The sinking feeling that never really goes away

Deck etiquette: Bites is flattered that former Sacramento Bee columnist R.E. Graswich has lifted the McClatchy Co. death watch from this space, though frankly it must be said with neither the skill nor the nuance reported here. The chasm separating sports writing from journalism is awesome; some folks never make it, or find themselves straddling the abyss. Shit happens. Check Bobby B’s defense of firewood on his Sacramento Magazine blog, Graswich Unleashed: Going Commando.

There’s no denying that the S.S. McClatchy is sliding inevitably toward a watery grave; Capt. Gary Pruitt has lashed himself to the wheel, bless his billion-dollar-baby heart. As of this writing, the Bee parent company bobs at just under $20 per share, a precipitous 74 percent decline since the high of $75 per share reached on March 18, 2005.

That was before Pruitt veered off course and struck an iceberg named Knight Ridder last summer. A game of musical deck chairs has ensued in the Bee’s editorial department ever since. Graswich was one of the first to abandon ship; longtime entertainment writer David Barton is rumored to be the next man to jump overboard. What is it over there? Women and children last?

Hung jury: It’s not all bad, maybe. Various contract buy-outs have shuffled the deck at the Bee, allowing Lisa Heyamoto’s card to rise to the top. “When summer says goodbye in Sacramento, it’s with a heat wave,” Heyamoto beamed from one of her first front-page stories this past August. Sunshine or saccharine? Bites still can’t make the call. This is the genius of Heyamoto, who proudly admits she doesn’t know a damned thing about health care.

Naturally, the Bee has given her a column. Alas! So far it seems to be written using the Diana Griego Erwin fill-in-the-blanks story generator. It’s touchier playing footsie with welfare moms than it is with the bears down at The Bolt. Heyamoto needs to be in an environment more conducive to being Heyamoto. Send her out to cover the Doll ’n’ Gun show. Or to the American River Parkway after-hours scene. Lisa must be unleashed.

Rumor control: The problem with rumors is that sometimes they turn out not to be true. Most of the time they do turn out to be true, in Bites’ lengthy, distinguished experience. But just to play it safe, here’s a message to the editor embedded in the text: “TK: e-mailed Barton to verify he is quitting, no reply yet.” If no reply comes by press time, Barton’s name will be replaced with “fill-in-the-blank,” or Griego Erwin. Sorry, Dave, if the editor missed the note.

On rare occasions rumors do turn out to be false. Such appears to be the case with the rumor that Beckler is calling it quits at Heckasac, the popular blog that chronicles the local culinary and music scenes and offers the occasional critique of what’s happening downtown or the latest offensive media spectacle, such as Delta and Dawn’s visit earlier this year.

Strangely, although Bites heard the Heckasac rumor secondhand, it seems to have been spread by Beckler herself. Here’s her September. 21 entry: “Well, you guys have probably noticed that this blog is moribund lately. I’m calling it quits. Nothing dramatic, I just never feel like posting anymore.”

On October 1, she came out of retirement to announce, “I had to pay to get into Tower yesterday.” The very next day, she announced she was retiring again, adding that, “by ‘retire’ I mean that I have tomorrow off. See you on Thursday!”

That’s how rumors get started. In Beckler’s case, it doesn’t look as if the on-again, off-again chatter has effected the number of hits Heckasac receives. Nothing creates demand like the idea a product might not be around tomorrow. Perhaps the marketing gurus over at McClatchy could learn a little something from Heckasac.