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Roundtable: Manchester, Orchestra Nova, Vets and Martial Arts

September 14, 2012 1:26 p.m.

GUESTS

Rob Davis, Reporter, Voice of San Diego

Angela Carone, Arts Reporter KPBS News

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times

Related Story: Roundtable: Manchester Buys North Co. Times, Orchestra Nova's Labor Dispute, Vets And Martial Arts

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: Good afternoon, and thanks for being with us. I'm Mark Sauer. Joining me are Rob Davis, senior writer with voice of San Diego.

DAVIS: Always good to see you.

SAUER: KPBS arts and culture writer, Angela Carone.

CARONE: Hi, Mark.

SAUER: And Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the LA Times. The man who insists on being called papa Doug has added San Diego's other main newspaper, the North County Times, to his newspaper family. He announced his purchase of the North County Times this week in a deal totalling about $12 million. He and copublisher John Lynch wasted no time addressing times staffers and assuring them that his brand of conservative, cheerleading journalism will be instituted at his new paper next month. Did he pay too much? How does the deal compare with his purchase of the Union Tribune?

DAVIS: Well, when Manchester bought the UT in November, he told me he paid about $110 million for it. He paid $12 million for the North County Times, obviously a much smaller paper. The Times managed to turn a profit last year of about $800,000. So he paid about 15 times its annual profit. It tells you that he sees a lot of opportunity to consolidate what it's doing.

SAUER: So other papers have folded, they've retrenched, gone through bankruptcy, including Tony's paper, the LA Times. How is it the UT is buying a paper? Is this a big risk?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I don't know how it's a big risk for him. He becomes the most powerful media figure in the county. He sold one of his houses in La Jolla in 2009 for $18 million. So this is not like going to the grocery store, but it's also been described as chump change for a guy who is as wealthy as he is. So he consolidates power. He has now control over all of the daily newspapers in San Diego County. It's a really profound shift.

SAUER: And they've also sunk a bunch of money in UT TV, Manchester and lynch's cable TV endeavor, reportedly millions. It's on a rather obscure channel.

DAVIS: My guess is that it is not making any money yet.

SAUER: So who is the audience, speaking of UT TV, who's that audience compared with UT's traditional audience? We certainly had a good idea on who the audience was when we were writing there. The demographic doesn't seem to line up.

PERRY: Well, I think there is an audience for a morning show. One of the distinctive media features of San Diego County, one that I've always liked is morning shows, be they radio or television. I go back to Hudson and bower, sunup San Diego, bloomer and Clark. I'm a sucker for those shows, and if they can put one together, more power to them. The product so far -- well, it's miserable.

PERRY: But let's give them a while to get it together. Like a columnist, and I was a columnist, you haven't written one column until you've written 100. They haven't put on a show until they've put on six months of them.

SAUER: Right.

PERRY: I'm willing to eat my words if it welcomes teriff.

SAUER: Lorraine is with us. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: I think that the way that Doug Manchester has handled the UT is disgraceful. I mean, the way that the point of views they're actually getting behind film, like the film 2016, it's just disgraceful. And for him to have expanded it or planning to expand it to the North County, I mean, it's just not good. And I'm ashamed of the UT right now. I used to read it every day, but I cannot anymore. If Manchester is listening, all I can say is what you've done is disgraceful. It is not a paper.

SAUER: Thank you very much. Rob, you wrote that since buying the UT, Manchester has used its news and opinion pages as a bull horn for his conservative political interest, and a bludgeon for attacking opponents.

DAVIS: Well, the UT under Manchester has become as we've described it, more pet lent, more provocative, and more partisan. And when platinum equity owned it for a couple of year, Jeff Light, who is still the editor, very distinctively moved away from the type of conservative editorial page that it had had and been known for. He said he wanted a less strident doctrinaire opinion page because it disenfranchised a lot of people who would be paying subscribers of it. These anecdotes, you hear on a assistant basis when people who are fed up with it. The guy paid $110 million for a newspaper, so he can say and do whatever he wants with it.

SAUER: Certainly on the editorial page.

