Merc circ up despite newsroom bloodbath

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How is it possible that one of the only major daily newspapers in the United States to show an increase in circulation over the last six months is the closest to up and dying? The San Jose Mercury News added 4,000 weekday copies over the last half-year, according to their most recent figures.

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The Merc, once the prestigious gem of the Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers, has undergone heartbreakingly massive staff cutbacks and turnovers of top editors over the last two years. One editor even tragically took his own life. Knight-Ridder was one of the few chains in the United States that aggressively challenged the White House on the war, something they didn’t get proper credit for until much later when Bill Moyers made his triumphant return to public television.

Besides the Merc, everybody’s down in circulation by several percentage points these days: the LA Times, the Chronicle, the Sacto Bee, the Orange County Register. And we all know why, of course. People don’t want to pay for paper anymore. So how could a paper product like the Merc, which is losing all of its talent and enduring the infamous operations consolidations of parent company MediaNews that predictably lead to more boring and error-laden copy, actually be raising the number of people who read the deadwood version at home?

Their circ is up by a seemingly small 1.7 percent, but when you consider the most attention the Merc has gotten lately came from a series of depressing photos portraying the Merc newsroom as a graveyard, this seems like a pretty big deal for the Silicone Valley daily. We couldn’t actually find a good explanation for why their circ is up … anywhere. Folks linked to the news but no one explained the turnaround. We weren't able to reach anyone in the Merc's circ department right away either. They may have blitzed the city with subscription deals, but that seems unlikely if MediaNews CEO Dean “Obama Bin Laden” Singleton, like everyone else, is gravitating toward the Web, even if the Web formula he’s come up with for all of his newspaper holdings frankly looks like crap. I mean really, Dean. The MediaNews sites aren’t nice to navigate or look at. Moyers and Singleton videos after the jump.

Bill Moyers blasts the dailies

Singleton’s MediaNews holds a majority stake in the Bay Area News Group-East Bay, which owns the Merc, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and others. In March, the company spread more than 100 buyouts across its local newspapers from 1,100 or so workers. That followed repeated waves of previous layoffs at the individual papers over the last two years. Most of the big dailies are seeing their readers move to the Web, and MediaNews in particular says the slump in the housing market has cut into its advertising revenue. Singleton’s crappy Web sites also probably don't help. The Chron had already cut a fourth of its newsroom staff, too. The OC Register just announced that it’s planning to cut 80 to 90 jobs.

For Luther Jackson, executive officer of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, which has spent the last several months contending with the layoffs, the Merc's circ increase is bittersweet. His father, Luther Porter Jackson Jr., died in late April at age 83. Jackson was one of the first African-American journalists at the Washington Post and the Newark Evening News in New Jersey. He eventually became a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Singleton calls Osama Obama

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