Tune in to any of the local TV or radio news stations today (May 18), and one of the top stories — if not the top story— was the Chronicle’s decision to cut 25% of its news staff. Both KGO-AM 810 and KCBS-AM 740 offered “team coverage” with multiple reports. KCBS did an extended interview with UC Berkeley faculty member and former “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman (click here to hear podcast). KCBS also interviewed Phil Matier, who works for both the radio station and the Chronicle, who said the layoffs weren’t a surprise.
How did the Chronicle play it? On page C2, the third brief in Friday’s Business Section’s “Daily Digest.” The brief is circled in red at left. Later in the day, the Chron’s SFGate.com put the four paragraph story on its first page. At 9:20 p.m., it was the fourth most e-mailed story, according to SF Gate.
Here are some links to the other stories posted yesterday:
- • AP: Paper to Cut 100 Newsroom Jobs
• MediaNews: SF Chron announces staff cuts — oddly enough, also a four-paragraph story.
• Editor & Publisher: UPDATE: ‘SF Chron’ To Lose 100 Newsroom Jobs — Guild Calls It ‘Dreadful’ — this story has new quotes from Carl Hall who describes the situation (“It is about as grim a scenario as you can come up with … It is going to be very painful, dramatic, and dreadful”) and then says the Guild hopes to get management to offer buyouts rather than forced layoffs (“”I think they want to preserve a quality newsroom. .. But it will not be quality if you get rid of this many people.”)
• KCBS 740: Chronicle To Slash Workforce — this is pretty much a re-write of the AP, but KCBS had far more extensive coverage during the day, as this report by Margie Shafer shows. Here’s the text of her story:
- Some employees are calling it “Black Friday.” Executive Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Phil Bronstein is said to have not sugarcoated the grim news, saying times are difficult as he announced that 25 percent of the chronicle newsroom staff are expected to lose their jobs.
“People are wondering not only about their own particular job but about the direction of the paper, you know, after this. There will be a lot fewer bodies around. And so, how will this place be organized.” That is tech writer Ryan Kim.
Newspapers across the country have seen reduced circulation and falling revenue, and columnist Chuck Nevius says it’s no secret times are tough in the newspaper business. “Other newspapers have done this. We’ve seen it happen. We’ve had our friends experience this. It’s just hard when it comes to your office.”
Buyouts will be offered to some employees. Details to be flushed out by July 1st.
Here is a transcript of KCBS’s interview with Lowell Bergman.
- Patti Reising: A rough day for the employees of the San Francisco Chronicle. Management has announced that nearly a quarter of the newsroom jobs are being eliminated.
Mike Pulsipher: Joining us on the KCBS newsline is veternan broadcast and print journalist Lowell Bergman [pictured], a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, a producer of a series on the news business for PBS’s “Frontline” called “News War” and a recent guest on KCBS “In-depth.”
- A sound bite from “In-depth” is played, with Pulsipher asking: “Some people say the newspaper business at least as we know it is slowly going out of business. What do you say?” Bergman responds: “It’s in very deep trouble.”
Pulsipher: And those words, at least as far as the Chronicle is concerned, seem to be prophetic. Professor Bergman, what do you think today?
Bergman: Well, it’s just something that people have expected for quite a while. The Hearst Corporation has been losing money at the Chronicle for quite a while, for a number of years, and the likelihood of cutbacks was — I think everybody expected that [but] maybe not as deep and not as complete as they are.
Reising: This is big news, of course, for the people who work for the Chronicle and their families. It’s big news for those of us who work in the news business. I’m wondering how big of news is it for the readers?
Bergman: I don’t think people understand that at least 80 percent of the information they call “news” … comes from newspapers. [Newspapers] are the only institution that sends people out regularly to gather information in courthouses, from the scenes of accidents, and dig into what’s going on. So [with this] news you’ve got to start thinking about where will you get your news and who will pay for it.
Jeff Bell: This may sound like a strange question professor, but do you ever see a day when there might be subsidies for newspapers?
Bergman: Well, there have been actually. The monopoly relationship newspapers have had in most metropolitan areas is a form of a subsidy. They don’t pay extra to use our roads with their heavy trucks going down the road. They get a subsidy already. The question is the newsgathering part as opposed to the production and delivery of news is what’s at issue here. Who is going to pay for the reporters? The actual cost of putting out a newspaper, 70 percent goes to the production, 30 percent for the newsgathering. And it’s who’s going to pay for that newsgathering in the future that we’ve got to worry about.
Bell: Now, in some countries there is actual taxpayer subsidies. Would we ever see that in this country?
Bergman: You have a subsidy in extent for this very station people are listening on. The most lucrative license the government gives is to broadcasters. It costs approximately $100 to renew the license that your station has every eight years. Otherwise they don’t have to pay the taxpayers to use it. They’re supposed to operate in the public interest. And you might like to know this — they should be expanding your news staff. Maybe the people who are working at CBS could substitute some newsgathering that we’re losing from the newspapers.
Pulsipher: Well, we’ll take that to heart, I hope. (Chuckles.) In the meantime, though, do you see anything newspapers can do to re-build readership.
Bergman: I don’t have any magic formula. Everyone seems to be putting more of their time and energy into the Web, and hoping that by increasing their Web presence and having more people come to the Web, they’ll be able to charge more for advertising on the Web. But even there there’s a problem. No one has a situation where Web advertising is producing enough revenue to maintain quality news. It may require nonprofits and others to get involved in doing the kind of newsgathering in the public interest that we have come to depend on.
Pulsipher: Professor thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.