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

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Buyouts, layoffs, big declines in readership and ads — it is a bleak Christmas for newspapers

The decline of the newspaper media monopoly never slows. If you have any stock in newspaper-heavy media, it’s too late to get out. As of the end of 2008, 30 daily newspapers are for sale. Buyouts were the good old days. Now there are brutal Christmans-time layoffs. Google the Gannett Blog and find a running count by an ex-Gannetter. 

The layoffs and firings that started this week at newspapers owned by Gannett, including at the flagship USA Today, have been especially ruthless,  in addition to being timed just weeks before Christmas, they number in the thousdands.  But why not? These are mainly socialists and athiests who mock families and call moms breeders. 

It’s bloody news for newspaper journalists. Even the sill profitable Gannett newspapers (many still have profit margins at 20 percent) are shedding employees at a breathtaking rate. 

This week  a Gannett spokesperson said the cuts are being managed locally, at each newspaper, which is why as a company they’ve not released figures on specific jobs other than to say it’s a 10 percent cut companywide. While early figures compiled paper-by-paper totaled 1,700 Gannett jobs cut, it looks like that number may well pass 2,000 by next week.

In just the past week several thousand newspaper employees in America have lost their jobs, Cox Newspapers announced the closing of their Washington, DC, bureau, and the Tribune Co. will lay off more people at their flagship paper in Chicago.

In Chicago the credit analyst Fitch Ratings predicted that the continued decline in advertising revenues will cause some newspapers to default on their debt in 2009, and rated the debt of two huge newspaper companies – The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. – ask “junk.” Fitch also predicted that several cities could find themselves without daily print newspapers by 2010.

As many as 1,700 Gannett jobs were cut this week, from assistant managing editors on down, including reductions of up to 31 percent of the staff at one newspaper, The Salinas Californian, according to a reader tally on a blog published by a former Gannett worker, Jim Hopkins.

 

The most recent E&P (an online Web site on newspapers that ironically ended its print edtions a decade ago) reports that recruitment advertising declined in May. The Newspaper Conference Board, which measures job ads in 51 print newspapers across the country, said its Help-Wanted Advertising Index is 33. It was 38 one year ago.

“This is certainly a more negative picture going into the second half of the year, compared to the beginning of the year,” Ken Goldstein, a labor economist at the Conference Board, said in a statement.

In the last three months, help-wanted advertising fell in all nine U.S. regions.

 


The Dallas Morning News (a monopoly) said today it’s going to offer buyouts to the newsroom. That means waving a modest proposal of a few extra weeks of severance pay in front of the noses of older employees. Reality check: the UAW buyouts give auto workers 90 percent of their pay and free health care for life.

 

I was walking my dog this morning at 5:30 a.m. and watched a newspaper carrier in a junk car speeding around my neighborhood to drop a paper at every 20th house or so. Just a few years ago, 40 percent of the homes subscribed to the paper. 

Imagine the carbon footprint of that old smokestack medium. 


Newspaper journalists go the way of railroad engineers

With thousands of newspaper reporters and editors getting pink slips this summer, it’s time to think of the future for the once honorable profession. I predict that the practice of newspaper journalism will become a hobby for old timers.

They will form “guilds” and get together to discuss the days when they had a hand in bringing down presidents and most members of the Republican party. The fun they had trashing the military, mocking MBAs and smearing corporate CEOs — good times! Meanwhile, they helped rewrite history, making heroes of Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

Not unlike model railroad enthusiasts, retirees who waste away hours building mini cities with lichen evergreen trees and molded plastic mountains, old journos will have artifacts displayed around their rent-protected apartments, posters of Che, old typewriters, Green T-shirts, famous front pages of newspapers like “BUSH WINS!” printed before the Florida recount, they still don’t realize the headline was right, Bush did win and the Democrat party in Dade and Palm Beach counties tried to count bumps and chads as votes, while they discounted votes from resident military.

Former journalists will be semi-retired, working as greeters at Wal-Mart or sales associates at Borders Books. Those will be the better day jobs. Some will have blogs with readership in the dozens rather than tens of thousands they had in their hay days.

They can pretend to put out daily editions with DVDs playing classics like “The Front Page,” “All the President’s Men,” and episodes of “Lou Grant.”

Some will retain their journalist title by writing freelance for the local alternative press or if they are really good, the surviving monopoly big city newspaper that puts out a free tabloid addition once a week to augment its online daily edtions ‘Updated by the Minute’ will be one of their promotions.

“Pass me some prunes with sea grass, Debbie! Let’s write some sidebars on tips to avoid global warming.” “Wasn’t it grand that we saved Anwar from the gluttonous oil companies?” “Gas is $8 a gallon now as it is in Europe.” “America has finally matured.”

“I walk to the corner co-op for groceries anyway; that’s the way it should be.”

“I’m sure thankful Obama saved our Social Security…”

— Mick Gregory

The only journalism that counts is by mainstream news

By Mick Gregory

What kind of mind set is inside newsrooms today?

