Point of View: History guides union of North Coast Current and OsideNews


The North Coast Current of Encinitas and OsideNews of Oceanside combined operations on Feb. 22. (North Coast Current graphic)

Roman S. Koenig

I was wrapping up my college journalism days when a once-venerated group of local newspapers went tabloid.

One of my favorite managers there showed me prototypes of what Sun Newspapers was about to become — something looking more like a scandal sheet than the community papers people had relied on for decades, the original community nameplates already replaced by the generic “Sun.” The two of us were in the parking lot on a late afternoon. The manager’s frustration was clear, and he wanted to underscore the point.

He gave me an unexpected, though not literal, slap across the face.

“That’s what’s being done to the readers,” or something close to that, is what he told me.

Point of View by Roman S. KoenigCommunities can take changes to their local journalism personally. I have witnessed it twice in my career. In both cases, the results caused hard feelings between those communities and the news outlets, in some ways never to recover.

Sun Newspapers — originally known as North Coast Publishers, based in Encinitas with newspapers from Del Mar to Oceanside — never fully recovered from the backlash to the non-local owners’ remake (which included an interest from media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s holdings).

That was 1995. Move forward to 2012, and a similar outcome prevailed.

Developer and then-San Diego Union-Tribune owner Douglas Manchester bought the daily North County Times with promises of extensive “pro family” local coverage. Within months, however, the North County Times was absorbed into the Union-Tribune. But that was not before a shadow version of the paper existed in its place.

I will never forget how some subscribers, including my mother, described crying a little when they saw the first edition of the “new” Times.

At this point, I was a part-time news editor at the Times. I ultimately chose not to continue with the merged publication. (As an aside, my work experience also includes time on the Union-Tribune news desk when the Copley family still owned it.)

Some of the North County Times leadership — representing irreplaceable institutional knowledge — reported feeling tossed aside by the new management as the outlet was split up.

Those impressions were confirmed when San Diego Magazine reported in 2013 that the Manchester team “swept away the last vestiges of the northern paper when they shuttered its North County edition, laid off all the journalists at The (Temecula) Californian, and let go a dozen or more former NCT staffers.”

The Union-Tribune survived the Manchester era and continues to work tirelessly to foster community engagement in very difficult times for our industry. Its related weeklies at the southern end of North County are also part of that effort.

In some communities around the nation, however, such actions have resulted in news deserts, a phenomenon where there is no locally based coverage at all. That has not been the case in North County, fortunately. The weekly Coast News continues in print, as does the Village News, The Paper and a version of the Escondido Times Advocate inland.

When I relaunched the online North Coast Current in 2012 (I founded it in 2002) and Steve Marcotte launched OsideNews.com in 2013, we were motivated to try to fill the gap opened by the loss of the North County Times and Sun Newspapers before it. Our one-person operations developed alongside each other in the decade that followed.

Then, on Feb. 22, I acquired OsideNews.com. And I had a question to answer.

Steve and I were interviewed by a Times of San Diego contributor in the week after the transition, and I was of course asked — what are my plans for OsideNews.com?

In the days that followed, it occurred to me that the last thing I wanted to be was my own “slap” across the face.

There are assumptions that come with acquisitions like this, built on experience in our communities, from readers and journalists alike. Pretty much all of those assumptions are based on publishers’ broken promises of “more, better, community” news.

For me — now that I am the one in such a position — the question is not just about what the plans are. It is about what promises I can truly keep. In this case, it is a single promise. To keep doing the best I can with these sites collectively, just as I have done for the past decade with the North Coast Current individually. Related to that, it is one plan. To keep the sites publishing consistently as I slowly bring them together.

The North Coast Current and OsideNews will continue the mission that started 10 years ago. As the publisher, the lessons of history will be my guide.

Roman S. Koenig is editor and publisher of the North Coast Current.

Columns are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. Comment below or submit letters to the editor at letters[at]northcoastcurrent.com.

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