Bay Area News Group Hammered by More Layoffs, Resignations

Bay Area News Group—the Digital First Media chain that includes the Mercury News and several South Bay community newspapers—went through yet another downsizing this week. More than two-dozen journalists and support staff lost their jobs on Thursday as part of the company’s push to maintain profits with little regard for the product, the people who make it or the customers who consume it.

The layoffs come little more than a week after at least 27 BANG employees with a combined five centuries of experience took buyouts. Their union, the Pacific Media Workers Guild, called the cuts part of a strategy by Alden Global Capital—the so-called vulture fund that owns Digital First—to maximize profits with minimal investment.

BANG Executive Editor Neil Chase said the company anticipated the layoffs and warned people they would be necessary even after the buyouts.

“These are the layoffs we told everyone would be coming shortly after the buyouts.

“One person tweeted incorrectly about the scope of them. We did not lose the entire staff of any publication; our community weeklies lost some staffers, as did our dailies, but we’re still covering the same area and publishing the same papers.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much more I can say about it.”

Meanwhile, in an email to staff on Thursday, Chase tried to downplay the bloodletting, chalking it up to a collective lack of “progress” that led to declining revenue.

“I said after the buyouts that we still had difficult changes to make. The people whose positions are being eliminated were notified today. We are, once again, losing some tremendously talented and valuable colleagues. We thank them and wish them well, and we’re doing what we can to make their difficult transitions a tiny bit easier.

“Don’t waste time trying to blame our owners or the Internet or Facebook or whoever. This happened because I, and we, have not yet made enough progress on our crucial new revenue streams. It's our problem to solve. Nobody can predict the future or promise that we will or will not have more cuts.

“But we can sure as hell double down on what we know we need to do, with new ways to deliver more of the impactful, meaningful journalism our communities want and need and will support. That starts next week. For now, show some love for those who are leaving and start thinking about how we move past this difficult time together.”

That seems to contradict what former Digital First CEO Steve Rossi told employees in a company-wide message last summer, when he thanked them for successfully achieving revenue goals and keeping the organization “solidly profitable.” Below is a copy of the July 20, 2017 email.

“As we begin a new fiscal year, I wanted to update you on our progress.

“We accomplished much over the past year starting with audience growth driven by our newsrooms’ commitment to digital first. Our Outlook 2020 plan which was developed well over a year ago by key digital ​leaders, and our Content That Connects plan developed by leaders of our content teams both yielded strong results and positive response from our users. In addition, implementation of our new content management system and site re-designs, are well underway, performing beyond expectations. And, of course, a highlight of the year was the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the East Bay Times, marking the sixth Pulitzer awarded to the company in eight years.

“The company's performance in advertising revenue has been significantly better than that of our publicly traded industry peers over the past couple of years. As you may remember, we established that as a key goal two years ago, and our revenue teams have met the challenge. Our growth in digital revenue continues in the top tier of industry peers, and our Adtaxi​ digital agency business is an undisputed success, realizing substantial growth and strong customer acceptance.

“One of the biggest recent changes for the company was the addition of the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press Enterprise, which just completed their first full year as part of our organization.  The integration of these enterprises into our company was exceptional, and we added significant new talent and strong markets.

“As a company, we successfully achieved our goals for fiscal 2017. While this keeps us solidly profitable, we still have much to accomplish toward building a strong and sustainable business. As I am sure you know, the challenges facing our industry persist. Print advertising revenue for the industry is declining at double digit percentages. The bricks and mortar​ retail sector of the economy remains challenged by new business models. We have weathered these headwinds well by innovating new revenue streams, revamping processes, and instituting creative approaches to managing expenses. We are constantly seeking the most efficient methods of doing business, while reducing costs as much as possible in areas which have the least impact on readers and advertisers. This allows us to maintain the viability of our legacy newspaper brands while investing in new offerings​ and diversified revenue streams. Going forward those new offerings​ must include an aggressive push to monetize our content, and we need your ideas and contributions toward that objective.

