Martin Reynolds Talks Journalism

martinreynolds.jpgFrom left to right: Ron Krause, retired doctor; Martin Reynolds, Editor, Oakland Tribune and Rob Stewart, President of Lake Merritt Breakfast Club and former Oakland Police Officer. Photo by Billy Wilkes.

By Bill Moore

The Oakland Tribune has been around for 134 years, but like newspapers generally, it is in a struggle for survival, according to Tribune Editor Martin Reynolds, who spoke and answered questions last Thursday at a regular meeting of the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club.

“My goal is to tell you where the journalism business is today and the challenges it faces,” said Reynolds, who edits one of 11 local newspapers that make up the Bay Area News Group.

Reynolds, born in San Francisco and raised in Berkeley, rose through the ranks at the Tribune from being an intern in 1995 to his current role, where as editor he has day-to-day impact on what readers see in the paper.

Over the past 150 years newspapers were profitable, making 20 to 25 percent profit margins every year, Reynolds said. But the world changed, and newspapers covering that world did not keep up with the changes.

First, paper prices went up. Next, websites like Craigslist came along and offered free advertisements to anyone with a computer, gobbling up a main source of income, since selling newspapers certainly does not cover all the costs of gathering news, printing the newspaper and distributing it.

In  a struggle  to  survive, many newspapers have merged, such as the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times.

To adjust to competition from television and Internet news services, many newspapers now offer online news themselves, he said. But still, the income is less. For example, a full-page ad in the Tribune might sell for as much as $24,000, while a similar ad on the paper’s website would be just $1,000.

The cost of gathering the news – a reporter attending a meeting or working on an investigative report – is expensive. The investigative journalism  conducted by the Chauncey Bailey Project into the Aug. 2, 2007, murder of the Oakland Post Editor, has taken a year and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Reynolds said.

In many cases, when a newspaper feels it must cut costs, the first thing that goes are the news gatherers, sports writers and copy editors, he said.

Still there is hope. Reynolds mentioned ongoing partnerships between the Tribune and Bay Area journalism schools that seek news ways to present the news, to make it exciting for a younger audience, while at the same not deserting the hard core of readers.