Columns » Public Eye

All hands below deck


It's been a little more than a month since erstwhile Gazette columnist Rich Tosches got booted over to the paper's lifestyle section to report on senior citizens and local authors.

We've written about Tosches' demise twice before in this space, first on Sept. 5, when we -- and not the daily -- broke the story about their decision to cancel what was arguably their most popular feature; and second on Oct. 2, when Tosches himself, a veteran who came to the Gazette from the Los Angeles Times a decade ago, weighed in on how he felt about his move to features (both Public Eye columns can be read online at Frankly were a little sick of the whole topic, but when the daily doesnt deliver, it is our duty to do so.

Case in point: Gazette readers probably surmised that the move was uneventful, as the newspaper made little mention of it. Managing editor Jeff Thomas announced the column cancellation in a brief note to readers. The paper published a few letters to the editor, damning and/or praising the decision. An amusing little news brief appeared in the metro section, reporting a very small protest had occurred in front of their building. And that was it. No muss, no fuss. End of column. End of story.

Guess again. What the daily didnt report was that in the first week alone, Thomas, by his own estimate, received 240 phone calls and even more e-mails hollering about the papers decision to kill Tosches column. As you might expect, those who have taken the time to respond to the news are nearly uniformly against the idea, Thomas wrote in a letter to Fans of Rich Tosches, which was forwarded to the Independent by irate reader Allison Foster, who was further incensed because Thomas rudely referred to her as Ms. Allison.

In his 14-page letter, can be read in full by accessing this column online, Thomas rehashed a sampling of the mostly negative comments that were delivered to his door. Among them:

If you persist in knuckling under to your big advertisers, I will not be one of your subscribers any more as [Tosches] is the only reason to read your so-called newspaper.

I wondered when the right wing in this town would be able to get rid of him [from] your paper, and now I just wanted to let you know I have absolutely no reason to read the Gazette.

My subscription renewal is in the garbage with yesterdays Gazelle.

You just took away our reason for reading the Gazelle. We have cancelled our subscription of many many years.

Writers and callers suggested the Gazette had caved in to the vast right-wing conspiracy or claimed that his thrice-weekly column comprised the only real news in the paper. To these themes, Thomas had many explanations, which well condense here for space purposes. The short of it, Thomas wrote, is we need Rich to help us cover the news.

The long of it, Thomas continued, is the hard fact that in 2004, the number of journalists in The Gazettes newsroom will be the smallest in nearly 20 years.

Holy mackerel! This, folks, is what we in the news industry call burying the lead. What Thomas is saying is, the number of bodies filling up next years daily newsroom will be the equivalent of circa 1983, when 344,000 called this county home, compared to todays half-million residents.

In another stunning revelation, Thomas blamed 9-11 and its economic fallout as the real reason for cutting Tosches column. The tech-industry bust that began in 2001 has eliminated not only a lot of jobs but also a lot of help-wanted advertising, which is among the largest sources of revenue of any American local daily newspaper.

Gee, we thought the big revenues came from those full-page display ads, or maybe even classified ads in total, but specifically help-wanteds?

But we dont want to split hairs. So well take Thomas word for it: They need all hands on the news desk, churning out the news.

So what exactly has Tosches been writing for the past month, while helping to provide desperately needed meaty local coverage? Our favorite story, one of only a short handful with Tosches byline, was about a local firefighter who is a screenwriter on the side, hoping to make it big.

Colorado Springs residents like Foster probably missed that story, because shes not reading the newspaper anymore.

The bottom line, which well call another theme, is one that Thomas either missed or ignored completely: People who threaten to cancel their subscriptions usually do so.

What an interesting tactic to increase circulation and advertising.


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