Friday, June 27, 2008

BANG-EB intends to lay off 29 news people

MediaNews Group's East Bay newspapers, including the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune, plan to lay off at least 29 newsroom workers due to a forecasted 10 percent decline in revenue and a 20 percent increase in paper, Publisher John Armstrong (pictured) said in a memo to employees today.

A story about the cuts posted tonight on the Contra Costa Times Web page suggests an undisclosed number of non-union jobs will also be cut as well. The reductions will bring the 226-person newsroom down to 197. The union-represented journalists who are being laid off will be notified on or before July 11, the company said.

The announcement comes less than a month after newsroom employees voted to unionize. Here is Armstrong's memo:
    Colleagues:

    As you all know, we are not immune to the financial challenges facing the economy in the East Bay and the newspaper business in general.

    We have just completed work on our budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. We are forecasting a 10 percent drop in revenue over the next 12 months, which comes on the heels of a 17 percent revenue decline in this fiscal year. In my nearly five decades in this business, I've never experienced a downturn so deep and so broad.

    Given this continued erosion of our revenue base — coupled with a more than 20 percent jump in the price of our most expensive commodity, newsprint — we found we had no choice but to take additional steps to sharply reduce our operating costs.

    Consequently, I write to let you know we have started a significant restructuring of our operations, including employee layoffs from the management and staff ranks in all divisions and other changes to bring our overhead in line with lower revenue.

    The employees subject to layoffs today were notified individually. Also, we sent a letter to the Media Workers Guild requesting a meeting to discuss our intention to lay off, on July 11, approximately 29 newsroom employees.

    You will recall we achieved a reduction in our workforce in March through a buyout program. At the time we hoped that our revenue base would stabilize and additional job cuts could be handled through natural attrition.

    Unfortunately, the decline in revenue accelerated in April, May and June, spurred by the prolonged real estate slump, its ripple effects on virtually all segments of the East Bay economy and the continuing migration of ad dollars to the Internet. When it became obvious that another reduction in workforce was unavoidable, we concluded we could not utilize buyouts this time because we needed to move quickly and we could no longer accommodate the randomness of buyouts.

    In making the decisions on which jobs to eliminate, we were guided by three objectives:

    Protect the core strength of our franchise, which is local news and information. Maintain advertising sales presence in the markets we serve. Minimize the impact on our web sites and other digital services.

    These are difficult times to be in the newspaper business. We are building audience and ad sales on the Internet, but our digital growth is far short of the level needed to offset our print losses. We'll get to that point, but the transition is proving to be challenging and at times painful.

    We are losing quality people in our organization, which is sad and unfortunate. We wish them every success in their new endeavors. I ask those of us who remain to roll up our sleeves, renew our commitment to our mutual goals and aspirations and support each other as one team moving forward.

    John

    John Armstrong
    President and Publisher
    BayAreaNewsGroup-EAST BAY
    Vice President
    California Newspapers Partnership
BANG-EB includes the Contra Costa Times, Valley Times, East County Times, Oakland Tribune, The Argus in Fremont, The Daily Review in Hayward, The Tri-Valley Herald in Pleasanton and The San Mateo County Times.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

and they thought the union would protect their jobs! what fools!

allaboutgeorge said...

I (along with dozens of other employees) voted for the union -- not because I thought it would protect my job, but for a host of reasons, many of which you'll find in the testimonials at One Big Bang. (That's me in the upper-right-hand corner, in the blue shirt and wearing glasses. Hi!) Also? It's been two weeks since the election, and one day since the union certification came back. Time is of the essence, but please know that none of us who voted yes are blind to what's at stake, the shape the industry is in or the new fiscal year's prospects.

Anonymous said...

right on allaboutgeorge!

Anonymous said...

In the end, when Dean Singleton says we're cutting staff, the newspaper guild will say, "Oh, please don't, Dean." Then it will quietly get out of the way as people are sent packing.
What good is a weak guild? You're better off on your own than dealing with a guild that will bow down each and every time.
But I'm sure those wage surveys we're filling out right now will really make a difference. C'mon Dean, cough up the bucks or the guild will eat you alive. Yeah, sure.

AllenWhite said...

"allaboutgeorge" tells you where to find his picture. "anonymous" implies guild members are fools.

"anonymous" may not be a fool. "anonymous," however, is a coward. How pathetic the person who attacks then hides.

allaboutgeorge said...

Thanks, anonymous-at-9:54 p.m.!

And anonymous-at-7:18 p.m. and anonymous-at-12:32 a.m.? As I said above yesterday night, we're just getting started.

Dean Singleton can't know what his employees want -- be it wages, benefits, quality of life at work, job security or other issues (say, for instance, health care, retirement, working conditions or promotion of quality journalism) -- unless they ask him. That goes double for workers who believe they're better off on their own. They are as familiar with asking for fair compensation for their just and honest labor as I am. That's the way it used to be, and that shouldn't change because of difficult times.

We don't know if we're going to be weak or not unless and until we try, right? But if just money was all any of us wanted, we'd've gone into banks (after all, that's where the money is). If job protection was all any of us wanted, we'd be grave-diggers. We probably wouldn't have voted yes on a union -- heck, we might not've gone into journalism.

But we did, and here we are.

allaboutgeorge said...

