Huge Media Shifts as Mercury News Rebrands, KGO Cuts Staff

The San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune printed their last editions Monday, marking the end of an era for Bay Area newspapers.

The Trib will absorb the Contra Costa Times, the Hayward Daily Review and the Fremont Argus under a new nameplate, the East Bay Times. In the South Bay, San Jose’s flagship daily newspaper will merge with the peninsula’s San Mateo Times under the newly abbreviated masthead Mercury News.

Digital First Media, the New York-based publishing corporation that owns the newspaper’s parent company Bay Area News Group, called the move a means to survival. The Oakland Tribune nearly lost its name in the 1980s, when then-owner Gannett Company came close to rechristening it the East Bay Today.

Though the Tribune will live on as a weekly insert in the East Bay Times, the consolidation leaves Oakland without a daily newspaper. The 142-year-old Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1950 and again in 1989 for its coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

The San Jose Mercury News has been rebranded before, too, but never without the city’s name. The San Jose Weekly Visitor ran its first issue in 1851 and the San Jose News in 1883. During WWII, the Mercury bought the News and published one in the morning and the other at night until combining the two papers in 1983 as the San Jose Mercury News.

The Merc won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for reporting on political corruption in the Philippines and in 1990 for in-depth coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake the year before. More recently, former assistant managing editor David Yarnold was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2004 for editorial writing on a local corruption scandal.

Five years ago, BANG tried to merge the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune but reversed the decision because of backlash from readers. There had been talk of dropping San Jose from the masthead at that time as well.

In announcing the changes last month, BANG called the move a transformation to better serve readers by bolstering regional coverage. Buried in the March 1 article was a passing mention of the human toll. About 20 percent of BANG’s newsroom staff will get cut, with buyouts offered to employees 60 and older or employees with at least 20 years tenure.

Contra Costa Times columnist Daniel Borenstein and the paper’s features editor, Lisa Wrenn, said they welcome the change if it keeps the company financially stable.

“We don’t relish losing the unique daily mastheads,” they wrote in a March 4 column. “They evoke lots of memories for us and undoubtedly for longtime readers. But the 1980s, when we cut our professional teeth, are long gone.”

Tribune alumni held a wake for the newspaper Monday. They met in the iconic Tribune tower, which the newspaper left in 2007 and just so happened to change hands this week when the court seized control of the property from its beleaguered owner.

The shakeup at BANG coincides with massive layoffs at local radio news station KGO. Last week, the station’s parent company, Cumulus Media, announced it was trimming about 30 newsroom employees at KGO and six full-time DJs at sister station KFOG.

Veteran morning talk show host Ronn Owens was about to be transferred to KSFO until Cumulus changed its mind because of “listener outcry,” according to the Mercury News.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

21 Comments

  1. In a way, the Bay Area print media are victims of their own success.

    They succeeded in promoting a uniformly “liberal” point of view from north to south and east to west across the bay area. They succeeded in cultivating a uniformly liberal readership.

    Open borders. Global warming, “:War on women”, “Republicans only care about the rich”. Blah. Blah. Blah. If there were a liberal meme to be promoted, the San Jose Mercury News was there to promote it.

    The Mercury News is dying because it is formulaic, doctrinaire, repetitive, rigid, and dim.

    John Maynard Keynes famously said:

    “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” (He was right about this, wrong about his economic theories.)

    The Mercury News, KGO, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, and etc. are in trouble because news delivery has changed. But the interest in and the need for news has not changed.

    These “news institutions” haven’t recognized that the factual verities that support “liberal” beliefs have changed.

    Change or die.

    • The population it serves is liberal, which is why you would have to look hard to find a Republican politician, or one that admits it. The cause of print media’s declining readership is and will continue to be the technological advances in internet and social media.

    • They are dying because the model has changed. Even the hot internet news brands like Buzzfeed are lousy businesses in terms of profit.

  2. This is the beginning of the end of the City we call San Jose. It has been apparent for years that people like Sam Liccardo and his CEO Carl Guardino like to say “Silicon Valley” whenever they can. It’s the entire long term plan to become “regional” in all things….news, transportation, housing allocation, etc. Of course, regionalism has some advantages, but there are also serious consequences that we need to think about. (a lot of unelected leaders so far running the show…think MTC and ABAG). We should be aware that under all of this regionalism is usually a handful of corporations that stand to benefit. My guess here is that the loss of the name San Jose in the Merc. is just the beginning of a larger corporate goal yet to be understood.

    • Jill:

      You’re point that there is a big push for “regionalism” is well-taken.

      It’s a phenomenon as old as humanity. It’s called “empire-building”. It’s called “climbing the ladder”.

      Create a job that overseas your job and the jobs of your peers. Then promote yourself for the new overseer job.

      But, I don’t see that it is an especially “corporate” initiative. “Crony capitalists”, probably. But why “corporations”?