>> Sure. He can do what he wants with the news pages if he crosses the line that he has crossed a couple of times.

SAUER: There's consequences.

DAVIS: Exactly.

CARONE: We hear these kind of complaints already, just like the caller gave. But is there any way to quantify this? Have subscriptions gone down?

DAVIS: They say they have gone up since they bought it. And I can't wait to fact check that and see whether it's true or not. The audit bureau of circulations figures measure through the end of September. So you can be assured when these figures come out in a little bit, that we will be paying great attention to them.

SAUER: Another caller. Maureen, go ahead. You're with the panel.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello, hi. I'm just -- the sentiment of the caller's last call, having Manchester use the paper as his own agenda mouth piece for our community is sad and frustrating. And now that he dominates the whole entire San Diego region, it's pitiful.

PERRY: I think we have to look at the editorial page differently than we would another newspaper's editorial page. I think this editorial page under Manchester and lynch is run pretty much like talk radio. In other words, be as provocative and doctrinaire as you can, and keep after it, day after day. Notice the multiple editorials roasting rob Filner, roasting the president of the United States, all perfectly decent in the form of talk radio. A little shocking when you see it in newspapers. But lynch and Manchester have talked about -- they use the multiplatform talk that is all the buzz now, and indeed they've done it.

SAUER: Right.

PERRY: They've brought radio technique to newspapers, they're trying to take newspapers and radio to television. So they really are doing this thing, creating a hybrid. And the editorial page is at least more entertaining. Or good friend, Chris reed has been unleashed to be himself, and himself is quite conservative and quite activist about it.

SAUER: And then of course they have had the front page editorials, two of them something Mr. DeMaio in a primary.

PERRY: Again, perfectly decent on radio, but we're surprised to see it in a non-Hearstian era.

SAUER: Exactly.

CARONE: That brings up the point about John Lynch. I actually don't know that much about him. And we talk so much about Doug Manchester. And I was surprised in your great profile of Manchester that he was the one that kind of corralled him into this business. What else do we know about John Lynch?

DAVIS: Well, he was -- he's sort of a sports radio pioneer in the city. Doug is very high-level, talking about sort of broad vision -- you could almost get the sense that he's in it for the money, and there's a great piece of real estate that this newspaper sits on. But John is the one who's articulated the most definitive vision of what he wants to see the newspaper become.

PERRY: As far as we know, it's John Lynch who fires people. He fired dean cull breath and others for reasons yet to be explained. He is one tough guy when he doesn't like you.

SAUER: Laura is on the line.

NEW SPEAKER: It's a sad day for journalism. And I beseech the LA Times to start their San Diego section again. It's a shame that we have, like, a Fox brand newspaper. And what's even sadder is when I stopped reading the UT was way before Manchester bought it, was the -- all the news comes from the wire. They have no correspondents. They have no journalists that work for them. And all the news is always 3-4 days later than any newspaper. And when suddenly they want to put their own conservative brand on news, that's not journalism in the newspaper-sense. It's shocking, and it's -- it should be a rag. It's turned into a rag. When you're talking about subscriptions being high, the only way I can think of is that I keep on getting solicitations from the UT that say $0.14 a year.

SAUER: Okay, well, thanks very much. Another caller, Serena in Mission Hills. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for taking my call. My comment was since Mr. Manchester has taken over the UT, and I canceled my subscription very early on, I realized that we weren't getting any other side of the street opinions. We get nothing from Nicholas Kristoff or EJ bean of the Washington post, we don't get any of that. Because I believe it's Mr. Manchester's intent to have us think the way he thinks. The article on page 82 last week about Roger hedge cock being turned away from the DNC convention, and that's why he left early. And there's another mouth piece for Manchester is Roger Hedgecock, and excuse me, you want a little cheese with that wine, Roger? Come on.
[ LAUGHTER ]
.

PERRY: I think should be some stand up, far be it from me to defend a couple of millionaires, but somebody ought to defend the hardworking staff over there. They don't wake up in the morning and say, hey, I think I'll slant my story to some political viewpoint. Most news does not -- is not susceptible to that. The City Council voted yesterday 3-2 to put a stop sign at 3rd and elk. Frankie killed Johnny over a gambling debt. Pretty straight stuff. That is daily journalism unaffected by what goes on in the sweeps.

