Eric Risberg/AP
The San Francisco Chronicle building.

Ailing San Francisco Chronicle Reaches Tentative Deal With Unions

March 11, 2009 01:00 PM
by Rachel Balik
On March 9, The San Francisco Chronicle, one of many newspapers facing closure, reached a tentative agreement with its union of employees, which could offset significant costs for the paper. The deal could be ratified as soon as March 11.

Deal Would Permit Senior-Level Layoffs

The San Francisco Chronicle is looking to significantly cut costs by reaching a negotiation with its union of employees. The chief measure in the new agreement "will allow the Chronicle to lay off union employees without considering seniority," reports Paid Content. The paper will in return give "a certain amount of severance benefits for those workers who were laid off."

On the Web site of the California Media Workers Guild, a March 9 udpate on the negotiation reported that a "ratification meeting will be scheduled as early as Thursday of this week."

As Paid Content notes, some newspaper publishers have started implementing "unpaid leave programs," which the country's largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, introduced to their approximately 31,000 employees in January. Gannett owns the Detroit Free Press, USA Today and 83 other daily papers. The Guardian reported at the time that employees would "be forced to stay home for a week between now and the end of March."

"Virtually every newspaper in the country has shed staff, shrank daily editions, and at some point frozen hiring and wages," The Guardian added.

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Background: The Chronicle's challenges and other newspapers' struggles

The San Francisco Chronicle saw more than $50 million dollars in losses last year, and now must face serious cutbacks if it is to stem the tide. Publisher Frank J. Vega acknowledged in a San Francisco Chronicle article that the paper had failed to "live within ... [its] means." The paper's owner, the Hearst Corporation, has announced that it will lay off both union and nonunion staff.

On its Web site, Hearst said it would do everything it could to save the paper, but that if the losses continue, it would have no choice but to seek a buyer or close the paper, which was founded in 1865. But ultimately, the target is "financial health" for the Chronicle. This summer, paper will be printed on new presses, in the hope that improved color reproduction technology will add value to the paper.
Newspapers across the United States are facing flagging sales and advertising due to the prevalence of free online content and a faltering economy. Many publications have suffered so badly that they have been forced to restructure their finances, file for bankruptcy or go up for sale.

Newspaper publishers are also pondering editorial restructuring, including online-only content, paid online subscriptions, smaller staff and other innovative offerings.

Many have already implemented one or several new feature packages in an attempt to speak to the fact that, concurrent with the recession, advertisers and customers are moving online. These changes include “micropayments, hyperlocal Web sites, and publications designed for e-readers,” according to an article in BusinessWeek.

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