Friday, October 29, 2010

In An Eyeblink

Unless you live on an island somewhere and are independently wealthy, you can't not have heard of the continuing downturn in the economy. Whole industries are in danger, not only from the economy but because of the march of progress...which sometimes doesn't feel like real progress.

I am part of the problem with the downturn in the publishing industry, with all of my gloating about the kindle app for my iTouch. I love it. More and more you see people in waiting rooms, on airplanes and in other spots reading books on Kindles. A Kindle book is cheaper than a real book. But authors are getting less revenue because people aren't buying books. Independent bookstores are going out of business because of places like Amazon which make it so easy for people like me to buy a book without leaving the house.

An industry which has been in great danger for a long time is the news industry. Newspapers are becoming obsolete because people can get their news instantly on the internet, or through the 24 hour a day news stations. Of course, what we lose in gaining instant gratification is the trust of true "reporters," those guys who take the time and patience to research a subject before reporting it as fact.

A big part of a newspaper's advertising revenue came from its classified ads, but with the popularity of free sites like Craig's list, people are putting their ads there instead of buying space in the newspaper. This is especially true of automobile ads, which once were a major part of the weekly advertising revenue for a newspaper, but who can save money by advertising on their own web sites.

I have been floating along blissfully unaware of the real threat to the businesses in my own back yard. We're OK. We didn't pay attention to neighbors and acquaintances who were struggling to find work.

The reality of the situation hit me smack in the face on Tuesday afternoon when I returned from my mother's. A huge chunk of my life made a 180 degree turn in an eyeblink. I returned to a message that I should call Derrick, my boss, the Entertainment Editor of The Davis Enterprise, at his home.

This was not an unusual request. I had a feature story coming up that I was getting ready to schedule interviews for. I had also just turned in a review, which was later than it should have been. We also have the university theatre year coming up and a couple of more feature stories to be decided upon. So, as I say, his asking me to call was not an unusual request (though asking me to call him at his home was).

I was not prepared to hear that the paper has gone through another round of downsizing. Four people had been let go from the staff and I already saw the writing on the wall for me, but what I didn't expect was to hear that my position was not one (I'm not a full time staffer) of them, but Derrick's was.

derrick.jpg  (35391 bytes)I've known Derrick Bang since he was a kid running The Game Preserve, a shop that sold all sorts of games. He became the Entertainment Editor of The Davis Enterprise in 1997. I was vaguely aware that he had written a book about Charles M. Schulz and the Peanuts comic strip -- only to find out later about his exhaustive collection of Peanuts stuff, and his work on a couple of projects involved with the creation of the Charles M. Schulz museum in Santa Rosa. (Actually Amazon has four books listed as having been written by Derrick, one in collaboration with Schulz' widow Jean.)

It was he who called me in 2000 to ask if I would be interested in working as a second theatre critic to the paper's main critic, Marilyn Mantay. I was nervous, but interested. Marilyn's and my collaboration worked well. I reviewed all the musicals, which she hated, and she did the serious stuff, which I didn't feel qualified to review.

When Marilyn retired, Derrick and I talked about whether I thought I could handle the whole job. We decided to give it a try. I'm not sure what year that was, but a long time ago. I don't think we ever revisited the discussion of whether I could do the job or not--I just did it.

We've worked together now for a very long time. If my reviews are good it's because Derrick does the final editing on them and because he doesn't let me get away with sloppy reporting. He slaps my wrist for misspellings (yes, I now remember that Richard Rodgers has a d in his last name!) and takes me to task for getting an actor's name wrong (which I don't do as much as I did in the beginning).

I love our twitter-like e-mail exchanges conferring about stories, letting off steam about frustrations, talking about changes that he made in an article, or discussing the spelling of theatre vs. theater.

As of this writing, I am waiting for the paper's editor to call me (I know she has a lot on her plate, so I don't want to bug her--she said she'd call 'in a few days') to find out how my own job will change and how the change at the newspaper will affect publicity for the theaters around the area. Will I continue to review Sacramento shows? Will there be any feature articles -- I know that there won't be any 2 page features any more, but will there be any?

All I know at the moment is that I won't be working under Derrick's supervision, guidance and encouragement any more and that makes me very, very sad. I can't imagine working without him.

I sent a copy of this entry to Derrick, to make sure I had all the facts straight and actually got a pang in my stomach when I received the following canned message from The Enterprise:

Thank you for your message. Derrick Bang no longer is employed by The Davis Enterprise, and therefore cannot be found at this e-mail address. All messages relating to Enterprise entertainment section business -- press releases, photos, story pitches, queries, etc. -- should instead be sent to [address]

Personal corresponse to Derrick can be sent to [address]. This includes queries regarding his work with Peanuts, Vince Guaraldi, Concord Records or any of the many other side assignments and projects with which he continues to be involved.

Correspondence from jazz music labels and publicists also should be sent to [address]

As Charlie Brown would say...."sigh."


l'empress said...

I understand -- oh, how I understand. When the downturn hits your company, the first thing to do is to dismiss all the second-tier people, those whose work is no longer valued. You can replace them with a couple of college interns or even high school kids, for a far lower cost. Loyal employees are discarded like so much trash. (And the beautiful letters of recommendation have little or no weight with prospective hirers.)

Notice that the upper echelons are safe. If they have to leave at all, it will be with a "golden parachute."

It hit me in 1993, though our company had dodged the bullet for at least ten years more than it deserved. I have been an observer for twenty years, describing it at every chance for the public who doesn't care.

It still hurts like the devil every time I see it happen.

Terri Bird said...

Yep. I'm about to pack it in with publishing, myself, even as a freelancer. It's just not worth it anymore.

Derrick Bang said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Bev. Fortunately, I'm learning to blog and related social media. I'm now publishing my film reviews on my blog, at