Once again the local daily newspaper, the Union-Tribune, has looked to Orange County for an infusion of new leadership. Jeff Light, vice president of the Orange County Register’s interactive division, will be taking over as editor of the Union-Tribune on March 8th.
Our crack team of researchers (a.k.a. people who know how to Google) has looked into his tenure at the great White Daily to the North in an effort to ascertain just what impact his arrival at the daily fishwrap might bring. The bottom line: we will see few changes in the print edition, while the online version may be upgraded from its current frail status.
Light is credited with innovations to the OC Register’s online presence. And it is much more user friendly than SignOnSanDiego.com, the U-T’s current web presence. Freedom Communications. Inc., the parent company of the Register boasts of 600,000 unique visitors daily. Digital guru Tom Davidson called Light’s appointment “[an] exemplar for the sort of digital journalists who are needed to rescue what’s left of the traditional industry.”
Right wingers will be thrilled to hear that he gave them their own playground: FreedomPolitics.com. Launched last January, the site “promotes the two most important principles for a free country: individual liberty and the individual responsibility that entails”. With headlines like “Terrorists Use Crayons and Finger Paints for Rehab” and “Federal Aid to Haiti Illegal” its political persuasion is no mystery.
Chronic trolls and flamers should be advised that Light was at the center of one of the more infamous examples of on-line abuse management back in 2007, when the Register reported on a 400 pound woman who gave birth two days after finding out she was pregnant. The newspaper’s on-line commenting and moderation policies were overhauled after abusive reader submissions (calling the woman a “pig” and worse) became a news story unto itself.
It seems unlikely that any changes in the editorial policies in the paper will occur. In response to reader comments questioning his views at SignOnSanDiego, Light responded by saying that he characterized his views as being to the left of the typical Orange County voter and to the Right of the typical “liberal” journalist.
The OC Register is unique among California daily papers for its history of libertarian stances. Among right wing publications it distinguished itself through its opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. The paper also opposed Proposition 8 and generally supports more lenient marijuana laws. On the other hand, they are also noted for a strong anti-trade union philosophy and support of ultra conservative candidates in elections.
The Register is the cornerstone of the privately held Freedom Communications empire, which includes 90 daily and weekly publications, including approximately 30 daily newspapers, plus additional magazines and other specialty publications. The broadcast division includes five CBS stations, two ABC network affiliates and one CW affiliate. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last September, listing $757 million in assets — now worth “substantially less than that amount” — and $1.077 billion in debts.
The big losers in the filing were the newspapers’ five thousand or so carriers, who were due to receive $28.9 million settlement as the result of a class action lawsuit stemming from disputes over working conditions. Once the papers were filed for the Register, the monies due the carriers were distributed to other creditors, according to sworn deposition by Freedom’s CFO.
The Register was also the training ground for none other than Chris Reed, the U-T’s self-described “conservative-libertarian” editorial writer and blogger. Reed’s never ending campaigns against trade unions and other vestiges of Democratic influence have taken center stage at the daily fishwrap. Of particular note have been Reed’s near-delusional rants about San Diego’s Unified School Board inspired by selectively leaked emails that are reportedly spoon-fed to him by Board member (and sometime loose cannon) John De Beck. Reed’s attempts at painting the board, currently grappling with yet another round of profound budget cuts and protracted negotiations with the teachers’ union, as a cabal of less-than-competent hacks has certainly served to undermine support for public education, which is, no doubt, exactly what he as in mind. Part of the “conservative-libertarian” agenda includes privatization of schools, parks, libraries and other programs that become financial burdens on government once progressive taxation is eliminated.
As to what, if any, role the new U-T editor will play in any changes in the editorial policies at the paper, we suggest that those hoping for hopey changey kinda stuff look elsewhere. And we’re not real encouraged that the Register’s investigative unit, “The Watchdog” has been re-dubbed by local bloggers as “The Lapdog”.
Light himself seems like a nice enough guy, judging from his willingness to be self-effacing as evidenced in his biography published at the Knight Digital Media Center website. For those of us in San Diego who are progressives, Pete Townsend (the geezer that played with the Who at the Superbowl halftime show) probably said it best when he penned the lyrics for Don’t Get Fooled Again:
“Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss.”