And You Thought Things Were Bad at the Mercury-News
Sometimes you have to wonder why William Dean Singleton even bothers. He buys up newspapers large and small as head of MediaNews Group, then proceeds to suck the lifeblood out of them, presumably thinking there's a motherlode of profits to be unearthed after he clears out the deadwood the rest of us call reporters, editors and photographers.
As we've said repeatedly, no one begrudges the guy a right to make a profit. It's just sickening how he attempts to go about doing it, sacrificing the product and hoping readers won't notice or care.
The latest assault from "Lean Dean" was lobbed at the employees represented by the Newspaper Guild at the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. The Rake blog enumerates all the givebacks Singleton desperately craves, which would essentially reduce the staff to the ranks of indentured servants rather than seasoned professionals.
Everything from benefits, to vacation pay, severance, and overtime are on the table. Other papers' unions recently, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Toledo Blade and Singleton's San Jose Mercury-News, have approved contracts that were markedly worse than the one they had. But none of them were confronted with a proposal that was as brazenly draconian as the one Singleton has put forth in Minnesota.
If the bottom truly is falling out of the newspaper business, you'll know the real reason why by looking at Singleton's demands.
For those of you who have been following Singleton's slash-and-burn approach to the Mercury-News staffing levels, John Bowman offers some keen insights into just how fervently Singleton has pinched pennies at his other Bay Area properties and what that could mean for the Merc.
Bowman should know, having worked for Singleton five years before "quitting in disgust."
Yesterday, Bowman noted that Singleton had one editor in charge of the news report for five newspapers for the Fourth of July.
That's one editor to oversee the staffs at five spread-out newspapers, assign stories if news breaks and guarantee the accuracy of stories written by reporters at all five papers. That might sound like a reckless -- even dangerous -- way to operate newspapers in an area that sits on a couple of America's most notorious earthquake faults, and where a flash fire can destroy a neighborhood of hundreds of homes in the time it takes the A's to get to the seventh-inning stretch. But it is standard operating procedure on every holiday -- and every Saturday and Sunday, for that matter -- at Dean Singleton's ANG papers.
Scary stuff, even if for Singleton it's SOP.
For newsroom managers complacent about thin holiday staffing, I think back 10 years ago to what was shaping up to be a very quiet Labor Day weekend. I had finished a Saturday shift at CBS Radio, when I had done an occasional interview but not much else. It was how it was supposed to be. A few hours later, Princess Diana would change that.
We were fortunate in that it was late in Europe, where it was not a holiday weekend. Our London correspondent, the late Adam Raphael and Paris reporter Elaine Cobbe hit the airwaves soon after word broke. Raphael, a well-connected veteran, was among the first to confirm her death.
Alas, over on the TV side, they were caught flat-footed as there was no correspondent in the building late on a Saturday night. While other networks were going wall-to-wall, the CBS station in New York was showing pro wrestling until a reporter from WCBS-TV came on the network to read wire copy.
It took more than an hour for the TV network to cover the story on its own. The result: "reassignments" of senior executives in the news division -- particulary Lane Venardos -- who was in charge of hard news and was shifted to special events.
End result: There is always a correspondent or anchor in the CBS Broadcast Center to go on the air 24/7 to prevent another fiasco like the Diana crash.
Singleton's California papers are one earthquake or freeway collapse away from meeting a similar fate.