Truth to power

Fox has “Fair and balanced,” McDonald’s has “I’m loving it.”

The Sacramento Bee’s parent company, The McClatchy Co., has a catchy trademarked slogan, too. It’s “Truth to power,” a motto for journalists the world over. And it blew Bites’ mind to see the corporation’s little circle-R symbol next to the phrase on McClatchy’s national news site,

Bites supposes it’s a fitting motto for an organization that sees itself as fearlessly rattling the cages of the powers that be.

Consider the way the Bee recently went after those fat-cat schoolteachers and their fancy health plans with their $5 co-pays. Downright heroic.

The motto is short for “To speak truth to power.” And while Bites isn’t sure of its origin, the Internets mostly attribute it to the Quakers. It certainly became a favorite for reporters long before McClatchy affixed its corporate stamp. In fact, Bites heard it on the very first day as a lowly intern here at SN&R, somewhere between “The bathrooms are over here” and “Dial 9 to call out.”

So how is it that McClatchy came to own this time-honored maxim?

And what does it mean if somebody infringes? Completely hypothetical, but what if Bites were to write a book called Truth to Power: How The McClatchy Co. Screwed the Pooch and CEO Gary Pruitt Got Filthy Rich? Would that be a trademark violation? What if Bites used the phrase on a blog, or a television broadcast, or in an ad campaign for a line of tasty malt liquors? Would SN&R get sued, à la Fox News v. Al Franken?

Bites doesn’t know, because no one at McClatchy would say.

Just to be clear, when SN&R calls with questions about The Sacramento Bee, the folks there, including Bee spokeswoman Pam Dinsmore, are generally helpful and always super nice. Dinsmore should get a raise.

But the corporate side is a whole different beast. Three months of e-mails and phone calls to corporate reps over at 21st and Q resulted in zero answers. It’s frustrating, because Bites really needs a slogan, and will now have to appropriate some other musty old idiom and make it part of the Bites brand.

For example,“Bites: Six of one, half dozen of the other.” Or, “Bites: God willing and the creek don’t rise.” Or how about “Bites: Better than a sharp stick in the eye”?

Perhaps McClatchy should also trademark “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

For months, Bites has been curious about why several top McClatchy executives are eligible for big bonuses this year. Apparently, it’s part of McClatchy’s “retention program” for bosses.

Retention program? Really, where are these guys going to go?

The potential payouts (about $175,000 a pop) were announced at the beginning of the year, right around the time that The Sacramento Bee was announcing another round of layoffs in the newsroom.

The whole time Bites was trying to get answers about “Truth to power,” Bites also tried to get someone at McClatchy to explain how these bonuses are a good idea, and asked to speak to the top payees, execs Pat Talamantes, Bob Weil and Frank Whittaker.

The closest Bites got was a brief statement from McClatchy treasurer Elaine Lintecum, who said that the bonuses aren’t yet a sure thing. “No bonuses would be paid unless bonuses were going to be paid to other employees.”

Thanks, Elaine, but that doesn’t answer the actual question, “Should these executives be rewarded with big bonuses, while reporters and editors and the people who actually put out newspapers are losing their jobs?”

Lintecum wouldn’t comment further. But the truth is no, they shouldn’t.