Monday, July 07, 2008

One Hand Clapping at MediaNews

Empty Rhetoric Fills Memo Aimed at Calming Jittery Few Left in the Newsrooms

Maybe Lean Dean Singleton has feelings after all.
A memo put out on Romenesko seeks to soothe the ruffled feathers for MediaNews employees, who lately have been watching what's left of their company implode around them.
For those of you new to the dance, that includes the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Jose Mercury-News, and virtually every daily paper in the Bay Area except for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Singleton's preferred method of addressing revenue shortfalls at his California papers has been to eviscerate staff and attempt to break unions.
That hasn't been enough, as the below memo shows. Singleton wants his minions to know that he feels their pain. Sort of.
The memo is actually attributed to him and MediaNews prexy Jody Lodovic. But it's Singleton as CEO who's calling most of the shots even if Lodovic is pressed to act as the hatchet man, so we'll address him head on.
For your edification, a few portions of the memo, with my comments thrown in for good measure in bold:

Is MediaNews Group meeting financial commitments under the terms of its various debt agreements?
Yes, MediaNews is in compliance with the terms of its bank agreements and continues to take steps to reduce its total debt and expect to remain in compliance in the future. As has been the case in the past, MediaNews may from time to time seek amendments of its debt agreements as necessary to provide maximum flexibility. (Uh. oh. "Seek amendments" can be loosely translated to "Renegotiate or else we'll default, declare chapter 11 and you'll get squat." Which may wind up happening in any event).

Is MediaNews concerned about the level of its debt?Certainly, given the economic environment we are in, we would rather have less debt. But, this is not our first rodeo. (Ride, em, Cowboy Dean! Yee ha!).
In the last newspaper recession (in the early nineties), we operated with higher relative levels of debt. We came out well positioned and led the industry in growth for much of the next decade. With our collective efforts, we will lead the charge again! (Don't be so quick to sing hosannas to Singleton's business acumen. At the end of the last recession, the Interent was a virtual nonentity. The car, help wanted and real estate ads came back because they had no place to go. No more. Now they're gone again. For good).

Is MediaNews looking to buy more newspapers in the near term? (With what? Singleton's galleons he's hoarding at Gringotts?)
While MediaNews believes the future of newspapers is bright, MediaNews is not currently looking to acquire more newspapers. We believe our resources should be more internally focused on reinventing our current newspaper model to support future growth plans. (on what planet?)
That said, we believe that consolidation within the industry is inevitable and will help facilitate the change necessary for newspapers to thrive well into the future. (In other words, he just contradicted himself).
MediaNews expects to be a leader in that consolidation effort (We wouldn't expect anything less).

MediaNews has always been focused on cutting costs. Is there a different strategy for the future?
The recent necessary downsizing at some of our newspapers was a difficult decision, from both a personal and professional perspective, and we will certainly miss our cohorts (used more or less correctly, but still weird). Each played an important role in the company, and there [sic] departure, through no fault of their own, leaves a whole that the rest of our employees will have to find a way to fill.....

Unfortunately, gone are the days where we can operate as a collection of standalone newspapers. We must leverage our collective resources and position ourselves to reinvest in our business going forward in order to provide the tools and resources to ensure success in the future. And, we are starting to do just that, with significant investments in the sales, marketing and research arenas (Notice how he says nothing about editorial. Given the layoffs and consolidation of news desks, especially in California, that wasn't by accident).

We recognize and appreciate your efforts and dedication during this challenging time. Remember together we can! (Yeah, I'm sure all of you MediaNews acolytes have that warm and fuzzy feeling right about now).

All of this may have come a little too late for some of Singleton's titles, like The Argus in Fremont, from where reporter Todd R. Brown lost his job last week. Which means his paper is down to two metro reporters. As he wrote on John Bowman's Spinditties blog: "God help the people of the community now -- how will the paper ever be able to cover the news with a nearly invisible staff?"

Great question. Too bad Singleton doesn't have an answer.

1 comment:

jilcov said...

For good)