The morning after - Page 4

While drunk on big newspaper purchases, Dean Singleton promised competitive papers and no layoffs. Now he's swinging the ax, cutting deals with Hearst, and decimating local news coverage

A MediaNews paper in Los Angeles, the Daily News, recently axed its publisher and 20 other workers.
MediaNews enraged union workers at the Merc when it offered them a contract during September negotiations that was unlike anything they'd seen at the paper before. The company has since toned down some of its harsher demands but asserted that if a tentative agreement were accepted by Nov. 30, the Merc might see fewer layoffs, Jackson told the Guardian.
The proposal would grant management the right to modify insurance coverage without telling the union, freeze the paper's pension plan and replace it with a 401(k), and change the types of work that could be assigned to nonunion employees. It would also allow the paper to hire new workers at "market-rate" salaries, which means their pay increases could be capped at lower rates.
The company may choose to simply not replace costly veterans who are retiring or accepting buyouts, meaning cub reporters could find themselves with fewer seasoned mentors around to help teach them government and private sector watchdogging.
The guild foresees losing nearly 200 members if the full number of layoffs and worker transfers are carried out. And many guild members fear it may also mean the beginning of the end of newspapers as we know them.
Corporations have the right to see to their bottom lines. But communities and individuals also have a right to the fruits that independent, competitive journalism bestows. And that’s the right being asserted now in civil court by Clint Reilly.
While federal and state investigators have largely been idling, Reilly sued Hearst, MediaNews, and its other business partners last summer. He asked Judge Illston to temporarily halt the transactions until the trial begins in his antitrust claim against the companies. She denied Reilly’s initial request for a preliminary injunction, in part because the Hearst investment had not been officially inked, even though the trial isn’t expected to start until this spring.
In her opinion, however, she suggested parts of the deal were troubling and has not ruled out forcing MediaNews to give up some of its newly acquired assets. Earlier this month Reilly’s attorney, Joe Alioto, again asked the judge for an injunction. The renewed appeal was inspired in part by the recently announced job cuts.
The plaintiffs are arguing Hearst and MediaNews previously withheld a letter from the court that the two companies had signed agreeing to discuss the possibility of combining some circulation and advertising functions to save money. In his request Alioto told the judge the companies were “rapidly consolidating, commingling, and irrevocably altering their San Francisco Bay Area newspapers so as to frustrate this Court’s ability to provide an effective remedy for their antitrust violations.”
During a tense hearing last week on the matter, Alioto asked that top Hearst and MediaNews executives be ordered to testify immediately. He suggested Hearst’s board of directors would never have agreed to invest $300 million in MediaNews if it couldn’t also merge distribution and ad sales with its competitor.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that they intend to end up with newspapers that are very different than they are today,” Alioto said. He wants any such discussions stopped by the court, adding, “We believe they intend to wipe out the possibility of any of these papers to remain freestanding. These papers will not be the same within a very short amount of time.”
Hearst attorney Daniel Wall angrily fired back that no one was trying to deceive the court with a price-fixing agreement and that the companies were merely discussing the possibility of “pro-competition collaboration,” which Wall described as a business partnership lawfully permitted by the Justice Department.

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