SAUER: I agree. I'm glad you brought that up. There have been some example, and a lot of us in the media ever talking. I'll present one on a story I covered extensively for the Union Tribune when I was there, and I was there for 27 years, I should note. And that was the shocking sex abuse scandal involving the Roman Catholic diocese here. They had a federal piece on A1 to bishop brawn. One they did not mention was a $203 million settlement that the diocese paid. And it's hard to understand how you could have an A1 piece in the news columns on an individual like that and not even mention that.

DAVIS: Here's what John Listen said to me the day they bought the UT. He said we wants the sports page to be pro Chargers, pro-Padres, pro-USD, and we want to see a football stadium get built, and he said that the sports page should call out opponents of a new stadium as obstructionists. Well, anybody who has gone to journalism school knows that that is not the role of the news pages of a newspaper. And there have been other examples of the newspaper on the opinion side offering up an idea or an opinion or a vision, and then that being followed up with -- I mean, they attacked the port on the opinion page, and then they put their best investigative reporter on the port. And that was not convince dental. That's what readers should be aware of as they come to the paper. These are the clear, behind the scenes machinations that are informing the news.

PERRY: We call Manchester the biggest myself mogul in San Diego County. That's the tallest person in a fairly short group. The days when the editorial page can push around decision-makers I think are long gone. From the days when five white guys could have lunch at the Cuyamaca chub and make decisions. And Manchester himself say known quantity. Planners from various public agencies know a Doug Manchester project, they know its pluses and minuses. I will be surprised in the long-run whether we can say Doug Manchester got anything he could have gotten otherwise because he owned himself a couple of newspapers.

SAUER: But the Copleys won a Pulitzer prize for taking down a very conservative Congressman here who was taking bribes from the military. Now we've got a champion of the military in Manchester. You wonder if those stories on duke Cunningham would have come about under this regime. What does it mean to champion the military? What does it mean to do positive stories? When you go out there to do a story, do you consider whether it's positive or negative or go out there and do a news story?

PERRY: No, of course you don't go out there to do this or that. You find what facts you can find. I think they would do a duke Cunningham story if they found it. Of the question is, do they have the quality of people who would find it? Would they give if they have those people the time and the room to do it? The answer there is probably no because the people who found the Cunningham story are long gone.

DAVIS: Here's the thing. These guys come and they say -- we looked at sort of the two faces of Doug Manchester. He says on the one hand that he wants the newspaper to -- he wants the news reporters to write whatever they want. Write whatever you want. I'm not going to influence the news. But he adds, I do want you to write things that are positive. And so which is it? Sometimes the truth is not positive. When I wrote a profile of him earlier this year, some of the truth about Doug Manchester is messy. He's left a lot of people in his wake here who, as we've heard from people on the radio, are don't like him. And we wrote that stuff because that's who this guy is! If you hear him articulate what his vision of this stuff should be, it's that you don't write that stuff because it's too negative, and that dog gone news media only likes to roast people. Yet on the editorial page, they are taking people to town. And absolutely obliterating agencies like the port and accusing it of having Enron-like finances, and so on. The question for Doug Manchester and John Lynch is which is it, fellas?

PERRY: Well, Doug Manchester as someone I think said in your publication, Rob, is a minor league Donald Trump, with the pluses and the minuses.

SAUER: And a better hairdo.

PERRY: And you have to accept that for what it is and include the fact there's entertainment value to it. The question is, what are they going to do with the North County Times? I can't spin it in a way that looks good. I just hope they keep some of those very, very good people, reporters. I live in North County. I don't want fewer news hands, news hawks on the streets. I want more. I want Terry Figueroa, and Mark Walker.

PERRY: Want them continually out there. And jay Paris, who I think is the finest sports columnist practicing in San Diego County, if he is not kept and promoted, put me down on the protest petition, or at the head of the parade. They have some awfully good people up there.

