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Writing on the wall, and Freedom’s bankruptcy

Writing on the wall, and Freedom’s bankruptcy

The East Valley Tribune’s parent company, Freedom Communications Inc., is seeking bankruptcy protection after several years of declining revenue and massive shake-ups at its largest newspapers.

The corporation owns a handful of TV stations and more than 30 daily papers, including its flagship Orange County Register.

Freedom reported assets of about $1 billion, but also has liabilities of about $1 billion.

Circulation and ad revenue have dropped considerably at its largest papers. In Irvine, Calif., the Register lost more than 10 percent of its circulation. In Mesa, the Tribune saw paid-circulation numbers drop in a much bigger way – and the impacts were even more catastrophic than the numbers show.

Dozens of Tribune reporters lost their jobs, including some of the most talented and highly paid. The paper stopped publishing daily and started putting out stacks of papers for free. The idea was to keep the paper in lots of people’s hands so advertisers would continue to buy space. It changed publishers twice within a few months, and people in all departments started to worry about the future. They shrunk the paper to a tabloid format instead of broadsheet, and they began publishing fewer pages of news copy.

I must disclose here that I am a former Tribune employee. I spent almost two years there, and it was a good job while it lasted. It was a really solid paper for the first year I was there, and I learned a lot from some very talented journalists. Looking back, I am glad I had a chance to work there. But things took a severe turn for the worse in 2007, and I decided to cut and run.

I left prior to the crisis, and I did so willingly. Before the first round of newsroom layoffs and before the paper ceased being a daily, I saw the writing on the wall and left to take a much better job at the Capitol Times. The signs of trouble were clear. For example, upper management began looking for excuses to pull back on state Capitol coverage, and as the assistant metro editor in charge of Arizona political coverage, I didn’t want to be there anymore.

They always say the same thing: It’s not that we’re struggling, we just want to focus on neighborhood coverage. The higher-ups would come to me and point out statistics that “prove” people don’t care about state government news and only want to know what’s going on next door. I always said, and still do, that sort of reasoning is faulty; state laws and other things going on at the Capitol impact daily lives more than the local dog show at the park.

It’s also not a good sign when top-level editors, who should know better, would rather put the Arizona Cardinals on the front page instead of news about the governor or the budget.

So, here I am. Thank goodness.

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