Daily 49er

Long Beach forced to say goodbye, for now, to Mike Guardabascio and J.J. Fiddler

After several newspaper layoffs all over Southern California, a local yet iconic team of coverage is most recent victim.

J.J.+Fiddler%2C+left%2C+and+Mike+Guardabascio+pose+for+a+picture+in+the+2012+Olympics+in+London.+The+duo+covered+30+local+athletes+who+participated+in+the+Olympics+in+various+events+for+the+Press-Telegram.
J.J. Fiddler, left, and Mike Guardabascio pose for a picture in the 2012 Olympics in London. The duo covered 30 local athletes who participated in the Olympics in various events for the Press-Telegram.

J.J. Fiddler, left, and Mike Guardabascio pose for a picture in the 2012 Olympics in London. The duo covered 30 local athletes who participated in the Olympics in various events for the Press-Telegram.

Photo courtesy of Mike Guardabascio

Photo courtesy of Mike Guardabascio

J.J. Fiddler, left, and Mike Guardabascio pose for a picture in the 2012 Olympics in London. The duo covered 30 local athletes who participated in the Olympics in various events for the Press-Telegram.

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The massive sports market that is Long Beach and the surrounding areas lost two pioneers of coverage Thursday. Mike Guardabascio and J.J. Fiddler, both 33, were laid off by the Southern California News Group. The two were the faces of the Press-Telegram and Grunion Gazettes sports section, serving an audience of thousands for over 10 years.

If you’re from the 562 area and have just the slightest understanding of sports, chances are you have clicked on one of their YouTube videos that greet the viewer with, “What up Long Beach, It’s Mike and J.J…”

Along with their extensive coverage of high school sports, Guardabascio and Fiddler were regulars in the press box at LBSU athletic events ranging from women’s volleyball in the fall to Dirtbags baseball in the spring. In fact, both are alumni of the school and began their careers in journalism on campus. Fiddler started the sports section of the Union Weekly newspaper and recruited Guardabascio, who was the managing editor at the time, to contribute to the sports section.

“I came to Long Beach State as a film major,” Fiddler, originally from Menifee, said. “Instead of doing homework, I was watching sports.”

From there, the pair set their sights on improving upon the sports coverage of the local newspapers, which included the Press-Telegram, who covers Long Beach, Lakewood, Downey, Norwalk, Artesia, Paramount, Seal Beach, Cerritos, Bellflower, Los Alamitos, Signal Hill, La Mirada, Compton and Cypress.

“It’s rewarding in a hard way to explain,” Fiddler said. “It makes half a million people in an area feel like a small town. I can’t explain my love for the area.”

According to Guardabascio, the Press-Telegram and Grunion Gazettes are profitable newspapers in Long Beach. Both are owned by a private hedge fund called Alden Global Capital, and both publications are cutting 33 percent of its staff at 100 newspapers across the country.

After the decision to lay them off, a massive response on social media ensued. Professional athletes and community members alike voiced strong opinions against the layoff, but also took the time to appreciate the work these men have done.

“I’ve been thinking all day about how to respond to this news,” Chase De Jong, pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization, said via Twitter. “Anger, sadness, disbelief? All of these are true, but no emotion is greater than the thankfulness I have for [Guardabascio and Fiddler]. You treated all of us like superstars.”

Fiddler and Guardabascio acknowledged every tweet.

“We were blown away by and completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response,” Guardabascio said. “I did not expect to spend a whole day watching Olympians, NFL players and the community respond the way they did, and we were really humbled and touched by that. It was like getting to go to your funeral while you’re alive to see all the things that people were posting about what our coverage meant to them.

The span of their influence did not only include athletes and fans. Journalists were given something to strive for as far as full and comprehensive coverage. The team that was Fiddler and Guardabascio was pure motivation. Now, the Press-Telegram doesn’t have a full-time sportswriter for the first time since 1896.

“It was emotional for us, because this really is our dream job,” Guardabascio said. “We decided this a long time ago we would do this for rest of our lives if it was possible. We had a lot of other  job offers, we’ve never taken anything else, and we decided we wanted to work together and do this forever.”

The next step for Fiddler and Guardabascio has yet to be decided. Both would still like to work with each other but they will see what is best for both of them and will make an announcement soon.

“It’s been a real wake-up call and I think to the whole city that local ownership is the only way forward for local journalism,” Guardabascio said. “It’s obvious cities like Long Beach are going to get left behind by these hedge funds, so if we want something that’s special, we are going to have to do it ourselves.”

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