SAUER: What about morale? What impact on everything we've been talking about here, what impact does that have on folks in the newsroom?

DAVIS: People at this point are wondering whether they're going to have jobs. Any time that that happens, you can easily deduce that the morale is not going to be very good. I think that -- you had Kent Davey on this program a couple of days ago, he's the editor of the North County Times. And while Doug Manchester is articulating this vision of this positive news, Kent gave the best articulation of what a newspaper is and what reporters do. He said we hold up a mirror to our community and we show it both its positives and its negative ares. It was a perfect description.

SAUER: Let's go back to the editorial page. Tony made a really good point about it seeming like talk radio is coming in and influencing that platform. CityBeat said this Sunday's UT editorial, which was talking about the apocalyptic vision under a second term for President Obama, they called it "too absurd for reasonable debate, too ridiculous for that you feel conversation." What did you think about that? Can you go too far on the editorial page too?

PERRY: Well, it predicted death panels and the destruction of Israel. Again, way over the top. We'll see if that rebounds to their disadvantage economically over there. Upon as rob pointed out, platinum equity folks, they thought a hard right wing page was a drag on the business model. And they moved it ever so slightly, I would suggest, toward the middle. Of now it's been yanked far right. We'll see whether that helps economically.

SAUER: We've got another caller who wants to join us. Mary.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to say that we're using -- we still subscribe to the San Diego union because it's a great teaching tool for teaching bias. We can't stand watching talk radio. And teaching a school-aged kid about bias and journalism in the news is really use with the union the way it is these days.

SAUER: Wow. Well, thank you, that's an interesting perspective.

DAVIS: When I talked to John Lynch after -- in December, and we sat down for coffee, and he said, you know, that from his radio background, he was used to -- as Tony has described, being purposely provocative. It's intentional. And he wants people -- we're in a sense validating what he wants us to do. He wants people to be talking about the newspaper and the editorial page.

SAUER: All right. We could talk about this all day. Thanks very much.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. My guests are Rob Davis of voice of San Diego, Angela Carone of KPBS news, and Tony Perry of the LA Times. The San Diego orchestra has yet to hire any musicians because of a labor dispute. One that goes far beyond issues of pay and benefits. Angela had a fascinating issue of this on KPBS radio today. Negotiations between the musicians' union and the orchestra are nothing new, but this is different. Tell us about orchestra nova.

CARONE: I don't know about major, but it's a strong cultural presence. They're a chamber orchestra, so 20-30 musicians perform with them. They do between 5-6 concerts a season. They used to be called the San Diego chamber orchestra. They play traditional fair. They're kind of a hybrid between the San Diego symphony and the summer pops season. They do some pop music. There's Beatles with their Beethoven thing. They're big on drawing in new audiences. They have themed food and drinks in the lobby beforehand, they have dancers on stage with them. They do all kinds of things to build this nova experience.

SAUER: So the dispute, the labor dispute we're talking about, does have to do with pay. But explain it. It's more than that.

CARONE: Yeah, salary is part of it. I think the thing that's most unusual is this notion of doing away with a standard contract. And that is, musicians sign a one-year annual, renewable contract with the orchestra. And that's pretty standard. Orchestra nova wants to do away with that contract all together. And the artistic director and conductor there wants to pick and choose musicians on a concert by concert basis. And the reason why is because he wants to match the musicians' stage performance with the music being presented. He wants musicians to -- the word that he uses most is emote on stage. He wants them to show joy and sorrow, expression. He uses yo-yo ma as an example. And he even mentioned Lady Gaga, and said that musicians need to be as electric on stage as they are because that's the competition these days. Everybody is competing for very small amounts of entertainment dollars that audiences have. And that's their competition. So musicians, symphony, classical musicians need to bring that to the stage.

SAUER: So classical musicians as rock stars.

CARONE: Yeah. I mean, I don't know if he draws that sharp an analogy, but yes. He wants to see them feel passion on stage and show that because he thinks that will bring new audiences to an industry that is in dire shape. If they don't get new audience, it's going to go the way of the dinosaur. It is in terrible shape. You see this kind of thing happening at symphonies all over the country. The Atlanta symphony orchestra is operation at a $20 million budget deficit. St. Paul is going through the same thing.

