Chronicle’s chronic losses lead to major cuts at the Bay Area’s largest newspaper — papers coast-to-coast cutting staff

The San Francisco Chronicle ready for some major “right sizing.”

After some more streamlining in addition to a new printing process off site, the largest newspaper in Northern California should begin to be profitable again.  

In a posted statement, Hearst said if the savings cannot be accomplished “quickly” the company will seek a buyer, and if none comes forward, it will close the Chronicle. The Chronicle lost more than $50 million in 2008 and is on a pace to lose more than that this year, Hearst said.

Frank J. Vega, chairman and publisher of the Chronicle, said, “It’s just a fact of life that we need to live within our means as a newspaper – and we have not for years.”

Vega said plans remain on track for the June 29 transition to new presses owned and operated by Canadian-based Transcontinental Inc., which will give the Chronicle industry-leading color reproduction. That move will save a few million annually due to the reduction of highly paid pressmen.

If the reductions can be accomplished, Vega said, “We are optimistic that we can emerge from this tough cycle with a healthy and vibrant Chronicle.”

The company did not specify the size of the staff reductions or the nature of the other cost-savings measures it has in mind. The company said it will immediately seek discussions with the Northern California Media Workers Guild, Local 39521, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853, which represent the majority of workers at the Chronicle.

“Because of the sea change newspapers everywhere are undergoing and these dire economic times, it is essential that our management and the local union leadership work together to implement the changes necessary to bring the cost of producing the Chronicle into line with available revenue,” Frank A. Bennack, Jr., Hearst vice chairman and chief executive, and Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said in a joint statement.

From the Newsosaur:

SF Chron cost-cut target equals 47% of staff

If the San Francisco Chronicle had to slash enough payroll to offset the more than $50 million operating loss threatening its future, nearly half of its 1,500 employees would be dismissed.

That’s the magnitude of the challenge facing the managers and union representatives who were tasked today by Hearst Corp. to find a way to cut the paper’s mushrooming deficit – or else.

After losing more than $1 billion without seeing a dime of profit since purchasing the paper in 2000, the Hearst Corp. today threatened to sell or close the Chronicle if sufficient savings were not identified to staunch operating losses surpassing $1 million a week. Without significant cost reductions, the losses would accelerate this year as a result of the ailing economy, said Michael Keith, a spokesman for the paper.

To wipe out a $50 million loss, let alone make a profit, the paper would have to eliminate 47% of its entire staff

Meanwhile, on the East Coast:

The latest Hartford Courant (former Times-Mirror newspaper) layoffs were announced last night – political reporter Mark Pazniokas is among those cut from the newspaper. We’ve been told these names as well – please correct us if we have anything wrong: Jesse Hamilton of the Washington bureau,  Religion Reporter Elizabeth Hamilton, Business Reporter Robin Stansbury, Environment Reporter David Funkhouser, reporters  Steve Grant and Anna Marie Somma, sportswriter Matt Eagan,  itowns editor Loretta Waldman, itowns reporter Nancy Lastrina, administrative assistant Judy Prato, Marge Ruschau, Features copy editors Adele Angle and David Wakefield, and library staffer & researcher Owen Walker.

We’re told that editor/reporter Kate Farrish resigned earlier this week as did editor John Ferraro.

Denis Horgan is calling it the Mardi Gras Massacre.

Paul Bass has more in the New Haven Independent.

Now, back to Texas:

Memo from San Antonio Express-News’ editor

From: Rivard, Robert
Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 10:44 AM
To: SAEN Editorial
Subject: We are canceling this morning’s news meeting for obvious reasons.

Colleagues:

By now you have read Tom Stephenson’s message to all employees. Every division of the Express-News will be affected, including every department in the newsroom. Incremental staff and budget cuts, we are sorry to say, have proven inadequate amid changing social and market forces now compounded by this deepening recession.

It is not lost on us as journalists in this difficult moment that we have built an audience of readers, in print and online, that is larger and more diverse than at any time in our century and half of publishing. We have done that at the Express-News through a commitment to excellence and public service. Now we must find ways to maintain these high levels of journalistic distinction even as valued colleagues depart. It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that declining advertising revenues are insufficient to support our operations at current levels. At the same time, more and more people have become accustomed to reading us at no cost on the Internet. As a result, we are reducing the newsroom staff by some 75 positions, counting layoffs and open positions we are eliminating.

