Monthly Archives: February 2009

My Sun Years, A Summary Act

Plenty has been written about the demise of newspapers. I’m not going to detail the industry’s downfall or the business behind MediaNews Co. gutting more than five local Southern California dailies that, in some cases, have histories dating more than 100 years. But I will share my thoughts on my time at one SoCal daily owned by current AP Chairman Dean Singleton, and my reasoning behind the decision to flat-out quit before things got really ugly.

I worked at The Sun newspaper in San Bernardino (Ca.) beginning April 2000. I was hired by a long-time Sports Editor to work as a News Assistant in the sports department. I answered phones (Hello? Prep badminton? OK.) and performed other tasks essential to the day-to-day operations (So you want two beef and bean burritos, no sauce, from Del Taco?).

I was also given the opportunity to write a ton. I covered preps and local colleges and by 2003 was the Motor Racing Columnist and had two or three bylines a week. I covered four NASCAR weekends and a slew of other racing forms at California Speedway in Fontana (Ca.), conducted one-on-one interviews and wrote feature articles and columns about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Jeremy McGrath and many others. I also covered the local dirt tracks and made a decent local connection and earned a surprising following.

After several years of working full-time hours in these conditions for part-time pay, I eventually was promoted to Copy Editor, a full-time position, in 2005. By 2006, only two people had worked in the sports department longer, the Sports Editor who hired me and the Asst. Sports Editor who trained me. Though others had been hired to fill in spots around me, I made the most of any seniority and got away with many, many, I’ll write, youthful indiscretions. 

I moved to paginating sports pages five nights a week when we merged with another MediaNews Co. daily in the same region. My gig as a columnist went by the wayside because, well, one paper doesn’t need two motor racing columns. That would be silly. Turns out the other daily had a writer who had been covering motor racing in San Bernardino County since before I was born. So that was the end of that.

The sports desk morphed some during that time and I assumed a role on the sports desk. I made the most of that too, and by late 2006 I was in charge of producing the sports section two or three nights a week.  

Then all hell broke loose in mid-2007 when rumors began to circulate about imminent moves/layoffs and Sun staffers scattered to find a hole to crawl into. The decision came from above to move the sports department to the offices of a third MediaNews Co. daily some 40 miles away. For safety’s sake, if nothing else, I made my own move and transferred to The Sun’s news desk around July 4, where I could probably have stayed until at least the Leap Day Massacre (more than 10 long-time staffers were fired on Feb. 29, 2008).

I’m now thinking I had an epiphany or moment of clarity because I decided to walk out the day before my 28th birthday, on Nov. 18, 2007. That’s the day I realized, while staring at the clock on my PC’s screen, that my career at The Sun was coming to the end and that I’d rather stick it to them than be told that today is my last day.

So I walked up to the News Editor and asked to speak privately. I proceeded to explain about how I appreciated the opportunity, yadda, yadda, but the job no longer appealed to me. She was stunned. “Are you gonna work the two weeks?” she asked. “No,” I said calmly. “I’m going home.” I left them with more than 12 pages to paginate that night. Makes me chuckle even still.

Besides, working on a MediaNews Co. news desk was an exercise in constant self-deprecation. And believe me, I came in with boatloads of stamina. I’m a relentless hard-worker and I was gonna blow them away with my stamina. But they beat me down. Nothing about that scenario, in that newsroom in San Bernardino, is positive. From faux-leadership to tactless treatment of employees, The Sun was a place where hopes of advancing in journalism die.

But I’m no longer very bitter. I had a good run. I treated every story with the attention it deserved. I met some seriously great people and I worked for others who were surprisingly easy to despise then forget — just like any other job, I suppose.

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Book Report: “:07 Seconds Or Less”

I just finished reading “:07 Seconds Or Less,”the story of the 2005-’06 Phoenix Suns written by famed basketball scribe Jack McCallum and remain intrigued by two intrinsic passages from the latter pages of the book.

No. 1: With the Suns down 3-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals that year, the Suns’ coaches, led by Mike D’Antoni, take time to discuss next season during the day off between Games 5 and 6.

“Discussions of next season, subconscious or not, have started to dominate the conversation in the morning meetings. How could they not? Analyzing weaknesses that have been exposed during the Dallas series inevitably lead to discussions about how to solve those weaknesses.”

Throughout the book, McCallum does an excellent job of detailing the mundane parts of an NBA season, the day-after-day practice, meetings and travel. I’m astonished, though, that the coaches, looking straight down the barrel at the biggest game of their collective coaching lives, could find time to talk about NEXT SEASON. Seems counter-productive, in a sense. Their season isn’t over and yet they don’t seem troubled by talking as if it were. In fact, they almost seem to look past the game in doing so. It becomes little wonder as to why they then lost their next game.

No 2: With the Suns’ season having ended in Game 6 against the Mavericks, players meet with D’Antoni and the coaches one final time before saying farewell for the summer. The meetings, though, become secondary as talk of splitting playoff shares (the extra money teams earn for playing ‘X’ number of playoff games) permeates the locker room.

“The exit meetings are designed to be air-clearing sessions during which the player is supposed to present gripes, and the coach and personnel men are supposed to give an honest evaluation of where the player does or does not fit in next year’s plans. After the exit meetings are over, the players will meet in private to divvy up the playoff shares. It’s a fitting symbolic end to the season: It’s all about the Benjamins.”

Where is the soul of this team? Or, I suppose, any professional team? Sure, pro athletes are paid pro dollars for their pro time. But where’s the sense of disappointment at actually having lost? McCallum quotes only one Suns player, Shawn Marion, as having any sour feelings that his season has ended. Marion, the lone Suns’ player portrayed as a malcontent, is the one who is sad the season’s over? While the others are consumed by how much extra cash they earned by playing an extra month. Marion’s pity party aside, it’s amazing how quickly the mood changed in the Suns’ locker room. How quickly the team went from losers to winners. And every player couldn’t be happier than to receive his share of the losers’ loot.

The two passages underscore the professional callousness of those within the game, a theme I did not expect to encounter when first opening McCallum’s novel. What I thought would be a behind-the-scenes expose’ of how the Suns actually approach offense in professional basketball turned out to be a behind-the-scenes expose’ of how offensive the Suns approach to professional basketball actually was.

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