Freedom of the press

As three former staffers plan to form new digital Long Beach publication, Press-Telegram spokesperson claims newspaper will continue to thrive

When three staff members of the Long Beach Press-Telegram left the publication a few weeks ago, many interpreted the situation as a looming indication that the century-old newspaper will soon go under.

However, in spite of the circumstance, the communications director with the Southern California News Group (SCNG), an umbrella group of local newspapers that includes the Press-Telegram, told the Signal Tribune this week that the dire speculation couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We have a larger network of full-time journalists and freelance contributors specifically covering Long Beach and news events originating in the city that impact the entire region,” wrote Eric Morgan in an email to the Signal Tribune Wednesday, providing the same statement he shared with the Los Angeles Business Journal a week prior and dismissing the notion that the Press-Telegram has only one staff writer.

The three staffers who quit are: Tim Grobaty, columnist with the publication since 1976; Jeremiah Dobruck, a public-safety and breaking-news reporter; and Melissa Evans, city editor.

The trio’s intention is to create a new digital publication that will serve the Long Beach area. This week, media outlets announced that Pacific 6, an investment company helmed by Long Beach resident John Molina, will fund the yet unnamed publication.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Grobaty said the departures are about two months in the making.

An article at DMFWorkers.org cited media analyst Ken Doctor and claimed that Alden Global Capital, an American hedge fund based in New York, is intending to shut down or sell Digital First Media newspapers within the next two or three years. The article that attributes Doctor is from a website that is campaigning to “win fair contracts with wage increases” for employees of Digital First Media.

The Press-Telegram, part of Digital First Media, has been a victim of Alden Global Capital’s decision, according to Grobaty, who claimed that the hedge fund buys distressed properties to garner a profit.

“They made a pretty huge profit off of Digital First Media newspapers, which they own,” Grobaty said. “[…] They’ve just been picking us apart one by one. All of our papers make more than the profit they are told to make, and they still lay people off. We were down to pretty much nothing. I’ve been there for 42 years, [and] I remember when we had almost 100 reporters. Then, it was down to about three. And now two of us [have] left. And, it’s just going to get worse.”

Grobaty said Molina expressed an interest in buying the Press-Telegram about two months ago out of concern about the publication’s local news coverage. Molina’s offer was refused.

Not satisfied, Molina contacted Grobaty and pitched the idea to start their own publication.

“I was just sitting there, losing hope, thinking, ‘I’m 63. I could just retire,’” Grobaty said. “It’s not the end of the world for me, but it was getting really really depressing. Everybody felt the same way. I think if you asked any reporter in that chain if they were going to be involved in this, I think they’d all say, ‘Yes.’ I don’t think there’s a happy person in SCNG. All for the same reason– all because of Alden Capital.”

Grobaty said the issue with the Press-Telegram’s news coverage is that it utilizes its SCNG network as one big staff and publishes stories that are irrelevant to Long Beach readers.

“We were sharing stories for things going on in Buena Park and Glendale and Riverside, and our readers don’t care about that,” he said. “And the readers in the other areas don’t care about Long Beach. We were only designing one front page for all of the newspapers. So, it was hard for us to get local stories in the Press-Telegram. It was hard for us to generate them with just two reporters. And, there was no hope in sight. It’s just getting more dire.”

In his email, Morgan wrote that SCNG is proud of Long Beach and that it deserves to have a “variety of strong voices and journalists representing the people’s interests.” The Press-Telegram will continue to serve the community the same way it has in the past 121 years, Morgan added.

“[We] will continue to document the living history and unique story of Long Beach each day, as will The Grunion Gazette every Thursday,” he said. “Both have been fixtures in Long Beach for many decades. It’d be great to see all Long Beach-focused news sources– established and new– succeed and thrive.”

The Press-Telegram is currently replacing the positions of those who left, Morgan concluded.

Grobaty, Dobruck and Evans met this week with Molina and David Sommers, Pacific 6’s media contact, to discuss the details of their new publication. As of press time, Grobaty said there are no new details to release, but information will be available soon.

Grobaty said the planned media publication will be a free online entity covering all of Long Beach’s nine council districts, with an emphasis on areas that Grobaty said tend to get a lack of press coverage, such as the uptown district.

For Grobaty, the situation is a win-win– he will continue his passion for journalism and will begin working for someone who cares for the community, he said.

“It’s strictly a philanthropic venture on John’s part,” Grobaty said. “I mean, I think he has the best intentions of the city to do this. I don’t think he’s expecting to get rich off it. […] I think it’s going to be a great product. I think we’re going to hit the ground running. It’s going to be a good thing.”

The longtime Press-Telegram columnist has no ill will toward his previous publication. His career decision was merely a product of circumstance.

“I don’t have any problem with Press-Telegram– I’ve been with them all my adult life; they’ve all been great people– but it was time for me to either retire or get rescued,” he said, “and I happily got rescued.”

Update (4:30pm; June 4, 2018): This article has been updated to clarify and provide attribution to claims of Alden Global Capital’s handling of Digital First Media. Previously, the article had no such attribution and incorrectly stated that Alden Global Capital had made an announcement about Digital First Media.