For more than a century, the staff of the historic Press-Telegram has reported on Long Beach, California’s seventh largest city, and surrounding municipalities in Southeast Los Angeles and West Orange counties, including Lakewood, Bellflower, Paramount, Norwalk, Cerritos, Seal Beach, Signal Hill and Downey.
CWA Local 9400 – Southern California Media Guild represents the P-T’s editorial department, which currently consists of one daily columnist and four reporters based in Long Beach.
That’s an astonishing small number of staffers, given that they cover Long Beach, a city with nearly a half-million people and a number of major employers headquartered there, including the California State University system, which manages the state’s 23 campuses, and the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest seaport in the U.S.
Population-wise, Long Beach is bigger than Miami or Omaha, metropolitan cities that are watch-dogged by great papers with big newsrooms like the Miami Herald and the Omaha World-Herald.
Meanwhile, the Press-Telegram has been reduced to a bureau, still tasked with covering one of the biggest cities in California.
Before Dean Singleton purchased the paper in 1997, the Press-Telegram was home to dozens of reporters, photographers, copy editors and designers based at its historic building at 604 Pine Ave. in downtown Long Beach. At its height, the newspaper circulation was approaching 100,000 on Sundays and over 80,000 on most weekdays.
At its heart, the Press-Telegram was and is a community paper with a family atmosphere. Staffers drank together (often at the Press Club across the street, then later at venues all over Long Beach), gathered for parties and major events and developed lifelong friendships. Many former and current employees keep in touch through a private Facebook page, cheekily called the “Press-Telegram Survivors Network.” Most live locally and consider Long Beach their home.
Since then, management beyond the Press-Telegram’s control has slowly dismantled the mighty paper. After Singleton purchased the P-T, staffers had to reapply for their jobs and were offered less money for the work. Many experienced reporters left as a result.
Those who stayed maintained a strong union despite Singleton’s attempt to break the unit.
In the last decade, the Press-Telegram saw dramatic changes to staffing and work culture. After management moved its staffers from 604 Pine to a high-rise building downtown, management moved its copy, design and sports desk to the non-union Daily Breeze office in Torrance and later to the San Gabriel Valley.
Advertising, circulation and the photo staff also were moved to Torrance. The P-T’s features department was dissolved and is now run out of Torrance.
As the staff shrank, so did the workspace. The P-T went from occupying four floors in the high-rise to less than a dozen people crammed in a small ground-floor space with no bathroom or break room, and no dedicated workspaces. Because there was not enough space, the newsroom only had “hotel desks,” non-assigned spaces that reporters could only use on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tough luck for the reporter who arrived late, only to find that there was no place to work.
The Press-Telegram finally saw some resources in 2013 when the Orange County Register dared to challenge the Long Beach newspaper. The Register wooed many P-T and Los Angeles News Group staffers with raises and better working conditions.
For many longtime staffers, it was an easy decision since the Press-Telegram has not given staffers a contractual pay raise since November 2006.
The staff temporarily swelled to include a features reporter and a few more reporters and editors, but it was far from the staff size that predated Singleton. The P-T was able to move to a larger space back on Pine Avenue, a block from where the P-T’s former home on 604 Pine Ave.
But once competition with the Register died down, the newsroom shrank once more. Management left spots at the P-T unfilled in favor of filling non-union positions elsewhere in the Los Angeles News Group.
Despite all these changes, the remaining P-T staffers continue to “do more with less” and grind out some major stories about Long Beach and its surrounding cities, including stories about the Cal State Long Beach student killed in the Paris attacks.
Local: Southern California Media Guild / Facebook