      Name some names. What corporations are among the “handful of corporations that stand to benefit”?

      • You’re right, it really is crony capitalists. But it takes two as they say…the crony capitalists and their friends. I’m suspect of Blackstone for starters. Every time I turn around another Private Equity Real Estate Investment Trust is buying up more real estate and Blackstone is involved somehow. Then Blackstone or another REIT ends up buying or selling (or gathering money from pension funds) for more of “something”… real estate or even part of a corporation. It’s all convoluted at this point. Unfortunately, I get pegged as being a nut or a conspiracy theorist for seeing a lot of pieces of this puzzle that just don’t add up to a healthy economy or for healthy lives. If I had to place a bet, I would say that all this regionalism is a simple play on more power at the top of the ladder as you said, just for that purpose – power, empire building, and more clearly for me, a monopoly on land to be able to manipulate the market (all markets!) How come all anyone can talk about these days is that there is a housing crisis in every major city in the US and around the world. Why? Did people just start multiplying like crazy?

        • I think cities and countries are outmoded geographical designations that were more appropriate in the nineteenth century. Many problems and solutions today fit neighborhoods and regions better than counties, countries, and cities. Traffic, jobs, and environmental concerns particularly are more of a regional than city challenge. Regional planning does not have to reduce citizen representation at all. Think how much more responsive road planning and maintenance might be if it was run by a Bay Area regional version of Caltrans rather than by the state

  3. > Why? Did people just start multiplying like crazy?

    Yes.

    And then they started crossing our borders like crazy.

    It IS a conspiracy.

    Real Estate is not a conspiracy. It’s economic activity in a market economy.

    Manipulating the behavior of people is a conspiracy.

  4. Many years ago the Merc took a reader survey to try to identify why readership (paid subscriptions) were dwindling. One of the top reasons given (which was completely dismissed by the columnist, Mike Cassidy, who wrote an article on the survey results) was ‘biased reporting.’

    How many readers are former paid subscribers who now will read what is available online for free on the Merc website, but will never again pay even one dime for the Merc, either online or on newsprint?

    The ‘biased reporting’ spills over onto the editorial board too.

  5. Good the Mercury News wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on . Insanely slanted, biased and always Inaccurate half truths. Good riddance . The worst rag with the absolutely worst writers

  6. Unfortunately every time we lose one of these institutional papers, it cost us all more to line bird cages and wrap fish guts.

    Us radio listeners would like to thank Cumulus Media for keeping Ron off KSFO!

  7. Two points. First, the Mercury News readership decline is chiefly to be found among the diverse white American demographic according to a college study last year. The literate members of that demographic around here have become extremely aware of the name-calling by the paper against the diverse white Americans. The most recent name-calling that has come to our attention was labeling us “the alabastrine people,” a weird way to dehumanize us into stone-cold matter. The paper’s name-calling has always been of the kind that denies white diversity, and even leaves the suffix “American” off our label in lists in which every other demographic group is given that suffix.

    Second, I’d like to nominate Sharon Noguchi for dismissal as an excellent example of a reporter who has been captured by those she has been assigned to cover. (It doesn’t happen just in Washington, D.C. when industries capture the regulators supposedly regulating them…see banking, hedge funds, etc.) Noguchi has tried in every area to racialize a matter instead of working to help all the persons in trouble. She regularly referred to No Child Left Behind in such a way as to make it a matter of race versus race, instead of supporting the wide variety of ways to learn. And to top that off, she has politically supported Common Core without ever persuasively calling for at least a one-day county-wide conference on Lessons Learned from the failure of No Child Left Behind after it burned through 12 years (2002-2014) and no less than $5 billion. In fact, No Child Left Behind could have helped millions of youngsters of all demographics had not the people represented by Noguchi sought to make racial political points on the backs of the children, and be a drag on NCLB’s possibilities.

    Noguchi, you have sat in your lazy chair, re-typing self-serving news releases, and not stirring yourself to ever follow up on the huge bond issues you supported for passage, and then dropped into the void so far as coverage was concerned. Shame on you.

    • > The paper’s name-calling has always been of the kind that denies white diversity, and even leaves the suffix “American” off our label….

      Dale:

      Just a reminder that San Jose State University is in the process of hiring a “Chief Diversity Officer”.

      You have been engaged in diversity work for a long time, so I suspect you would bring some real world experience and gravitas.

      Plus, you would turn the academic idea of diversity completely on it’s head.