As a first step to securing our future and continuing to serve the community, we are undergoing a fundamental and painful restructuring of the newsroom staff. We will have fewer departments and fewer managers, and yes, fewer of every class of journalist. After we reorganize and consolidate additional operations with the Houston Chronicle, we will then turn to finding new ways to create and present the journalism we know is vital to the city and the region. There is every indication the community we serve recognizes our importance and wants the Express-News to succeed.

The newsroom leadership team will begin now to meet with individuals whose jobs are being eliminated. Brett Thacker and I are working with these editors to carry out such notifications as swiftly and humanely as possible. No one is being asked to leave the Express-News today unless you so choose. March 20 will be the final day for those whose jobs are being cut, at which time they will then receive involuntary separation packages that include two weeks’ pay for each year of service up to one year’s pay, along with other benefits. Some production journalists involved in the consolidation project with the Houston Chronicle will be asked to stay on until that project is completed in the coming months. Those who do stay until the completion will receive their separation packages at that time.

We have worked to preserve the size and depth of our newsroom in every imaginable way these past months and years, but events beyond our control have overwhelmed those efforts. Newsrooms become like families, but companies in every industry reach a point where they face fundamental, sometimes harsh change in order to preserve their viability. We are at that point. Most of you read yesterday’s news regarding the San Francisco Chronicle and recently became aware of pending staff cuts at the Houston Chronicle. Our intention is to get through these difficult days and work to remain an indispensible source of news and information through the recession and beyond.

Hearst purchased the Chronicle in 2000, but soon afterward felt the impact of an economic downturn in the dot.com sector as well as the loss of classified advertising to Craigslist and other online sites. The problems have been exacerbated by the current recession.

In the news release, the privately-held, New York-based company said that the Chronicle has had “major losses” since 2001.

Back on the West Coast, there is no safe haven.

Sacramento Guild bracing for job cuts

Woe is us, McClatchy warns

Media Workers Guild – 12 Feb 2009

Sacramento Bee employees should expect a serious wave of layoffs in early March, as well as other cost-cutting measures now being considered, including wage cuts and mandatory furloughs as McClatchy Newspapers’ financial crisis worsens, company representatives told the Guild’s bargaining committee in a 90-minute session Thursday.

Mercury Bargaining Bulletin 9

 

Mercury News wants $1.5 million cut from wages and benefits

 

California Media Workers Guild – 10 Feb 2009

Mercury News negotiators said Tuesday they need to find $1.5 million by cutting wages and benefits paid to Guild members annually in the face of the economic woes facing the company. The company’s announcement came at a bargaining session Tuesday that kicked off an effort by management and the Guild to expedite the process of reaching a new contract to replace the one that expired October 31.

“Given the losses the Chronicle continues to sustain, the time to implement these changes cannot be long. These changes are designed to give the Chronicle the best possible chance to survive this economic downturn and continue to serve the people of the Bay Area with distinction, as it has since 1865,” Bennack and Swartz said in their statement.

“Survival is the outcome we all want to achieve,” they added. “But without specific changes we are seeking across the entire Chronicle organization, we will have no choice but to quickly seek a buyer for the Chronicle, and, should a buyer not be found, to shut down the newspaper.”

The Hearst statement further said that cost reductions are part of a broader effort to restore the Chronicle to financial health. At the beginning of the year, the Chronicle raised its prices for home delivery and single-copy purchases.

Hearst owns 15 other newspapers including the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio News-Express and the Albany Times-Union in New York . Hearst announced Jan. 9 that in March that if a buyer is not found it will close Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has lost money since 2000.

Vega said readers and advertisers will see no difference in the Chronicle during the discussions with the unions.

“Even with the reduction in workforce, our goal will be to retain our essential and well-read content,” Vega said. “We will continue to produce the very best newspaper for our readers and preserve one of San Francisco ‘s oldest and most important institutions.”

The Chronicle, the Bay Area’s largest and oldest newspaper, is read by more than 1.6 million people weekly. It also operates SFGate, among the nation’s 10 largest news Web sites. SFGate depends on the Chronicle’s print news staff for much its content.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to 21 daily newspapers covering an 11-county area.

The Chronicle’s news staff of about 275, even after a series of reductions in recent years, is the largest of any newspaper in the Bay Area.

“While the reductions are an unfortunate sign of the times, the news staff has always been resilient in San Francisco ,” said Ward Bushee, editor and executive vice president. “We remain fully dedicated toward serving our readers with an outstanding newspaper. We are playing to win.”

