As a news junkie, I was pleased to receive the Morning Call’s invitation to an annual “letter writers” event, which I attended last Thursday. Designed to thank (or co-opt?) the cranks who regularly pen letters to the editor, the event itself was fascinating--attended, as it was, by Call publisher Tim Kennedy, editor Ardith Hilliard, and the entire staff of the editorial page.
The event was held at the Call’s downtown building, with candied refreshments, logo’d coffee mugs, and a surprisingly choreographed program. “Home of the Brave, Land of the Free”--this was the evening’s inexplicable title, which was projected on a large screen, against the backdrop of a rippling American flag.
After a slide show of dramatic news photos, editorial page editor Glenn Kranzley introduced the folks in attendance, and invited a few columnists up to read political limericks. (Bizarre, but enthralling.) Kranzley then invited the 40-person audience to ask questions. Most of these were disappointing--”Why don’t you print NFL box scores on Sunday?” asked one quivering-with-anger letter-writer. “I’ve written a letter every Sunday for the last 15 weeks!”--but Bob Lovett, the LV Republican leader, did ask an informed question about reports that Call parent company Tribune is in talks with various buyers. (See also the Call's own earlier reporting on rumors that the paper might be sold separately.)
I asked a deliberately barbed question, with the Call’s 2005 layoffs and current LA Times imbroglio in mind: “The Morning Call is a public trust as well as a private company. The Tribune Co. demands ruthless profit margins in the 20 to 25% margin--five times what the average Fortune 500 company clears. What is the senior leadership of the Call doing to insulate the paper from the bean counters in Chicago.” A nervous Kennedy gave a vapid answer, with the repeated claim that ownership is “just 5% of the problem.” (Here's the NPR story on the LA Times fight).
After the Q&A, and before the night’s highlight, the tour of the facilities--I approached editor Hilliard to congratulate her on Sam Kennedy’s excellent reporting on the higher education fraud Lehigh Valley College--which, thanks to Kennedy’s tireless, shoeleather follow-through, finally threw in the towel.
The tour was truly gripping, especially the bits that involved the awesomely sized presses--bought used from the Baltimore Sun some years back. The sheer acreage consumed by the presses--whole football fields--is astonishing, and it’s humbling to realize that it will all be gone within 15 years. (One Orwellian side note: Up on the walls of the massive production spaces--though not in the newsroom--is the creepy slogan “Innovation is our Job.”)
Whatever its motives, the Call deserves thanks for the informative event.