When in doubt, kick a little Bee-hind

Pull the string: For months, Bites has pondered the unceremonious exit of former Sacramento Bee executive editor Rick Rodriguez last October. How is it that a journalist who’d pretty much dedicated his entire adult life to McClatchy Co. abruptly walks off the job at the height of his career? Deep-cover moles within the confines of 21st and Q streets inform Bites that Bee publisher Janis Heaphy now enters the building through a side door, rather than face withering gazes from her disgruntled charges. But as to the machinations behind the Rodriguez move, the moles remain mute. That puzzle’s been left for Bites alone to solve, and at long last the pieces are falling into place.

Consider, “The times are changing, and so is your newspaper,” the first installment of a promised weekly column by incoming Bee executive editor Melanie Sill, published last Sunday.

“The world outside our windows has been transformed by a technology revolution,” Sill gushes. “The Internet, cell phones and other communication vehicles have linked people in ways almost unimagined 20 years ago.” She shamelessly insists that in this one-daily-newspaper town “the Bee has more competitors than ever,” an equation that only works if you think having video clips on your Web site makes you a TV station.

In short, Sill reveals the conceit that’s infected the entire newspaper publishing industry since the 1990s Internet boom. Like its siblings, the Bee has forgotten that it’s in the business of publishing newspapers.

She said: “Our core mission might be more vital than ever,” Sill claims. Might be? Jesus, she’s serious about this change thing! Thus the crowning achievement of her tenure so far: “On Saturday, we launched a new Home & Garden section.”

Oh boy. About the only thing that can be said in Sill’s defense is that the Bee was so terminally effed up before her arrival, it’s difficult to imagine anyone turning it around. Gone are the days when columnists such as Pete Dexter and Peter Schrag regularly spoke truth to power (although Schrag does continue to contribute to the Bee every now and then). Today we get the he said/she said act of Marcos Bretón and Lisa Heyamoto.

Make that she said/he said. “Zeus the Great Dane is quite the stud,” Heyamoto breathlessly noted in her column last Saturday. “On Christmas Eve, the 2-year-old dog became the sire of his first litter of purebred puppies. All 21 of them.”

Lisa the Lite was by no means done screwing the pooch. Next up was Mayor Heather Fargo, who reiterated a pledge to make Sacramento the greenest city in the nation at her annual State of Downtown breakfast last week. Heyamoto heeded Fargo’s advice, forgoing bottled water at restaurants and walking instead of driving to work. “Me being smugly low-impact or the Svengali-like power of the mayor?” she asked coyly. “You decide.”

He said: That’s the kind of pitch Bites normally hits out of the park. Unfortunately, in his column the very next day, Bretón got to it first. Commenting on the very same breakfast, the former sports section stalwart described Fargo’s speech promoting green Sacramento as “amazingly lacking in substance and ultimately depressing considering our complex times.” Fair enough. But after mercilessly thrashing Fargo for the entire column, Bretón ended on an exceedingly ugly note.

“It was tough watching Fargo struggle as she walked to the podium to give her flawed speech,” he writes. “The effects of multiple sclerosis are clearly progressing.”

Hard-nosed columnist or someone in dire need of sensitivity training? You decide.

In the meantime, McClatchy’s stock price continues to fall, and sits at just above $10 per share as this is being written, down from its all-time high of $75 per share three years ago. Given all this, and lacking any other explanation, it seems rather self-evident why Rodriguez left. As the saying goes, it’s best to get while the getting’s good.