The area’s other leading newspapers – the Bay Area Media News Group that includes the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune – also have seen revenues decline sharply and cut staff.

These problems are a reflection of those faced by newspapers across America as they experience fundamental changes in their business model brought on by rapid growth in readership on free internet sites, a decline in paid circulation, the erosion of advertising and rising costs.

Advertising traditionally has offset the cost of producing and delivering a newspaper, which allowed publishers to charge readers substantially less than the actual cost of doing business. The loss of advertising has undermined that pricing model.

In the case of the Chronicle, Vega said the expense of producing and delivering the newspaper to a seven-day subscriber is more than double the $7.75 weekly cost to subscribe.

At the beginning of the year, in an effort to evolve its business model and offset its substantial losses, the Chronicle raised its subscription and newsstand prices, taking a cue from European papers that charge far more than their American counterparts.

“We know that people in this community care deeply about the Chronicle,” Vega said. “In today’s world, the Chronicle is still very inexpensive. This is a critical time and we deeply hope our readers will stick with us.”

The challenge the Chronicle faces, Vega said, is to bring its revenues from advertising and circulation into balance with its expenses so that the newspaper can at least break even financially.

“We are asking our unions to work with us as partners in making these difficult cost-cutting decisions and reduction in force to ensure the newspaper survives,” Vega said.

Michael Savage will have some candid comments on the layoffs. What about the content of the Chronicle’s “news?”

The union reps “negotiate” their fate:

Cost-Cutting Talks Begin – 

Guild leaders met with representatives from The Chronicle and Hearst Corp. this morning to discuss the company’s cost-cutting proposal.

We opened the meeting by underscoring our commitment to our membership and the community to do all we can to reach an agreement that will keep The Chronicle open and return it to profitability.

The company seeks a combination of wide-ranging contractual concessions in addition to layoffs, the exact number of which the company said it did not yet have. For Guild-covered positions, the company did say the job cuts would at least number 50. Other proposals include removal of some advertising sales people from Guild coverage and protection, the right to outsource — specifically mentioning Ad Production — voluntary buyouts, layoffs and wage freezes. 

We plan to closely analyze this proposal over the next few days and explore every possible alternative. Meetings will be held to discuss details with members of the bargaining unit. An informational membership meeting will be held from 5-7 p.m.tonight (Tuesday Feb. 25) at the Guild office, 3rd floor conference room.

Management reiterated its commitment to keeping The Chronicle open and to working with the Guild to secure a viable future. Despite the difficult economic environment, we are confident that by working together we can find solutions to any problems that confront us.

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact your shop steward or e-mail Unit Chair Michelle Devera, Local President Mike Cabanatuan or Unit Secretary Alissa Van Cleave.

In solidarity,

Michelle Devera, Chronicle Unit chair, michelleatsfchronunit@gmail.com
Michael Cabanatuan, Local President, ctuan@aol.com
Alissa Van Cleave, Chronicle Unit secretary, vancelave44@hotmail.com
Wally Greenwell, Chronicle Unit vice chair
Gloria La Riva, president, Typographical Sector
Carl Hall, Local Representative

3 thoughts on “Chronicle’s chronic losses lead to major cuts at the Bay Area’s largest newspaper — papers coast-to-coast cutting staff

  1. Now AP picks up on the story.SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The San Francisco Chronicle joined the lengthening list of imperiled newspapers Tuesday as its owner set out to purge the payroll and slash other expenses in a last-ditch effort to reverse years of heavy losses.

    If it can’t reduce expenses dramatically within the next few weeks, the Hearst Corp. said it will close or sell the Chronicle, northern California’s largest newspaper with a paid weekday circulation of 339,430.

    Hearst didn’t specify a savings target nor a deadline for wringing out the expenses. A Hearst spokesman didn’t immediately respond to messages Tuesday.

    But management made it clear that the cost-cutting will require a significant number of layoffs.

    “Our current situation dictates that we accomplish these cost savings quickly,” Chronicle Publisher Frank Vega wrote in a memo to the staff. “Business as usual is no longer an option.”

  2. Is it Time to Get Out of Journalism?
    Asks Joe Grimm of the Poynter Institute. Grimm writes an advice column for journalists called “Ask the Recuiter.” I have a better suggestion: “Ask the Grim Grief Subject Matter Expert.

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