August 31, 2008

Golden Age of Newspapers II -- still exciting but more challenging

While economic challenges and sweeping changes in the Information Age are leaving their imprint on The Modesto Bee, Editor Mark Vasche says the paper's mission remains the same: "serving our communities by providing news and information that is local, relevant, timely and useful, and that can help people make informed decisions in their daily lives and as they participate in the democratic process."

For much of my nearly four decades as a journalist, I worked in the Golden Age of Newspapers — an era when they were the main and, in most communities, the only source of reliable local news.

Those were exciting times, and it was a privilege and a pleasure to be part of them. But they're gone.

Today, I work in the Golden Age of News and Information — a time of almost unlimited access to news, thanks to traditional sources such as papers, TV and radio to the ever-expanding online world.

And, believe me, this new Golden Age is every bit as exciting as the prior one.

It's also every bit as challenging, and in many ways even more so, given that we're remaking our company while in the midst of an economic recession.

My new world — and the newsroom I call home — looks and feels a lot different from the old one. It's smaller, it's sleeker, it's faster, it's multifocused and multifaceted — and it's constantly and quickly changing.

One thing that hasn't changed, though, is that we're still the most trusted and turned-to source of reliable local news, information and advertising, in print and online.

Even though our audience in print and online has never been greater and can't be matched by anyone else, so much change has lots of people, inside and outside The Bee, confused, conflicted and concerned.

Over the past several months, we've announced a number of changes — some of them made in response to the weak economy, others done as part of our transition from being a newspaper company to being a modern news operation that delivers information 24-7 and stops once each day to print a paper.

Those changes — from reducing our staff through resignations, buyouts and layoffs to narrowing the paper to the new industry standard to deciding to print our paper at our sister Bee in Sacramento — have prompted lots of questions and comments from fans and foes alike.

The other day someone asked me when I was moving to Sacramento. It wasn't some talk-radio crackpot; it was a friend who mistakenly assumed that printing the paper in Sacramento meant shutting down the entire Modesto operation.

I explained, as did Bee president and publisher Margaret Randazzo in a front-page column last Sunday, that while the paper was being printed in Sacramento, the company's news, advertising and other operations weren't leaving town. I likened it to buying a product at a local store, and having it delivered from a warehouse in the Bay Area.

While my friend was relieved to learn that neither I nor the news staff was leaving, others weren't so pleased. A longtime Bee basher who calls himself "Truthseeker" in the blogosphere wrote on modbee.com: "Many of us were hoping Mark Vasché would take the buyout. Living in Modesto I guess we don't deserve that much good fortune."

Well, sorry to disappoint you.

Others were confused, as well. A reader identified as jimv960 wrote on modbee.com: "I took The Bee for decades. When they fired all the reporters and just reprinted the wire services, why pay for that?" Another online reader, hobie1, added: "Funny you say The Modesto Bee will be around always. My 91-year-old mother says there is no more Modesto Bee."

Huh? Jimv960 and hobie1's mother must have us confused with some other paper. We haven't fired all the reporters, and we're not going away. Yes, we have fewer journalists today — and we miss those who no longer are with us. But we still have, and will continue to have, the largest staff of talented reporters, copy editors, artists and photographers in the six-county region we serve.

The situation is the same in our advertising division, where despite some staff reductions we still have — and will continue to have — the largest and most skilled force of sales professionals in our region. And the situation is the same in circulation, the division responsible for getting our product to your doorstep every morning.

While our world has changed — from how we gather info to how we present it to how and when we deliver it — our core mission remains the same: We are committed to serving our communities by providing news and information that is local, relevant, timely and useful, and that can help people make informed decisions in their daily lives and as they participate in the democratic process.

In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing more about that mission, and about what will — and won't — be changing in the future.

In the meantime, if you hear someone on the radio or TV or at the coffee shop say that "The Modesto Bee" is gone, know that they're wrong. We were here yesterday, we're here today and we plan to be here tomorrow and for many, many tomorrows to come.

Thanks for reading The Bee and modbee.com!

Vasché, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be contacted at 578-2351, at mvasche@modbee.com or on the Editor's Desk blog at http://thehive.modbee.com/editorsdesk.

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