Hello, allenwhite! That first anonymous poster flat-out said "what fools!" Not much room left to imply anything, heh. But maybe he or she believes an idea can more than serviceably stand in for an identity. When they want to say more, they will.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there is little solidarity among the BANG members re. the guild. Thirteen years ago, the workers at ANG were much more solidly behind the guild than the current situation and it still took 13 years to get a contract...and what a contract that was. But at least the guild got something for their membership, all of whom were making $25,000-$30,000 a year and trying to make ends meet in the Bay Area.
Oh, and "allenwhite," I make way more money than you and I'll have my job a lot longer than you'll have yours. So you might think I'm a coward, but dude, I ain't no fool cuz I got my money and my job security AFTER I left a guild paper.

GladtobeGuild said...

Hmmm, Anonymous (if that's your real name), you need to do some homework. Union contracts rarely (usually only in trade unions) prevent layoffs. Never happens in a newspaper contract, not even in "strong" Guilds like New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

But union contracts usually set up a process for dealing with layoffs, making them more fair and less subjective, and providing severance pay and other benefits.

Singleton probably would have done the layoffs whether or not the Guild won its election. But you can be sure he wanted to do them before any processes requiring fairness or severance pay were bargained.

AllenWhite said...

"Anonymous" seems to have job security and makes more money than me. I'm supposed to believe this person? Another claim is more money with better job security by leaving a guild paper.

Two points: Anyone who attacks another and won't identify themself is a coward. Just what horrible consequence is anticipated by simply sharing their name.

Yet, asking this person to simply say who they are might just be asking too much!


Second point, this person has job security and earns a decent salary because their craft has the support of a union. Any successful bargaining done by this person began much earlier with foundations set by organized labor.

Leaving a union isn't about courage. It's about selling out.

"Anonymous" is both a coward for remaining unidentified and a scab for betraying those brothers and sisters who continue the fight for the highest working standards.

Fear, I thought, motivated the choice to be anonymous. A more appropriate reason could, in fact, be shame.

allaboutgeorge said...

More power to you, "Anonymous," for your money and job security. I remember ANG 13 years ago. I made about $24,000 a year as a reporter at the Herald ('95-'96), and around $30,000 a year as a copy editor and paginator on the production desk one flight up ('97-'99). I warm to the memory of that solid pro-union feeling, but I'm not worried about trying to replicate it here. We're definitely on different terrain, and hopefully we who remember it -- both workers and management -- have learned since then and can move forward on common ground. I have a hunch that (no matter what goes down in the next couple of weeks) it won't take another 13 years to get a contract. (I turn 37 next week; a contract would be a great 50th birthday present -- but I think it'd be a great gift at any age.)

Anonymous said...

You gotta love this "allenwhite"...if that really is your real name.
Leaving a union is selling out? My God, you're delusional. When I was with a union paper, I was making $30,000 a year because that was all the contract would allow me to make. (But strangely when I left, I started making more money when I was judged by the quality and quantity of my work and not by the rules set down in a contract which said I had to get the same raise as everyone else. Oh, and I was doing the same exact job as I was doing at the union paper.) So under your theory, I was suppose to pass up a better job and better security to support my "brothers and sisters" by staying under the worst contract ever negotiated in the history of newspapers by YOUR newspaper guild. Is that what you did? Cuz if you did, you're not a coward, you're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

The reason you were only making $30,000 wasn't because the ANG union was holding you back. You were making $30,000 because you worked for a horrible company with a horrible owner (Dean Singleton). Many Chron and Merc employees make close to six figures, and that's WITH a union contract.

And do you really believe your salary would've somehow skyrocketed at ANG without a union contract to hold you back? Is that really what you're telling us? If so, who's delusional now?

Anonymous said...

i agree with "george." i dont think it's gonna take 13 years for a contract. but this is new terrain and if this isnt wrapped up much quicker and with a much better outcome than the last ANG contract, this will become even uglier. In fact, the guild might find itself decertified for the second time in as many years because I dont think the workers will stand for another guild mess. the guild likes to triumph its big victory, but it wasnt enough of a mandate.

and to "anonymous," i was making less than $30,000 before the ANG contract. the sad part is people were STILL making less than $30,000 AFTER the contract. What was the point then? What did the guild accomplish? It took them 13 years to negotiate the same pay scale that was in place 13 years before. uh, ok. this doesnt give us much hope, especially with the economic conditions so much worse now.
also, the work i did at ANG allowed me to turn into a better worker and eventually allowed me to find a better job and make more money ... AWAY from Dean Singleton. Unfortunately, prior to that, i wasnt allowed to do any other type of work or learn any more about journalism because the guild contract at my previous paper i was at wouldn't allow me the freedom to try anything else. Anytime I was asked to do something else, the guild would throw up its hands and say "No, I'm sorry he cant, he's not being paid to do that." Did the guild ever consider that I might want to do it in an attempt to better my career down the line? Nope. They didn't care one iota about me or my future. The guild claims its for better journalism, but exactly how did the guild help make me a better journalist? Answer: they didn't. Instead, they did everything to insure I couldn't grow.

callmemike said...

Anonymous seems to like living in the past. Which, by the way, is how newspapers got into the mess they're in now. Most Guild contracts today allow people to do multimedia work, which seems to be what he's alluding to. In fact, we encourage it. Of course, we expect people to be paid for the hours worked, to be offered training, and not to be punished for work that's outside their skill set. Living in the past can be pleasant but it limits your access to the future.