September 21, 2006
The harder they come?
by HANK SIMS
Excerpt from The Diary of Stefan B., A Minor Functionary ...
Thank you for that, Stefan. You are the Samuel Pepys of Humboldt County in the 21st century, and we do hope you will continue share your thoughts with us. But now we must turn our attention to a brave soldier in the Great Eureka Newspaper War of 2004 Onward: Charles Winkler, late editor of the Times-Standard.
Who first broke the story that Winkler was to be relieved of his duties at the T-S? None other than Captain Buhne of the Buhne Tribune blog, exploiting the admirable network of newsroom confidantes he has patiently built over the last few years. (Aspiring power bloggers, take note: Reporters respond well to browbeating and ridicule, so long as they are served with a smidgen of bonhomie). Buhne sent out his blast by RSS on Saturday. He wrote that Winkler had reportedly cleared out his desk the previous day, and cheekily speculated that perhaps Shawn Warford, proprietor of the dead-as-dog Humboldt Advocate, was being groomed to take Winkler's place.
Well, it had people talking throughout the weekend, the Dandy can certainly confirm that. By Monday, those in the know were taking it as plain fact, even though neither the Times-Standard nor the Eureka Reporter had printed a word about the scoop. On Tuesday morning, the Reporter rushed a "sources-say" story into print. The Times-Standard remained mum throughout, both in its pages and on the phone. Suddenly, not a single word emanated from what must be the leakiest shop on the North Coast, bar none. That had to tell you something.
And — lo! — on Tuesday morning, it turned out that it was all true. Winkler would be stepping down. Or, rather, if you cared to believe the T-S spin, he was stepping up! Yes, though the details were apparently not yet finalized, Winkler was to be offered a promotion within MediaNews Corp., the megalithic media corporation of which the T-S family of papers forms a tiny corner. He would be offered a power job at one of MediaNews' Bay Area properties, it was said. (Note: If Winkler ends up at the Oakland Tribune or the Marin Independent-Journal, maybe it's a promotion. If he ends up at the Fremont Argus or the Hayward Daily Review, it ain't no promotion.)
Winkler was given a send-off Tuesday morning, with MediaNews Corp. CEO Dean Singleton (the most dangerous media man in America, except for maybe Rob Arkley) making a personal appearance at T-S headquarters on Sixth Street. Singleton reportedly thanked Winkler for his service, and he introduced staffers to the new guy: Rich Somerville, a Grass Valley resident and apparently something of a "guru" in the newspaper world.
Speaking solely for ourselves, we were kind of expecting that Singleton would tap a firebrand to lead the T-S in its ongoing struggle-to-the-death against Arkley's Eureka Reporter — someone with a rumbling urge for conquest in his guts, someone who wouldn't shy from throwing a chair at a sub-editor when he gets beat on a story. Someone who might even fire a reporter who wasn't holding his own. Such a person would have made sense — when billionaires go to war with one another, wouldn't they want someone with a touch of that billionaire spirit leading the troops?
Well, we haven't met the guy, but it would certainly appear that Somerville ain't that person. He holds an M.A. in "Alternative Futures" (!) from the University of Hawaii (!!). He is a "Ph.D. candidate" at the University of Missouri School of Journalism — a good school, if you graduate. Lately, he's been running his own business — "Media Foresight Associates," a consulting firm. His online resume includes a picture of him hugging a puppy.
On the plus side, his consulting services seem to be highly regarded. Hey, here's a quote from Greg Moore, editor of the MediaNews flagship The Denver Post: "We had a terrific MediaNews retreat and your presence helped make it so," Moore writes. "Your presentation really struck a chord with the editors in attendance. They tell me this was the best retreat ever. A lot of good thinking got done."
Well, Rich Somerville, welcome to Humboldt County. Here's a briefing from The Town Dandy, and don't say I never did you any favors. It's true that this is a touchy-feely place on the surface. Alternative Futures? University of Hawaii? They're going to eat that right up, some of them. But there's a shark beneath every surface, my friend. They'll use you, they'll lie to you ... they'll try to make your paper so safe for them that they'll never have to read it again. And by "them," I mean both sides. I mean all sides.
I sincerely hope you stay for a while, at least. But if you do end up moving on, please tell your reporters one thing: Don't sit on the story!
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