Occasionally, the Union comes up with such material--recently the paper published several stories, based on Department of Education leaks, that indicate that state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig has been instrumental in the success of the Quality Education Project, a "parent involvement" program run by Honig's wife. Other stories have pointed out that some legislative employees who left with lucrative "golden handshake" deals as a result of Proposition 140 layoffs, moved immediately to other well-paid state jobs.
Most of the time, however, there aren't enough reporters to follow up good leads or even to cover important ongoing news.
In their attempts to trim expenses, Smith and Farah have cut the paper's use of newsprint by 35% to 40%, have eliminated most circulation outside the city limits and have limited the number of papers available in street news racks.
Salaries for editors and reporters are much lower than those at the Bee, past and present staff members say, and expense accounts are virtually nonexistent.
For a few weeks recently--a time Farah said was "as tight as I've ever been through"--reporters were required to supply their own notebooks.
Money has been so tight lately that the Union has not paid the company that maintains its copying machines, the janitorial service that cleans the building, or the telephone company, among other creditors.
Publisher Smith acknowledged that some recent bills have not been paid but said, "we've put all these people on a schedule. We've been able to satisfy them that they'll get their money."
Both Smith and Farah say that the worst is over, there will be no more staff reductions and the paper will begin to make money soon.
But there are few hopeful signs.
In addition to the great gap in circulation, executives at McClatchy Newspapers, which publishes the Bee, say their paper carries 86% of the daily newspaper advertising in the Sacramento area, a claim the Union does not dispute.
"The most important step conservatives can take to reshape the media in this country and reclaim it is to help the Union flourish and survive," Farah wrote in "Between the Lines." "Only the Union is attempting to win the battle in the marketplace with circulation and advertising dollars, rather than huge subsidies from churches or ideologically inspired sugar daddies."
But so far, this message is not selling and Washington media analyst John Morton doubts that it will.
"Most advertisers don't care much about politics or ideology," Morton said. "They spend their money where they think they'll get the best return. These guys are businessmen and most of them are operating on low profit margins. They can't afford to spend money on things that give them a warm glow in their glands."