Sunday, July 29, 2007

A BANG That Will Turn Into A Journalistic Whimper

Newsroom Consolidation Will Make East Bay Papers Irrelevant. But, Hey, At Least Dean Singleton Will Have Busted The Unions

In case you missed it, MediaNews Group announced last week it would attempt to suck what little life blood there is left out of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay by consolidating news rooms.
Most significantly, that means the Contra Costa Times, which MediaNews bought from McClatchy last year, will have its news operations merged with the Oakland Tribune. Five smaller newspapers in the East Bay, which have already seen their staffs desiccated since "Lean Dean" Singleton and the MediaNewsies took them over are also affected.
No shocker that one way the papers will be saving money is by reducing staff even further. Which is scary enough given current levels. Former San Mateo County Times managing editor John Bowman notes in his SpinDitties blog that when he came to the paper in 2002, he had 12 reporters. When he quit in disgust in May, he was down to eight.
And while Singleton's reducing staff, he'll also be trying to bust unions as well. The East Bay Express says it could well happen. Reporters at the Tribune and its sister papers are unionized, but not at the Contra Costa Times and its brethren.
By combining newsroom staffs, if MediaNews can show that among those left, there are more left from the Times side, it can conceivably push to decertify the union because it no longer represents the majority of employees.
Not a slam dunk, of course, but Singleton's got nothing but time, and apparently a lot of money to pay labor lawyers.
Actually, to say Singleton could "conceivably" make that move may benaive, at least in Bowman's view, which has been bitterly tinged by first-hand knowledge.

[E]verything in my experience as an ANG manager for nearly five years --including attending a couple of long meetings with the company's labor attorneys earlier this year -- tells me that's exactly what Singleton and his Bay Area waterboy, Kevin Keane, have in mind.

At those meetings, held in Pleasanton with all other ANG editors including Mr. Keane, the main topic of discussion was this: What could managers say, and how far could we go, to encourage Guild employees to demand a vote to decertify the Guild, while not breaking any labor laws.

The writing may not be on the wall, but the pens are being procured forthwith.

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