“Our management team created an aggressive but achievable plan for 2018 which was recently approved by our Board of Directors and includes substantial investments in our future including the Salesforce.com customer relationship platform for our digital teams and a multi-million dollar upgrade in one of our printing plants. There are also several new revenue and content initiatives in the playbook for the year ahead.  It is these initiatives which have allowed us to outperform the industry. As part of that plan, we will evaluate the possibility of merit salary increases beginning early next calendar year provided that we are on track with financial and other targets, and provided that the local economic conditions, local compensation practices and local performance can support such increases​. Over the past few years we’ve had a great track record awarding these planned increases by achieving results (as you may recall, following fiscal year 2015, profit sharing was paid, and during fiscal 2016 and 2017 salary increases were effected). Let’s keep the run going.

“While yes, we do face many challenges, we are also well positioned for future success.

“Our company is fortunate to have a deeply talented and dedicated team committed to building a strong and sustainable business that will allow us to continue fulfilling our mission and serving our communities for years to come.”

The Merc used to be one of the largest daily newspapers in the industry with upward of 400 reporters and editors, according to the Media Guild. After the latest round of buyouts and layoffs, the number of union-represented newsroom staff in the South Bay is down to 41. The East Bay papers are left with 65.

Among the casualties are Milpitas Post editor Ian Bauer and reporters Julia Baum and Victoria Kezra, who covered Willow Glen and Sunnyvale, respectively.

That leaves BANG with no K-12 reporter, no higher education reporter, no health reporter and no one covering Santa Clara County government. It also significantly limits coverage at San Jose’s City Hall and entirely eliminates coverage in some of the region’s smaller neighboring cities, including Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Campbell and San Jose’s Rose Garden, Almaden, Cambrian and Willow Glen neighborhoods.

Union officials say Digital First cutbacks have far exceeded those at other news organizations and have less to do with the industry’s revenue trends than Alden’s brutal investment tactics. In a recent blog post, the union announced plans to join a nationwide campaign with a dozen Digital First-run newspapers to pressure Alden Capital to either invest in quality or sell to someone who will.

“We have tough fights on our hands just about everywhere,” Guild CEO Carl Hall was quoted as saying in the blog post. “Still, Alden Global and DFM are hands-down champions of the slash-and-burn approach. It’s amazing that staffs at those properties manage to keep their focus and still do great work, and I give credit to the newsroom managers, too, for their determination to fight for quality of journalism as best they can despite the hostile ownership.”

San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley intern Stephen Perez contributed to this report.

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

47 Comments

  1. > That leaves BANG with no K-12 reporter, no higher education reporter, no health reporter and no one covering Santa Clara County government. It also significantly limits coverage at San Jose’s City Hall . . . .

    They didn’t cut their sanctuary city, or homeless, or global warming reporter, did they?

    Whew!

    • I sure hope they’ve kept the diversity reporter and the old white guys who should be crucified for saying politically incorrect things in the presence of women reporter.
      It’s an outrage. The American people deserve the continuation of the undiluted Democrat propaganda that they enjoyed prior to the emergence of this damned internet thing.

    • I hope they still have the financial reporter to show us how great this Trump economy is going. So much winning.

      Let’s see it was bad when Bush left, climbed the entire time that Obama was president and now is collapsing again.

      When is he going to “Make America Great Again?”

      When he leaves?

          • I’m impressed with this one though… how can someone know there’s a c in indictment but not know it starts with an i. lol

        • The San Jose Mercury will soon join San Jose Republicans in the trash bin of history,just another unpleasant reminder of the of the “olden days’. Democrats now run California admirably with foresight,insight & compassion,while Republicans run America predictably into the ground with intolerance,negativity & greed. Fortunately for the vast majority of us,the right-wing imbeciles who often monopolize the reader’s commentary herein are all bark & absolutely no bite whatsoever. Smug,angry & patronizing,one might get the misimpression that they represent the majority of South Bay voters. Nothing could be further from the truth,as they represent only a small & shrinking minority of the South Bay’s political lunatic fringe. Thank goodness all they can do is ostracize their liberal vanquishers & complain about anything & everything that they’re so powerless to do anything about.

