This past Thursday, we at the newspaper held what I termed a "Meet the Editors" event at the DeBell Clubhouse Grill in Burbank. It was an informal deal, with writers, photographers, columnists, critics and editors mingling with community members.
I tend to dislike public speaking — though I'm getting more and more practiced as time goes on — but I love talking with people in small groups. It's a great opportunity to get acquainted with people in the community.
At least that was the idea. Though a handful of readers showed up, the vast majority of the 20 or so people who came were our freelance writers, columnists and critics. I certainly understand: Being a freelance writer can be a lonely existence. You go to a show, a restaurant or a gallery opening, come back to your computer, type up your thoughts and e-mail it in.
Occasionally your editor will call to talk about the piece, but most of the communication is done by e-mail. You submit your bills electronically, and the (admittedly small) payment is automatically deposited into your account. The entire process can be completed without directly speaking to a human being.
Many of our freelancers have read one another's pieces for years but have never met. David Laurell and Ruth Sowby, the society columnists for the Leader and News-Press, respectively, are both longtime veterans of the paper, but had not met face-to-face until Thursday night.
Quite a few familiar faces were in attendance: columnists Patrick Caneday, Joe Piasecki, Kimberlie Zakarian and Michael Teahan, Burbank reporter Gretchen Meier and Features editor Joyce Rudolph. Many other people attended, but if I list too many names, I risk making this sound and look like a society column, a task done best by David and Ruth.
Though the writers of the words in the paper far outnumbered the readers of those words, I did get to talk to a few people about what they liked, what they didn't, and what they'd like to see more of. So not to embarrass anyone, I'll just throw out some questions I've heard and try to answer them as best as I can.
How is the paper doing financially? How does the fact that the Los Angeles Times, the parent company of the News-Press and Leader, is in bankruptcy affect things?
Both the Leader and News-Press are doing quite well financially. The Times itself is also profitable. The issue is really the Tribune Co., the corporation that owns The Times — and by extension, the News-Press and Leader. While the fact that Tribune is in bankruptcy protection does make the future somewhat uncertain, the very fact that we make money instead of losing it shields us from cutbacks or reductions.
So, then, why is the paper so small?
This is due to personnel changes, not problems with our bottom line. When reporters or photographers leave to go elsewhere, we are normally short-staffed for the three to four weeks it takes to find a replacement. Add in vacations and the fact that the summer months are traditionally slow in the news department, and the smaller papers make sense. The number of pages in the paper, in fact, are slated to increase soon.
We are currently working on an online newsletter and breaking news alert. You can be sure I'll be announcing those in this space as soon as they are ready. I would love to have an app for the iPhone — and iPad, Blackberry and Android — but I believe that is some time off.
I had a great time on Thursday, and a number of people have written to say they did as well. I plan to make this a more regular event, so look for an announcement in this space in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments, you can always reach me. I look forward to speaking with you.
DAN EVANS is the editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.