Here is a comment from Amy Gahran, a media consultant who instructs newsrooms and PR departments on Web 2.0. This is how elitist journalists think of themselves as they rearrange the deck chairs of the Titanic. Close-minded, pompous and they believe superior to any other members of the new media.

I’ve been getting quite aggravated at the close-minded and helpless attitudes I’m still encountering from too many journalists about how the media landscape is changing. Those attitudes are revealed by statements, decisions, actions, and inaction which belie assumptions such as:
The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted — which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
Real journalists only do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc. As the Louisville Courier-Journal staffer Mark Schaver said just this morning on Twitter, “[Now] is not a good time [for journalists] if you don’t want your journalism values infected with marketing values.”
Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to myriad problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.
There’s a common problem with all these assumptions: They directly cut off options from consideration. — Amy Gahran

Yet here is the reality. Newspapers are losing ciculation/readers in droves.
Layoffs continue across the country at large and small newspapers.

Journalists jump on every liberal crisis bandwagon without a clue.

Let’s look at a newspaper’s carbon footprint
-Tons of newsprint wasted every day
-Adult carriers drive 200 miles circling neighborhoods
delivering the inky newspaper to every 20th house.
-Most often they are driving beaters polluting the dawn air
-Half of all home delivered newspapers end up in the trash bin
-The printing presses run for hours eating up enough energy to run a small town
-Paper and plastic — you get both with your home-delivered newspaper, plastic bags are perfect for picking up dog poop.

Check out this blog:
http://angryjournalist.com

It’s a fact-filled site of the state of the industry. They have some very funny T-shirts for sale.
Here are some:
-30-
Low Pay Creates Writers Block

Here are some of mine:

Ask me about my carbon footprint!

$12 an hour, but I work 12-hour days. You do the math
Will follow AP style for food
Newspaper Interred
The only journalism that counts is from mainstream newsrooms
Make way for the professional journalists
I’m a $32,000 a year professional
On a mission from Guild

Now the once tower of the holy, the New York Times, is one notch above junk bonds.
Credit-ratings agency Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Tuesday cut its long-term rating on newspaper publisher The New York Times Co., as its advertising revenue continues to fall.
S&P cut its corporate credit rating and senior unsecured debt rating to “BBB-” from “BBB.”

“BBB-” is one notch above “junk bond” status. The ratings were removed from CreditWatch, but the outlook is negative, meaning another downgrade could occur.

“The rating downgrade reflects a worsening pace of decline in advertising revenue at the company’s newspaper publications,” said S&P credit analyst Emile Courtney in a statement.

Shares fell 35 cents to $19.96 during midday trading on April 29.

Watch the “managing editors” call out the newsroom cuts soon to help the stock bounce back a little.
Too little too late.

Sunday newspapers shriveling up

Average Sunday Circulation at Top 25 U.S. Daily Newspapers from ABC.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: 1,476,400 — 1,627,062 — (-9.26%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES: 1,101,981 — 1,173,095 — (-6.06%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: 898,703 — 940,621 — (-4.46%)
THE WASHINGTON POST: 890,163 — 930,989 — (-4.39%)
DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK: — 704,157 — 775,544 — (-9.20%)

HOUSTON CHRONICLE: 632,797 — 677,425 — (-6.59%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: 630,665 — 672,953 — (-6.28%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS: 606,374 — 639,531 — (-5.18%)
DENVER POST/ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS: 600,026 — 704,169 — (-14.79%)
STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS: 534,063 — 574,385 — (-7.02%)

BOSTON GLOBE: 525,959 — 562,273 — (-6.46%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: 520,215 — 563,079 — (-7.61%)
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC: 515,523 — 541,757 — (-4.84%)
NEWARK STAR-LEDGER: 500,382 — 570,523 — (-12.29%)
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: 497,149 — 523,687 — (-5.07%)

NEWSDAY: 441,728 — 464,169 — (-4.83%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES: 432,779 — 430,893 — 0.44%
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER: 428,090 — 442,482 — (-3.25%)
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: 424,603 — 438,006 — (-3.06%)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH: 414,564 — 407,754 — 1.67%

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, TIMES: 409,231 — 423,634 — (-3.40%)
NEW YORK POST: 401,315 — 439,202 — (-8.63%)
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: 384,539 — 400,317 — (-3.94%)
THE SUN, BALTIMORE: 372,970 — 377,561 — (-1.22%)
THE OREGONIAN: 361,988 — 375,914 — (-3.70%)

The layoffs continue…

Cuts at the profitable Houston Chronicle — the most financially successful newspaper in the country starting to feel the pressure.

Mick Gregory

Hearst’s Houston Chronicle is the flagship of the media empire, supporting the poorly managed, San Francisco Chronicle which is losing a million dollars a week.

It’s Houston’s mega newspaper where Sunday papers still weigh about 5 pounds.

This info is from a citizen jounalist with the nick name Banjo.Jones.  

We’ve received more information regarding the 5 percent personnel cutbacks at the Houston Chronicle, the only daily newspaper in the country’s fourth largest city.
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