SAUER: Well, the symphony here was in deep trouble years ago until some deep-pocket angels came through.

PERRY: So he'd have Beethoven doing a little break dance?
[ LAUGHTER ]

PERRY: He emotive is he?

CARONE: Well, I think -- it comes from a number of different places. The conductor is generally the, that's the purview of the conductor, to have some theatricality. His idea is a subjective one. And when we think of passion on stage and feeling with music, we think of that as being organic. But he thinks that audiences really connect to seeing that kind of emotion. And I get what he is talking about to a certain extent. If you've gone to the symphony and you're watching the musicians perform and you see a musician at a moment they're playing smile, I have locked into that musician as a kind of proxy through the rest of the night. You do connect with that.

SAUER: Just not playing it note for note. They're getting into it.

CARONE: Now, the question is do you want -- is he talking about all of your musicians emoting? That's a lot.

PERRY: What about costumes? Wife beater overshirts?

CARONE: I think he's talking about something more refined than that. But the other thing is, just to stand up for him in this, he has a legitimate concern here, right? This is -- again, I don't know how much more I can emphasize that the classical performance industry is in really bad shape.

SAUER: Right, right it could go away.

CARONE: And they've got to do something to bring in new audiences. There are not new audiences lining up behind them. You're talking about patrons and donors as well. He's doing what he can to save his orchestra. What he attaches to the lifeline of the industry is also the lifeline of the musicians.

SAUER: How do they feel about it?

CARONE: They of course don't want to do away with the year annual contract because -- for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this idea of emoting on stage and showing that, that is not something that classical musicians are trained to do. They are taught as I'm told in conservatories to act as 1 unit in the service of the music, right? To not show any emotion. And as soon as they see that, they're told not to do that. So this is against what they have been taught all these years to do. That said, the union musicians that I've talked to have said we've actually been on board with him, and we've been doing this in orchestra nova the last couple years and to some success. They've sold out all of their concerts, last season. Of the other reason why they don't want the contracts to go away is because the life of a free-lance musician is very much the life of cobbling together a living. It's like one big giant puzzle, and you move the pieces around. There's a Broadway play at the civic theatre, you've got four nights to perform in the orchestra pit there, you take that. And when The Old Globe calls, you take that orchestra job. Then you've got your private lessons and teaching, and you put all that together. And when you can count on one job being there --

SAUER: An anchor.

CARONE: You've got an anchor, a security net. So they don't want that to go away.

SAUER: I can play the radio. I have no musical ability at all. Singing in the shower is a disaster. But these folks work so hard. They're so good at it. They're at a top level in a major U.S. city. It's an extraordinary talent, and extraordinary work to get here. And yet we value this to such a level. Can you make money as a classical musician in a town like this?

CARONE: It's hard. The musicians I've spoken with say it's really difficult. You have to work hard and be very flexible. There are 88 full-time musicians with the San Diego symphony, and they are members of the union as well. And they make a decent living. Decent.

SAUER: Yeah, it's not cheap to live here.

PERRY: Are we going to see a picket line, people walking the line with pick lows and flutes?

CARONE: Orchestra nova says they're at an impasse. The union says there's still a deal to be reached. I asked them what happens if they can't reach common ground. And orchestra nova has said we'll have to go outside of the musicians' union to find our musicians.

PERRY: Who's the governing board of the orchestra? Could they pull the string on this and say this is too far? We're destroying our orchestra?

CARONE: Well, I don't know what role the board would have in that. Management is, I'm assuming, consulting with the board as they go along. So as of right now, management is supportive from what I understand.

PERRY: Who's the first concert scheduled?

CARONE: October 20th.

SAUER: Not a lot of time.

DAVIS: To what extent is this a fight over dollars and cents versus the broader vision? I mean if they were paid more would we be hearing about this? Or if they had been trained to emote, would we be hearing about this?

