I was trying to save some jobs in the newsroom."
The loss of an experienced editor may have saved some jobs ... for now. But maybe not for long. Reporters have been asked to summarize their beats for managers to determine how they can cover single subjects for a number of papers. The idea seems to be maximizing staff output rather than ensuring broad coverage of the communities.
A story about Lopez's departure written by a Times reporter also appeared on the Merc's Web site. MediaNews is also looking into multimedia deals with local TV stations and arming reporters with cameras for podcasts, one source told us.
Armstrong told the Guardian in a phone interview that opinion columnists, for instance, could still cover the same stories. "But we had found some situations where reporters were sent to the same events like Oakland [Raiders] away games." He said offering buyouts to staffers has been "successful," but it wasn't enough to stem declining revenue, triggering the need for "involuntary" layoffs.
All of this may make sense from a strictly economic perspective. After all, doing more with less is a widely accepted imperative for profit-driven corporations. But there is a public price that will be paid for this reality: Bay Area citizens will get less original reporting and fewer perspectives on the news.
A former senior staffer at a major Bay Area daily wrote an open missive outlining recent major stories covered by fewer reporters: "Three months after MediaNews Group added two major Knight Ridder dailies to its far-flung Northern California newspaper group, news coverage is well on its way to being homogenized in this formerly competitive market."
The observation is borne out by a Guardian survey of three major MediaNews papers. Out of 10 top recent cultural and political stories in the Bay Area, nine were covered by the same reporter, who wrote the same article for all three papers. (For details, visit www.sfbg.com.)
Under the recent layoff announcement, the Merc could lose up to 101 employees, half from its newsroom, while more than 100 business-side positions will be reportedly moved to a new, nonunionized San Ramon office of the California Newspapers Partnership (CNP), a consortium of companies including Gannet Co. and Stephens Group that helped MediaNews fund its recent purchases. The centralized San Ramon space could continue to fill up with employees from the business side of the papers who have been forced to reapply for their jobs under the CNP corporate moniker. They would presumably fall out from under union protection.
The company's Peninsula and East Bay papers saw cuts across their operations from Walnut Creek to San Mateo. Armstrong told the Times the layoffs were "broad but not deep." East Bay Express writer Robert Gammon, a former Tribune reporter and union organizer, revealed in early November that MediaNews planned to leave behind the Tribune's historic downtown tower and move many of its staffers to the San Ramon office. News-side functions could be moved to a cheaper spot across from the Oakland Coliseum.
"The question is how do we continue to put out a paper people want to read if we continue to cut further?" Luther Jackson, executive officer for the San Jose Newspaper Guild, which represents almost 500 workers at the Merc, asked the Guardian. "I have a concern that when newspapers face increased competition for advertising, why are we cutting service? Does it work for readers? Does it work for advertisers?"
The Bay Area isn't alone. In the complex transactions that took place over the summer, Hearst bought the St. Paul Pioneer Press from McClatchy and shifted it to MediaNews in exchange for stock in the company. At the Pi Press, as it's known in Minnesota, 40 positions were cut in November.