      “Diversity” as it is customarily understood among the official custodians of society and culture effectively means “non-white”. So, if you became the SJSU Chief Diversity Officer, you would probably become the highest ranking white person in the diversity industry. Plus, you would bring some actual diversity to the “diversity” business.

      http://stevetobak.com/2016/01/06/diversity-and-exclusion-the-war-on-white-men-and-meritocracy/

      http://recruitingdaily.com/diversity-recruiting-exclusion/

      “a recent survey by executive search firm Witt/Kiefer found that 84% of active Chief Diversity Officers at enterprise employers were themselves visible minorities (with African American males predominating within this professional demographic).”

      http://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2014/03/12/6316907/

      ‘White folks’ excluded from college’s diversity event

      • One problem with the theme of diversity is that the primary promoters refuse to accept that diversity (kind of like that found in fractals or the humble onion) runs all through our bodies, ancestors, regions, nationalities, and other demographics. The fight is to get equal recognition for the richly-textured diversity within the racial level. If you’ve ever noticed, the local newspaper has mentioned the diversity within the white American demographic only once in the last 25 years, and that was an op-ed that I wrote. Media like Salon and Huffington Post want people categorized only on a racial level, and they and their allies promote a scorched earth campaign against those who respect all kinds of diversity.

        A second problem is that the deepest agenda held by advocates of “diversity” is to end diversity. Odd, I know, but their presumption is that in a perfectly diverse and egalitarian world, all racial, ethnic, national, and regional diversity will disappear through marriage and children. The logical consequences for political, social, industrial, and entrepreneurial matters may be easily imagined. Only when everyone is identical will the diversity advocates be happy.

  8. I believe on the other hand that the Mercury News political stories & editorials were actually far to the right of the majority of local voters & anyone who says otherwise spends too much time listening to hate radio like KSFO ! Only these angry marginalized white voters (who are so few in number nowadays that they can’t get a GOP candidate on the General Election ballot) are stupid enough to embrace,much less repeat such malarkey. The fact that the South Bay has continued to progress & evolve in spite of their repudiated right-wing views & their dwindling numbers,has only caused them to become more shrill & frustrated. Few agree with their repugnant tea-party agenda & even fewer like them,while a large proportion of the local electorate despise them & everyone who looks like them. Personally I much prefer the company of like-minded Democrats & members of persecuted minorities to that of these vile & condescending cretins. Fortunately these imbeciles are dying off at a pretty good clip now & each new generation has proven far more liberal than the last. Demographics & time are on our side now & it’s just a matter of eliminating the last few obstructionist stragglers before we can vanquish the viability of the Republican Party in California permanently !

    The Mercury,Tribune & the dozen of other local newspapers consolidated in the last twenty years by MediaNews Group (Colorado) & now owned by Digital First Media (New York) have only really existed as mastheads for years. The mass layoffs that accompanied these moves in turn virtually eliminated the reporting of any local news (other than politics,crime & sports) & this along with the advent of the internet resulted in subscribers abandoning them in droves. Fewer readers means less advertising revenue,which leads to more cuts as they’re more interested in enriching their shareholders than reporting the news. As readers our only recourse now is to contact their advertisers & threaten to take our business elsewhere if they keep advertising in these newspapers. If they lose enough money they may be forced to sell to a group of local investors who’d take pride in journalism once again. And if they run their last edition & close for good,how much are we really losing at this point ? Not much I say !!!

    • > If they lose enough money they may be forced to sell to a group of local investors who’d take pride in journalism once again.

      Great idea, Frank!

      You and your like minded local Democrats could buy the Mercury News and make it the beacon of diversity that all your like minded local Democrats want it to be.

      (I’m assuming we’re talking Hillary Democrats here and not Bernie Democrats.)

      Who better to make this happen than “the most interesting Democrat in the world”.

      • I can understand your compulsion to laud my greatness with encomiums & accolades,but please quit sending me the dozen red roses & box of candy everyday ! It’s kinda creepy !!!

        • Frank! Frank!

          > . . . but please quit sending me the dozen red roses & box of candy everyday ! It’s kinda creepy !!!

          You wouldn’t be the most interesting Democrat in the world if the little people didn’t love and admire you and want to show their affection.

          To hell with diversity, Frank. People want to be just like you.

          It’s actually even more wonderful. PEOPLE WANT TO BE YOU!

          • Think about it ? Wanting to be me is a much more rational goal than wanting to go to heaven ! Unfortunately for all you bible banging science deniers,people can’t really do either one. Don’t lose all your faith at once though,as I actually exist & can be revered & emulated on a daily basis !!!

  9. Well… As someone who majored in journalism, many years ago when the media was actually in the news business rather than the entertainment business, I am sorry to see the Mercury become a regional paper. I get my national and international news elsewhere, so no matter. I used to get my local news from the San Jose Mercury News, but the last few years, I was getting more from Oakland and Fremont than from San Jose in the San Jose Mercury News. Now KGO is no longer an all-news station. And released all of its news reporters. And today, the last news outlet we had, KLIV, has announced it’s going out of the news business, laying off its news staff, and going to country music (huh?) with a smattering of its popular shows left. I guess I’ll just forget about any of the “mainstream” media anymore and go on-line for my news. Going to invest in an i-pad.