CARONE: You know, I think that's a really good question. I mean, I think the salary negotiations are a part of this. And it's hard to tell if they were being paid a better wage, if orchestra nova had entered this negotiation with a much higher salary increase, would we be hearing about this? Probably not. I know that the musicians that I spoke with say that they understand what he is trying to do, and they try to provide that kind of emotion on stage. What they're very clear about though is that they don't want to be fired based on this subjective impression of what is ostensibly one person.

SAUER: As I understand it, from editing your story, they're looking to hire him on a gig by gig or show by show basis, based on matching the particular musicians to the particular theme of that show, right?

CARONE: Right. So they want, you know, they have a concert series. So a musician would be hired for that series. That's roughly three performances and three rehearsals. So they would hire based on the music that's being presented in that series. So if it was the Beatles again or something, they would be looking for people who could play the Beatles in a certain way and show that kind of emotion. He feels like that kind of control will help him reach this ideal of having musicians who can connect with audiences beyond just their musicianship.

PERRY: Am I wrong that the classic way musicians are hired is that they audition behind a screen so the person doesn't know if they're pretty or not pretty? That it's simply the music? Am I right?

CARONE: I don't know if that's common practice or not. I've heard similar stories about that. But that's not the way they audition.

PERRY: Okay.

CARONE: But that is -- a musician said that to me, that we don't want to be valued based on how we look on stage but rather by our artistry. And the director would say it's beyond what they look like. That has nothing to do with it. It's about how they feel the music and present that and show emotion.

SAUER: So if they go this direction, if the conductor gets the emoting he's looking for, what will we see from the seats? Especially the cheap seats.

CARONE: Well, it's hard to tell what this is going to look like. I think one real challenge is going to be communication. Some of the musicians come from playing clubs backgrounds. They've played with jazz bands before, percussionist I spoke with talked about this. And he gets what he's talking about because he's seen that in a whole different kind of environment. But your average classical musician who has studied for a number of years to perform a certain way is going to need a little of information, are a lot of direction, a lot of very particular kinds of ideas about what this is going to look like to actually make that work. I can't imagine that what he means is everybody is emoting all over the place on the stage. That's not what he means.

SAUER: Right, right.

CARONE: But he has a very specific -- I think the real problem with this too is that it's again this subjective idea about what it's going to look like.

SAUER: Right. Well, are there models elsewhere? Can you go and say that's what I'm looking for?

CARONE: Yeah, I think his example of yo-yo ma is one that a lot of people know, and it's a good one. He's a soloist, so that's different. But still, you can find examples of that. I think this is just such a new idea for an orchestra, a chamber orchestra, that that's what is challenging the notion. But these kind of centuries, century-long practices need to be challenged because something does need to give here.

SAUER: The orchestra says they've offered the musicians a 5% pay increase for the next three years, but the musicians say that's not really the case. There's a pay cut involved.

CARONE: Musicians are paid on a per service basis, paid by rehearsal and concert. So this 5% increase for the next three years, they say actually turns out to be a pay cut because orchestra nova has cut back on rehearsals, pop concerts, they're not paying travel reimbursements. So when you look at it as a whole, it's actually a pay cut. They also say that orchestra nova has been paying under the going rate for quite a while now. They accepted a three-year wage freeze last round of talks, and they were promised that it was going to be made up to them, and they feel this is not enough and it's actually a pay cut.

PERRY: How is this being viewed or potentially being viewed by the industry, if you will? Is it likely that some big-time critics might swoop in and write and broadcast about this and make San Diego look silly? That they're having this silly place in that silly place called San Diego? There is a tendency, as you know for those dreadful outside media people to make fun of our beloved San Diego.
[ LAUGHTER ]

CARONE: Maybe. But I think these tea leaves are real muddled right now. I think every orchestra is going through something similar. And this vision is a sort of departing thing. It is different than what I've seen going on. But there is so much of this going on throughout the industry that I think critics and music writers are very busy capturing the current state of things.

SAUER: We have gone through is the theatre really dead back in the '60s. If we can't come to an agreement, will there be an orchestra nova season?

