Columns » Public Eye

A place to think


In the months following the announcement that the Gazette's parent company is for sale, we've resisted picking on the product originating from 30 S. Prospect.

In deference to our comrades in journalism -- and always wary of being accused of throwing stones at glass houses -- we've bitten our tongue bloody as they struggle through this trying time of ownership uncertainty. Some days, despite the odds, the daily newspaper provides a couple of interesting nuggets of news. They've done their darnedest to keep us updated on the scandals at the Air Force Academy and at the United States Olympic Committee.

But mostly the newspaper is plain bad. And when obvious morale problems negatively affect the city's only daily source of print news, well, we need to talk about it.

Here are a few examples from the past week alone: On Sunday, the Gazette's most-read newspaper of the week, a front page article heralded five new television shows that are worth the watch. The "news" story also explored, sort of, the almighty importance of the boob tube. This is how it actually began:

"These days, TV seems like food. It's a necessity. After all, it's not unusual to view certain visual meals at regular intervals.

"Thursday might be meatloaf day, but it might be 'CSI' day as well ..."

The piece included additional "discoveries" such as this: "Television is not real life. It does not represent real life even when it's called 'reality TV.' But it most definitely dominates real life."

And then there was last Friday's inane editorial rant opposing $13.6 million in federal grants designed to help combat obesity in the United States. "It's not that we don't believe Americans could stand to shed a few pounds. That's beside the point. The reason for our concern is that this seems like yet another government foray into an area in which it has no business."

The editorial offered up the Gazette's own sensible solution to the country's obesity epidemic. "A walk first thing in the morning or after dinner can be beneficial and is readily available to nearly everyone."

Following that logic, why then hasn't the daily vigorously opposed, say, the war in Iraq, for which taxpayers are shelling out $52 billion a year -- 3,823 times the amount of the federal anti-obesity program -- and part of which is earmarked to provide Iraqi citizens universal (read: socialized) health care?

But we digress. On Tuesday, Rich Tosches penned a head-scratcher of a column that clearly signaled something is amiss in his world. Stating right up front that he needed "some time to think ... a place to think," Tosches took us through a maddeningly vague odyssey "about the curves we encounter on the road. About change. About life."

Tosches ended up getting mad at the city for shutting down an access road to his personal version of Walden, but he never got around to informing his readers why he so desperately needed to get there.

As of press time, Tosches did not return a phone message seeking clarification, but sources say the reason for his melancholy is that his bosses recently informed him that his popular thrice weekly metro column will soon be moved to the Lifestyle section of the newspaper. In this business, that is the equivalent of being turned out to pasture.

In many ways, the dysfunction of the city's daily newspaper mirrors the dysfunction of one of the last family-owned newspaper companies in the United States.

Earlier this year, Freedom Communications -- which owns the Gazette, 27 other daily newspapers, 37 weeklies and eight TV stations -- announced plans to sell the company. And, as Tim Hoiles, the grandson of Freedom founder R.C. Hoiles describes it, matters leading up to the push to sell have not exactly created harmony within what he describes as a "dysfunctional" family.

"I've lost a tremendous amount of my asset and ... I feel I can personally manage my money better then they can," said Hoiles, who owns 8.6 percent of the company.

The deadline for accepting bids was this week, but, as far as any timeline for closure, Hoiles says, "Your guess is as good as mine."

Meanwhile, Hoiles, a former publisher of several Freedom newspapers who lives in Colorado Springs, says the company's board of directors is well aware of the potential for morale problems among employees of their news organizations. Steps, he said, have been taken to address them.

However, when asked his opinion about the state of the Gazette these days, Hoiles demurred.

"Given the situation we're in [with the sale], I'd rather not comment on that at this time," he said.


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