Support the Bee anyway

In late April, following news that 14 journalists at the Sacramento Bee had been given the ax, I wrote a piece headlined “Save the Bee,” praising its coverage of the Stephon Clark shooting and its aftermath, and encouraging SN&R readers to subscribe. Over the months since, on a couple of occasions, I have almost come to regret it.

Today, in the name of media literacy, and in the tradition of alt-weekly editors slamming the daily, I’m writing to point out what I perceive as an example of very poor news judgment shown by the Bee—and to once again encourage SN&R readers to subscribe to our struggling local newspaper.

Many of you will recall an article published two weeks before the June 5 election, headlined “DA candidate Phillips called sexist, racist email ‘work appropriate … appropriate anywhere'.” Seeing that headline, a reader might conclude that the candidate, Noah Phillips, had taken that position publicly. That is not at all the case.

The article would have been more appropriately headlined, “DAs office leaks email in attack against opponent. Again.” We learn in the story that the email in question, sent to Phillips in February 2016 by his 70-year-old Uncle John, was “provided to The Bee” by an unnamed source. Described in lurid detail, the email was in very bad taste; Noah Phillips’ sin was in failing to scold/educate his uncle in his reply. Page one.

Following the story, my colleague Raheem F. Hosseini tweeted: “Let he without an embarrassingly retrograde relative cast the first stone.”

It was incomprehensible to me that the editors at the Bee decided to take the bait provided by the DA’s office, but I should not have been surprised. The newspaper had been lapping up dirt provided by Ann Marie Schubert’s brutally negative campaign for months.

Confronted with the email, Phillips expressed shock and anger that his account had been “hacked.” That, then, became the story—columnist Marcos Breton, who co-bylined the original piece, followed up with this: “Want the worst way to handle a racist, sexist email? Just ask Noah Phillips.”

Let’s put this in context. Schubert’s mishandling of protests regarding use of force by local police agencies have put Sacramento in the national spotlight. This race is being followed by judicial reformers around the country, many of whom have seen images of the chain-link fence surrounding her office.

Phillips, two years ago, let a dirty joke slide.

Reflecting on this, I find that I do not blame anyone in the vastly depleted Bee newsroom for what I see as one serious flub. When I was researching local elections for a voters’ guide a few weeks ago, my main source of information, by far, was I was stunned by the sheer volume of reporting delivered by what has become a skeleton crew.

Not too many years ago, there were 300 reporters, editors and photographers in the Bee’s newsroom. Today that number stands at 22.

Following my “Save the Bee” piece, I had coffee with Lauren Gustas, the Bee’s editor and The McClatchy Company’s West Coast chief. She shared her strategies for guiding the newspaper through these extraordinary times. On Sunday, Gustas made those plans public in a page-one plea for subscribers.

While I am too much of an old-school editor to get super-excited about metrics-driven decisions, cross-platform synergies or Amazon Echo—and I find the presence of screens in newsrooms delivering real-time reader data repugnant—there is one thing that Gustas told me that gives me hope. She plans to create content that gives readers something so valuable that they are willing to pay for it. I get the sense that she is sincere about this.

Do I believe that getting 45,000 new digital subscribers would mean the Bee-of-the-future will not fall for a ruthless politician’s dirty tricks? Maybe not. Nevertheless, I urge you to point your browser to and sign up.