CARONE: The CEO told me that one way or the other, they're going forward, they are going to have a season. And she said they're exploring all their options. If common ground can't be reached, then they'll start looking outside the union to hire musicians. Of course the musicians union says that the classical musicians are strong in their union, and you'll degrade the quality of the orchestra if you go outside of it.

SAUER: I can imagine a very interesting, entertaining picket line out there, if you're putting on a concert outside. You're asking folks to support classical music, pay a premium dollar, because these seats are expensive no matter what orchestra you're going to, and cross a picket line. That might be a tall order for a concert-goer.

CARONE: Could be, yeah. I don't think -- I'd be surprised if it goes to that. My sense is that they're going to find some kind of resolution. But I could be wrong.

SAUER: And then those concert-goers don't even have the NHL to turn to because they're going on strike too.
[ LAUGHTER ]

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: Welcome back to the Roundtable. I'm Mark Sauer. Of my guests are Rob Davis of voice of San Diego, Angela Carone of KPBS news, and Tony Perry of the LA Times. Combat veterans return to civilian life often profoundly affected by battle. They have years of training on how to fight and kill, and matured in a culture of war. Commonly they suffer the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. They can make for a difficult, dangerous transition to civilian life. Tony, you discovered a place in San Diego that seems to be having success getting such veterans to challenge these aspects in a positive way.

PERRY: Well, this all comes from a combat veteran named Todd Vance. He's a bar bouncer over in Northpark, and a student in social work at Point Loma Nazarene university. He runs three days a week a mixed martial arts class for veterans only. It's for free, also. Veterans only. Kind of a fight club for those who've already fought a war. It's not part of the VA, it's not part of Navy medicine. Although it is known to those folks, and they say it has some positive aspects if done currently. I plugged into it, went a couple of times, and there were two dozen veterans kicking and punching and learning all that mixed martial arts stuff and sweating up a storm. It's a very tight space and steamy and noisy, and lots of techno music. But it's one way that veterans are trying to overcome the problems both of combat and of transitioning back to civilian life, and their myriad problems, and they're going to be with us a long time. How many times on this program have we said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are local issues because of our military community? So is the aftermath. And it's going to be with us a long time. Fight club, if you will, that's my title, is just one way. But it shows that there are a lot of folks out there that are having some trouble going from war to peace, military to civilian.

SAUER: So what specifically goes on in the classes?

PERRY: Well, it's about a 90 minute class. They show up at the undisputed gym in Northpark. It's a boxing and mixed martial arts gym. It's not just ladies trying to lose 5 pounds after having a baby. It's really men and women getting down and getting sweaty. They don't spar one-on-one. It's not quite like the movie. But they go through some very vigorous paces. Todd who is an expert, puts them through how to kick, how to lunch, how to strangle. All of that stuff that you see in ultimate fighting on television. And also in an atmosphere of brotherhood, solidarity, veterans is the tenor, and we're here because we understand each other in ways that civilians don't. Let's get sweaty, get down, and work it out here. There have been some small injuries, but nothing large that I know of. And while the military and VA both know the value of exercise for veteran, exercise for people trying to get their lives back after war, none of the programs I've seen run by the military is quite this vigorous. Todd has taken it to new heights. And it seems to work for some of those folks, according to their own testimonies that I scooped up as a watched them this at the gym in Northpark.

SAUER: Are there women vets there?

PERRY: There are, actually. And they're just as vigorous as the men. Let's not forget that women have been part of this fighting force, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women have been outside the wire as they say, from the beginning. Even though there are certain regulation, but the truth of the matter is, a lot of jobs, combat jobs that women are in take them outside the wire. And there are several women in the two dozen or so folks that show up, one, two, or three times a week at the gymnasium.

SAUER: There's long been a stigma in the military against seeking help. Does this martial arts approach seem to help that?

PERRY: It seems to. As I talked to psychologists, both of them had caveats. Let's be careful who goes to this, make sure their doctor has okayed them to be part of this, and make sure they keep this in the realm of exercise and sport. Let's not go out on the street and pick a fight with somebody on the street and use your new mixed martial arts talents. Let's keep it exercise and sport.

