Today, Thursday, May 3, inside sources at the News-Press are saying that reporter Leana Orsua has quit. When The Independent called the newspaper to confirm, the secretary said, “Her extension is no longer working.” A message left with associate editor Scott Steepleton at noon had not been returned as of press time nor was newspaper spokesperson Agnes Huff able to provide a comment. As well, Orsua has not returned calls to “The Chocolate Fountain,” her catering business that became a subject of ridicule for News-Press critics when Orsua began working at the newspaper following the mass employee exodus in July 2006.
The inside sources say that Orsua apparently resigned in part due to her displeasure for the front-page article linking former editor Jerry Roberts to child pornography. But the insiders also believe that her resignation is likely more related to the oddly worded front-page “Editor’s Note” that called attention to an error in Orsua’s Tuesday article about the immigrant rally.
Orsua wrote that “hundreds of thousands” participated in last year’s rally, but the number was closer to 15,000. The “Editor’s Note” did not simply correct the error, as is standard practice in the newspaper industry and as most corrections have been done over the years at the News-Press. Rather, the “Editor’s Note” - which must have been penned by Scott Steepleton, the newspaper’s top editor, who presumably should have caught the error himself - explained, “Such errors of fact provide a distorted picture of reality, and play into the hands of those who seemingly benefit from the error. Our goal is to present news without error or bias. This story failed in both regards, and for that we apologize.”
The note marks a new trend on the part of the News-Press to openly stake their claims of objectivity. They are also doing so on each segment on their newly launched video feed NewsPress.tv, which is being handled by videographer/radio voice Dale Ernest. At the end of each clip, the voice-over says, “Local. Unbiased. Accurate. 24 Hours a Day. This is News-Press TV.”
The trend was popularized in the 1990s by FOX television, which began with the tagline “fair and balanced.” But as media watchers can attest, FOX is anything but fair and balanced. It remains to be seen how the News-Press‘ new motto will play out. Their report on the court hearing yesterday was arguably even-handed, though it re-ran the controversial article that started the recent employee exodus and created the ongoing community uproar. And the report also featured an exclusive interview with the newspaper’s attorney Barry Cappello. That alone is sure to raise some qualms about being “unbiased,” but the segment does say that city attorney Steve Wiley declined an interview.
As for Orsua, the “Editor’s Note” came at the same time that a court story she’d been following was handed off to business reporter Maria Zate. Orsua then quit this morning, Thursday, May 3.
Orsua joins recently resigned “Trends” columnist Judy Foreman and business writer Stephen Bonser as employees who jumped ship following the Roberts article. And others still employed within the paper regularly make contact with the outside world to report that morale is low and the atmosphere is tense. They all do so anonymously, fearing immediate termination if they speak up.
Orsua’s resignation leaves reporter Hannah Guzik, a Westmont grad, as the senior-most news department reporter at the News-Press. Guzik began as a “correspondent” with the paper in January 2007 and was named a staff writer in February. She’s been on the job less than half a year, and she’s now the top tool in the News-Press‘ South County box. In the North County, the News-Press relies solely on veteran reporter Nora Wallace. Maria Zate, who mainly focuses on business, has been recently doing some news reporting as well. The others in the news hole include associate editor Scott Steepleton and the widely used byline “Staff Report.”
Guzik, Wallace, Steepleton, and, occasionally, Zate-three, sometimes four writers are now covering the county’s news for the News-Press. Compare that to June of 2006, when the newspaper had 15 news reporters, according to fired reporter Melinda Burns.
That’s a nearly 500 percent drop in staff [Editor’s Note: Due to an astute reader who alerted us to our problematic math, that percentage should be 67] with no new hires in sight. How’s that for “more local news” as owner Wendy McCaw promised?
UPDATE AT 2:30 P.M.: An astute reader told the SB Media Blog that the News-Press recently posted two advertisements on the website JournalismJobs.com. The posts are here and here. The reader also points out that the newspaper is still advertising itself as a 41,000-circulation publication, when the big news earlier in the week was that the paper had dropped 9.5 percent in circulation, to 38,000. The reader explained, “If anyone’s going to know about that decline, it’s the people who are looking at that site.”
In any case, it appears that the News-Press is reaching out into the journalism industry to find some staffers. We’ll see if they get any bites.
YET ANOTHER SAYS “NO MORE”: After this story was initially posted, an email was sent to The Independent by former sports stringer Dan Shiells. He writes, “Please add my name to those disgusted by the recent smear campaign of the News-Press against former editor Jerry Roberts and, in truth, against the integrity of all journalists. I agreed to come out of retirement last fall to cover football games and and a few other events as a personal favor to current sports editor Barry Punzal, a longtime colleague and friend, and also because I always enjoyed that aspect of the job. I was merely a stringer so I don’t suppose I count as a resignation, but I do want it known that I will not be stringing for the News-Press in the future.”
So if you chose “sports reporter” on the poll above, you win! Who’s next?