Another round of job cuts is slicing through the Bay Area News Group, part of a deliberate and ongoing strategy by Digital First Media‘s secretive hedge fund ownership to maintain its profit margins with no real regard for the consequences.
Twenty one Guild-represented journalists and support staff at The East Bay Times and The San Jose Mercury News were accepted for voluntary buyouts after an incentive package was offered two weeks ago. Takers will receive enhanced severance and health care subsidies in exchange for stepping down. No one who asked for a buyout was refused, company officials said.
Additionally, at least a half dozen non-Guild employees took buyouts.
But that’s not a deep enough cut in payroll to satisfy Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that holds controlling interest in DFM. So that means layoffs are next and details will be announced soon. How many more people will be let go is not known.
The San Jose Mercury News staff was once among the largest in the industry, numbering well over 400 journalists represented by the Guild. At last count, before the current buyouts and layoffs, the Guild-covered staff in the South Bay stood at just 41 newsroom workers. In the East Bay Guild unit, we had 65 news employees, including reporters for the consolidated East Bay Times and editorial production workers servicing both the East Bay and the Mercury News print and online publications.
Our studies have shown DFM has cut far deeper than other news organizations, and the reasons for the deeper Bay Area cuts have nothing to do with industry wide revenue trends.
News industry observer Ken Doctor tells us DFM has made cost-cutting an art form. He warns us to expect two or three more years of job cuts, noting that DFM has actually studied how deeply it can cut without sacrificing more in customer defections than it gains in cost reduction.
This is an insane business strategy guaranteed to bleed our newsrooms dry while leaving vast territories of the East Bay and South Bay with no serious news source.
For example, the Bay Area News Group now has no K-12 or higher education reporter. We have no health reporter. County and city government coverage is greatly diminished.
Meanwhile, ownership at the McClatchy newspapers in the Central Valley and Hearst Corp.’s San Francisco Chronicle — while hardly showering employees with anything close to fair contract terms — seem far more interested in maintaining some semblance of editorial quality.
“We have tough fights on our hands just about everywhere,” said Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall. “Still, Alden Global and DFM are hands-down champions of the slash-and-burn approach. It’s amazing that staffs at those properties manage to keep their focus and still do great work, and I give credit to the newsroom managers, too, for their determination to fight for quality of journalism as best they can despite the hostile ownership.”
The Guild has been calling for DFM and Alden to either invest in quality or sell to someone who will. Our Bay Area bargaining units have joined in a nationwide campaign with a dozen other DFM newspapers.
We are planning a series of actions in coming weeks to press the invest-or-sell theme. But so far, the ownership has shown willingness to defy all its critics, siphoning resources away for the sake of its own profits.