SAUER: Have they done that pretty much?

PERRY: From what I can tell. I couldn't find any police reports that suggest otherwise.
[ LAUGHTER ]

PERRY: The folks fall into this might be the folks who are more squared away than some who might be prone to that. Todd Vance does not tell them don't take your meds, don't see your counselor. He credits his own counselor at VA in his early years when he got back from Iraq all messed up, according to his mother, his counselor was very helpful. He still has a Xanax prescription. You want to get off your meds, that's your own thing.

DAVIS: You've been with these guys as they're fighting abroad. Can you talk a little bit about sort of what experience they're bringing back here that's being exercised as they are exercising? Like, what is -- what's the sort of psychological process that they're unwinding through this --

SAUER: Unloading the demons.

PERRY: Indeed. This is -- we talk about the 1%. Of there's 1% serving and sacrificing, and the rest of us are just going to Horton plaza whenever we want. And there's a lot of stress and strain being in that 1%, going forward, getting ready, leaving the wire, losing friends to small arms fire or improvised explosive devices. The whole idea that it could end tomorrow, moving from point A to point B. There is no such thing called an administrative move. Everything is a combat move. So while you may never pull a trigger in anger, you're at risk. And you carry that with you. You talk to veterans, and they have picked up, many of them, the tendency in any crowd to get a situational awareness of the who's in this crowd? You go into, for example, a bowling alley, pizza parlor downtown, and I did with some veterans for another story, they immediately sized the place up. Anybody looks like a threat here? If given a chance, they'll seat in the gun fighter's position so that no one could walk in a door that they don't see. So there's a lot of hyper vigilance, which of course is one of the first signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Always ready. You talk to the veteran, they say when they're driving, if they drive under one of the overpasses on I-5, they'll change lanes so they'll go in on one lane but come out on another because they've learned in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan there might be gunmen waiting for you to drive underneath, and be trained on the lane that you're in.

SAUER: So it sounds -- this is too new to know if this hyper vigilance will be helped. But that's the idea. Get your stress out, have a way to channel this, and get past this somehow.

PERRY: Indeed. And also feel that you are supported by a group that knows what you've been there.

CARONE: Yeah.

PERRY: And they start this session by puts arms around each other in a circle inside the cage and announcing their names, branch of service, and when they ended active duty. And then they end each session by something similar where they sort of cross hands, all together, and shout out brotherhood. So continuing to feel the sense of being part of a group that understands, which of course when you go out into the civilian community, civilians do not understand. Even sympathetic civilians do not truly understand. So that's important to these folks too. I talked to one army veteran who was part of the class. Of he said this is the closest I've gotten to a sense of fellowship since I left my platoon in Iraq. You get that a lot.

SAUER: Is it a pretty ethically diverse group?

PERRY: I would say Anglos, Hispanics, African-Americans mostly army and marine corp, lesser airforce.

CARONE: This idea of fellowship, I wondered about that. Once veterans come back, and you say 1%, this is a small number. Outside of a therapy session, when do that -- do they have lots of opportunity to just sort of be with other veterans?

PERRY: That's a very good question, and the answer is depending on where they are and what branch of service. A lot of folks who are reservists or national guard who never thought they would deploy, by the way, and their wives didn't either, they deployed. Sometimes multiple times. When they come back, they don't have a base they go to. They worked all over the place before they were called up. And they, from what I understand, one of my colleagues has done some reporting on this, they feel a great Estrangement. Certainly they're back at their regular job selling real estate or working at the grocery store or whatever, and they truly are alienated. Active duty people, if they still have some active duty time or reserve time, they're still with a group that they either deployed with or understands what they experienced while they deployed. But it's just a problem for those that leave active duty. You can get some of that in your groups, VA, or church groups, and there are all sorts of different groups. San Diego County is atypical in that regard from what I can tell. There's just a lot of nonprofit groups, government groups that are trying to do the right thing, trying to step forward.

SAUER: All right. I sure hope that program, I know all of us hope that program succeeds. It sounds terrific.