-Casino, site of the event, the Reno Gazette-Journal Foundation and Artown, which is a nice euphemism for City of Reno tax money. These are unhealthy relationships for a newspaper.
Blurring the lines between news and advertising is nothing new over there, but lately it's gotten worse. They have turned non-profit organizations like the Reno Philharmonic into paid advertisers. It was the only way several arts organizations could get coverage for their events from a greedy management currently running about a dozen reporters short.
They've recently pushed their most experienced (and highest paid) staffers into early retirement. Editorial page editor Bruce Bledsoe, copy editor and longtime columnist Guy Richardson and longtime reporter Mike Henderson are all history. Nineteen-year photographer/assignment editor Jean Dixon moved on to UNR.
Over the last couple of years, they've dumped over a hundred years of experience, commonly called institutional memory.
In contrast, San Jose Mercury publisher Jay Harris resigned in March rather than conduct wholesale beheadings to bring the paper up to the Knight-Ridder chain's less-than-Gannett (but still fat) 29 percent profit goal.
The "newly formed Reno Gazette-Journal Foundation" yesterday announced a grant going to a new charter school complex fronted by local brahmins. They of course covered it as something wonderful. Gannett's actual charitable giving nationwide is about as stingy as you can get, they just have vehicles to ballyhoo the spreading of the crumbs.
And now, they're charging for obituaries.
UP AGAINST THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. As though Gannett needs to make more money, the Kazoo-Journal recently took over distribution of the Wall Street Journal in these parts. The chain gang took the business away from an independent distributor who had performed faithfully for 15 years. My spies report that said distributor dutifully delivered every Wall Street Journal newsrack to the Gazette-Journal premises. Gannett execs then demanded the distributor's client lists. He refused, asserting that they were proprietary information of his news distributorship. So for a few days last week, Wall Street Journal customers only got their papers when they started calling around to complain. My heart bleeds for greedy Gannett.
MOMMY DEAREST DEPT. In case you're wondering about the sudden disappearance of a certain local television sportscaster a couple of months ago, here's the madcap story. The gentleman in question was expecting a network feed of video he needed to complete a story. For whatever reason, the footage got lost in space.
Like many good jocks, he had a temper tantrum. Rather than going outside and bashing a tripod to pieces on the steps (which actually happened at the same station many moons ago), this guy took out his frustrations in more modern style. He encoded a certain dirty word into the computer in front of him. (The epithet in question is a compound accusative vulgarity. The accusation in question concerns one's maternal unit.)
The damage was compounded when the dirty compound word ended up going out over the airwaves. An embarrassed anchorperson delivered an apology on behalf the station the next night.
Sweet dreams, mother.
Be well. Raise hell.
1. IRONY OF IRONIES. The above link entitled "The Chain Gang" originally went to the Green Bay News Chronicle, the paper Richard McCord saved from the depredations of Gannett, the story of which is the central narrative of The Chain Gang. Alas and alack, the link today goes to a Gannett paper. The independently owned publication succumbed and Green Bay now has only one newspaper. This makes Reno-Sparks increasingly unique as one of the few communities in the United States with two absolutely separate dailies.
WIKIPEDIA: The Green Bay News Chronicle went down with the distinction as the longest surviving union strike-originated paper in history. Read about how Gannett finally destroyed it.
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Reno News & Review, Feb. 1997
BARBWIRE: The Gannett-Journal Railroad Job
Daily Sparks Tribune 9-14-1997
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Copyright © 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org/ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988 .
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