Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Dark Lord Of Newspapers Descends on Connecticut

Reporters at the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time Should be Afraid. Very Afraid

On Thursday came word that Tribune had finally unloaded its smallest newspapers, the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time to a joint venture of Hearst and MediaNews for $62.4 million.
Then yesterday, the next shoe dropped, when it was revealed that MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton addressed the newsrooms and told employees they would have to reapply for their jobs. But don't worry, we'll probably rehire most, if not all, of you anyway.
We'll see.
This is not Singleton's first foray into Connecticut. He already owns the Danbury Times and the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, along with six weeklies.
Here's a telling quote from yesterday's Advocate story on the acquisition: "The newspapers will continue to run independently, but the ability to collaborate 'makes it very exciting for our advertisers, our readers and our employees,' said Singleton...."
Employees should be excited only if Singleton was using excited as a synonym for nervous, if recent history is a reliable guide.
MediaNews is the dominant chain in the Bay Area, owning every major newspaper except for the San Francisco Chronicle, which just happens to be owned by Hearst.
In August, Singleton combined operations of the unionized Oakland Tribune and four other newspapers in Media News' Alameda Newspaper Group with those of the non-union Contra Costa Times and other smaller newspapers.
By doing so, MediaNews contended that unionized employees now made up a minority of staff at the combined operation, so the company would no longer recognize the union. The NLRB is now involved in this dispute and the unions are keeping the PR heat on.
Why does this matter in Connecticut? Because reporters at the Advocate are unionized. Gannett was set to buy the paper in March, but walked away from the deal when an arbitrator ruled it had to honor the union contract rather than force employees to reapply for their jobs and negotiate a new deal.
Given Singleton's union animus, you can bet that the UAW, which represents the Advocate is girding for battle. It's no stretch to see how Singleton could merge the operations of his four Connecticut dailies to dilute the union's strength, just as he did in the Bay Area.
As it is, pressmen and mailers at the Advocate and Time will lose their jobs by the end of the year, as printing of the Advocate and Time will be shifted to Bridgeport and Danbury. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Same goes if you're a reader, as Singleton has slashed and burned his way through the newsrooms at his California properties to make more money. That includes fewer reporters and a centralized copy desk, which has been responsible for some notorious boners.
No reason why he couldn't do that in Connecticut, but there are many reasons, as has been proven in California, for why he shouldn't.
But solid journalism and recognition for the hard work of dedicated employees are usually distant constellations in Singleton's media galaxy. What really does matter? For starters, the $1.83 million Singleton made in the most-recent fiscal year.
Somebody has to pick up that tab, after all. Union contracts make that a lot harder.

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