This won't be good for business in the long run."
As for the Merc, www.GradetheNews.org fueled the rank and file's worst fears by first reporting that 60 newsroom positions at that paper would get the ax, in addition to the 35 union employees who were shoved out last December.
The paper got the tip from John Bowman, now former executive editor of the San Mateo County Times, also owned by MediaNews, who disclosed the layoffs to the public after deciding he was "fed up" with MediaNews honcho Dean Singleton's slash-and-burn business strategy.
Amid the chaos, the Merc's brand-new top editor, Carole Leigh Hutton, sent a memo to staffers begging them to remain calm and "focus some of that energy on doing the journalism we do so well" instead of indulging in rumors at the watercooler about what was planned.
Furious over cuts at his paper, Bowman decided to quit the same day that he talked to GradetheNews about an April meeting he attended with other MediaNews editors at which the layoffs were discussed.
Singleton, the industry's undisputed king of consolidation, months ago cut some copyediting jobs and moved others to a single hub in Pleasanton where its Tri-Valley Herald was formerly located. Bowman told GradetheNews the move had caused "an incredible number of errors," including glaring geographical mistakes even in headlines.
"You want copy editors who know your city, who know your beat, who can ask great questions and help make your story better," Luther Jackson, executive officer of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, told us. "That's just a general rule, I would say. Copy editors are really underappreciated in general."
Jackson added that Bowman's figure of 60 isn't set in stone, and while the paper has admitted it plans to initiate more layoffs soon, it still hasn't decided how many. GradetheNews also interviewed reporters at "several of the chain's papers" who echoed Bowman's complaints and wrote that some of the papers are dreadfully short of reporters, including beat writers who specialize in specific local subjects.
We never heard back from Bronstein, Singleton, California Newspaper Publishers Association executives George Riggs and Kevin Keane, or former Merc executive editor Susan Goldberg, who high-tailed it out of San Jose recently for a job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
But Merc business reporter Elise Ackerman, who's worked at the Peninsula daily for seven years, told us the paper's union plans to provide execs with suggestions on how to improve the paper and boost income, though she didn't give details.
"I do think that this is really just a rough transition, and I was really impressed with Carol Leigh Hutton," Ackerman said carefully. "She's communicating very clearly.... I don't think that she's going to preside over the bloodletting that we saw at the Chron." *
For more on this evolving story, visit www.sfbg.com.
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