The Bee’s departed
The Sacramento Bee loses decades of hard-earned reporting experience in latest buyout
Even the most savvy reporters can be caught off guard. “I didn’t see this coming two weeks ago,” said Sacramento Bee writer Deb Kollars, explaining how she learned that her two-and-a-half decade career in journalism was coming to an abrupt end.
On August 26, the Bee gave most of its employees just two weeks to decide: Leave the Bee now and we’ll cut you a deal that could help ease your transition into a different career, or into retirement, or stay and see what happens next.
Kollars was most recently the Bee’s main education writer, but she covered many beats over the years. Along with Bee reporters Matt Weiser and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, she received major awards and recognition for a series of investigative stories on Sacramento’s vulnerability to a catastrophic flood.
She already had been considering a career change, but with little time to make a decision, Kollars accepted the buyout. She’s now enrolled at McGeorge School of Law. Her last day was Friday, September 12.
The list goes on. Veteran reporter Art Campos, well-known features writer Bob Sylva and prominent food critic Mike Dunne are just a few of the other names on the list.
Some Bee employees weren’t included in the buyout offer, such as the Bee’s Capitol Bureau reporters and columnists Marcos Bretón and Ailene Voisin. And according to the Bee’s own reports about the buyouts, each employee was offered two-weeks salary for every year of service at the paper.
In all, about 10 percent of the newsroom took the buyout, in what is only the latest round of cost-cutting moves at the Bee and McClatchy Co. newspapers around the country. In June, the Bee cut staff across all departments by about 10 percent—through attrition and layoffs. In the process, the Bee has lost many of its most-experienced and accomplished reporters.
Among them is Dorothy Korber, who accepted a buyout last week. She came to the Bee in 2000, but has been a reporter for nearly 30 years.
Her investigative reporting uncovered inmate abuse and mismanagement inside the Sacramento County Main Jail—and eventually led to the creation of an independent oversight agency for the Sheriff’s Department. And in 2004, she won the prestigious George Polk Award for investigative reporting, along with Capitol reporter John Hill, when the pair uncovered the problem of “Chief’s Disease,” the misuse of worker’s compensation by higher ups in the California Highway Patrol. She’s now leaving to take a job in the state Senate.
“It’s weird. My whole identity has been a reporter. Now I have to figure out who in the hell I am,” Korber explained with a laugh. “I’m very sad to leave the people. Journalists are a funny, smart and neurotic group of people, and I’m going to miss that.” Though, with so many ex-Bee employees buzzing around town in what Korber calls the “Beeaspora,” she’s certain to cross paths with her old colleagues.
Journalism professor Barbara O’Connor, who teaches communication and technology at Sacramento State, calls the loss of the some of the Bee’s heavy hitters like Korber and Kollars, “A great loss.
“It’s sad to have people who are at the top of their game—who otherwise would have 10 or 15 years ahead of them—go and leave the business.”
While the newspaper industry is going through spasms, O’Connor says the industry is shifting, not dying. And the Bee’s smaller, younger, workforce will reflect those shifts.
“They’ll hire younger people, who will work for less and who have great technical skills,” O’Connor added.
But O’Connor noted that with so many years of experience leaving the building, a lot of the context and deep understanding of the community goes with it. “The young ones are bright and they write well. But they take forever to get to the story,” O’Connor explained.
The young ones, and veterans alike, who remain at the Bee are left wondering if more cuts are coming; so far, management isn’t saying. “Things plummeted so fast in July and August, I think they’re a little gun-shy about saying what’s up right now,” said Korber.