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As San Antonio Booms, Express-News Goes Bust

MySA-Shrink

On the day the San Antonio Express-News announced it had terminated 14 more newsroom employees, Metro Editor Nora Lopez boldly declared, “We still own this city.”

And dinosaurs once ruled the Earth.

Express-News Publisher Susan Pape assured readers that the “Voice of South Texas” remained profitable. Apparently not enough for the Hearst Corp., its parent company.

In the well-worn corporate strategy of regionalization, more Express-News content is being symbiotically merged with sister newspapers in Houston, Beaumont and Laredo.

Among the editorial casualties at 301 Avenue E:

Political writer Peggy Fikac, high school preps reporter Adam Zuvanich and regional correspondent Zeke MacCormack, who took the occasion to tweet apologies for “errors that made it into print despite our best efforts.”

Reporter Vianna Davilla, who dodged the layoff bullet, said of MacCormack: “You worked faster and harder than all of us put together.” See where that got him.

Staff reductions always look good to bean counters at headquarters. After all, why have two reporters when one can do the job?

(To appreciate the ultimate absurdity of that construct, picture the San Antonio Spurs deploying the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela to replace Dejounte Murray and Pao Gasol, and vice versa.)

The parts-is-parts strategy has been in play since Hearst tanked its San Antonio Light, bought the Express-News from Rupert Murdoch and sent it lurching leftward. Generic “staff writer” bylines increasingly belong to Houston Chronicle writers. This has been especially noticeable on the sports pages.

With the loss of local news reporters, the E-N is taking on a more regional hue and losing its San Antonio identity, even as the fast-growing city is on track to surpass Philadelphia in population.

If newsroom consolidation were such a good idea, regionalized newspapers would be thriving. In fact, they are not. When papers blur their sense of place and identity, they become less relevant to local readers, and readership declines further.

In a sign of things to come, Friday’s edition of the Express-News carried a story about a Border Patrol officer shooting a woman near Laredo. Though the E-N had a bureau in the Rio Grande Valley and Hearst owns the Laredo Morning Times, coverage of the shooting came from the New York Times wire service.

What’s next, San Antonio City Council meetings covered by USA Today?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg cried crocodile tears over the layoffs.

“A free press is as vital to a healthy democracy as our government’s own system of checks and balances. The role and importance of independent journalism ought to be fundamental to any civic education, and I hope our nation returns to those values,” the mayor pontificated.

Not to worry, mayor. You can still count on the online Rivard Report, headed by former Express-News editor Robert Rivard. Rivard surely sees the E-N’s continuing demise as another fund-raising opportunity for his civic-boosterish site.

In reality, a “free press” is the last thing this mayor, or any other preening politician, wants. The Express-News has obliged with limp, biased or non-existent coverage of corruption and incompetence at City Hall. All that’s done, of course, is erode credibility and make the newspaper less essential to readers.

Key editorial staffers bailed out while they could. Editor Mike Leary retired this month. Former editorial page editor Bruce Davidson, another retiree, is Nirenberg’s spokesman. Managing Editor Jamie Stockwell has moved on.

In 2009, the paper slashed 75 positions across several departments.

Military Affairs writer Martin Kuz left for Sacramento awhile back and tweeted: “The country’s seventh-largest city — and its fastest-growing — needs more reporters, not fewer.”

Fikac likely was pink-slipped because much of her political writing about Texas overlapped with similarly leftist musings from the Houston Chronicle. Metro columnist Brian Chasnoff and senior City Hall reporter Josh Baugh were retained, for now, as reliable tools of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who needs media cover amid challenges from the firefighters union, anger over rising property taxes, dangerously high crime rates, Centro corruption and other simmering controversies.

On cue, the Express-News this week rushed up an editorial opposing three city charter reforms that qualified for the ballot this fall. Headlined, “Voters have to get educated on possible charter changes,” the editorial was itself devoid of objective facts or critical analysis, reading like warmed-over talking points from Sculley and Nirenberg. Within hours of publication, Nirenberg, already in full campaign mode, enthusiastically emailed a link to followers. There’s that “free press” for you, literally!

Chronicle Managing Editor Vernon Loeb is helming the remnants of the San Antonio newsroom until a new editor can be found. The influence of the Houston flagship will inevitably increase in the process.

If past is prologue, the next E-N editor will be another Chamber of Commerce-friendly, politically correct progressive disconnected from the everyday concerns of middle-class taxpayers who constitute many of the paper’s remaining readers. (Job One: Flip the endorsement of Andrew White to Lupe Valdez in time for November’s gubernatorial election.) References from Sculley would be a bonus.

The Express-News is looking for another team player to lead a leaner paper evermore dependent on the Chronicle. Don’t expect it to score many points.

the end

 

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