Any fear of the Salinas Californian overshadowing the Visalia Times-Delta (VTD) was put to bed last month. After 144 years of publication, the Salinas Californian announced that it was going to transition from a daily to three days a week, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The change starts September 28. Since their announcement, the Salinas Californian has lost one of their sports writers, Quinn Robinson, to the VTD.
Pete Wevurski, editor for both the Salinas Californian and VTD, said in a column that “change is inevitable. You can’t avoid it; you can only adapt to it or be left behind.”
Does that mean that the VTD is headed for the same fate? The VTD has, for the last decade, been losing local control because it is owned by publishing behemoth, Gannett. The VTD shares its editor, Pete Wevurski, and publisher, Paula Goudreau, with the Salinas Californian and layout of the paper is done in Phoenix.
Yet unlike the Salinas Californian, the VTD seems to be thriving with no indication it will lose its place as being the largest daily in Tulare County. Distribution in Salinas, with a population of 155,000, has tanked to 5,000 a day, but in Visalia, population 129,000, the distribution is around 20,000 a day. Advertising seems strong and the VTD web traffic is robust.
The consensus is that distribution tanked because the quality of the information has decreased over the years. The editor for the Monterey Partisan, Royal Calkins, wrote about Salinas, “I worry about the community, one that has already lost much of its cohesion because of the newspaper’s slow but steady decline in recent years.” His sentiments were echoed by the Californian’s readers. One on-line commenter said, “The Californian has been in a slow spiral down for years. The slogan used to be ‘Yesterdays News Tomorrow,’ but now even that isn’t very accurate. I’ve read coverage of events which I had attended and after reading the coverage, wondered if it was really the same event.” Another reader said, “Sad news!? If anything it’s closer to no news, which is perfect given that that is what the Californian is best at publishing.”
Wevurski expresses no such concerns. His reason for the paper going to three times a week is that Salina’s population is predominantly millennial and Latinos who want to read their news digitally. Wevurski continues on his Facebook that the Californian has changed the paper’s focus from the boring daily grind to “passion topics.” He explained, “Previously, they ranged from ag to public safety to government accountability to helping our children succeed. Effective September 28, they become ‘My Safety,’ ‘My Needs,’ ‘My Free Time,’ ‘My Neighbors’ and “My Planet.’”
In an incredible display of spin, Wevurski describes the transition to three days a week as, “We’ve changed our approach from reporting the news to providing information you can use. We won’t be talking at you anymore; we intend to engage you in conversations where your point of view is as valid – perhaps even more valid – than ours.”
The Salinas Californian readers didn’t share Wevurski’s enthusiasm for all the changes. One on-line comment said, “I’m tired of stories that are important to the families of Salinas being ignored in favor of fluff pieces that serve no one. I’m tired of journalists posing questions and never following through with answers. I’m tired of journalists who do not live in Salinas (The Californian uses three of VTD’s reporters) and do not understand us reporting our news with condescension.”
Are all these changes part of Gannett’s “newsroom of the future?” Go out and get a subscription to the Visalia Times-Delta and let’s not find out.