          Unable to even put a like-minded candidate on the General Election ballot for Congress or the Senate,the Republican Party is now officially the Pity Party in the Santa Clara Valley. “It’s my party & I’ll cry if I want to,cry if I want to,you would cry too if it happened to you ! – Leslie Gore. Replace the word “cry” with whine,snivel,bitch & moan & it pretty much sums up the entirety of their collective political influence & clout. It’s just too bad that these conservative crackpots have chosen to hide their true identities behind ill-conceived pseudonyms,thus depriving us of the opportunity to laugh heartily at them in public & directly in their faces. Pity these pathetic,pugnacious pantywaist political posers who’d pee their pants if they were ever actually confronted by their brilliant liberal tormenters. It’s only their anonymity that gives these cowards the courage to spout their vile,repulsive & fact free political opinions,rhetoric & propaganda here daily.
          Our goal as Democrats must now shift from merely winning elections by overwhelming margins of victory,to eliminating the last vestiges of the Republican opposition completely. Let’s strive for a real two-party system here in Silicon Valley. First by making sure that the only two remaining candidates on the General Election ballot represent the Democratic Party & secondly the Big Party we’ll have when we mock & deride our virtually non-existent opposition after the votes have been counted. You may not be able to shut them up,but you can certainly shut them out & slam the door in their faces. So take a little time out of your busy schedule today to befriend a liberal visionary & belittle a conservative naysayer,you’ll be glad you did ! DEMOCRATS RULE !!!

          • > Fortunately for the vast majority of us,the right-wing imbeciles who often monopolize the reader’s commentary herein are all bark & absolutely no bite whatsoever.

            BARK! BARK! BARK!

            CHOMP!!! GRRRRRRRRR!

            > Our goal as Democrats must now shift from merely winning elections by overwhelming margins of victory,to eliminating the last vestiges of the Republican opposition completely. Let’s strive for a real two-party system here in Silicon Valley.

            ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

            You’re going to have to explain this one, Frank.

            How is eliminating the last vestiges of the “opposition” party striving for a real two-party system?

          • There is no cogent response to such a load of drivel. You just disappeared up your rear end.

      • THERELIABLEINFORMER’S comment prompted two hostile, nitpicking replies, neither of which had anything to do with the substance of his comment. This causes me to suspect the authors of those replies might be journalists, given that outright hostility, incessant nitpicking, and the refusal to acknowledge Hillary Clinton’s gangsterism constitute’s journalism’s conditioned response to every conservative voice.

  2. I am glad to see it fall. Surprised it took this long. I liked what Julia Baum tweeted. She should get a team together, make a news website and report. As long as it keeps me informed and is kept to the facts. I’m a reader. Good luck.

    • It’s not that easy. Producing solid, reliable news takes money. These reporters have families to support — they can’t just start a website and report for free, and the chances of making a living from such a website are slim.

      • Im sure there are some good reporters. Its sad that BANG became such a mouthpiece for fringe radical groups that really never had the best interest in mind for the public. So long Murk and your pal Chuck Reed. Good riddance

      • Former and XBR…Your right I don’t really know what the cost is. And when I wrote about a team…I meant 5-6 of the folks that got let go. One focus on crime and other on politics…etc. slap it on a web site with lots of Fry’s advertisement and hope that is enough to get you by till you get enough web traffic to attract more advertising. Pipe dream I guess.

        • Yes, probably a dream and I do feel the demise of the Mercury (and Chron) is a bit tragic. I’m in Seattle now and while the Times here is far from perfect it is in my view leagues above what has been available in the Bay Area the past decade (it also appears to have a base of paying customers that eluded the Merc). It almost beggars belief that the bay area is so poorly served or unwilling to pay for [reasonably] high quality reporting.

  3. Just like the stock market, Bay Area journalism gets a “correction” when the speculation gets too far out of line with reality.

    Should the reporting continue with slants sympathetic to a faux housing crises, the need for homeless advocacy and the rerlection of (shudder) Sam Liccardo, the bloodletting will continue.

    Good riddance Marshman!

  4. Ok, Anon for Now, will a team and website for Julia Baum pay her rent? People want quality reporting but are they willing to fund it?

  5. The Merc has been little more than fish wrap for quite some time. I think the as*wipes who own it, along with the other newspapers, are going to go in the toilet very soon. Their revenues and profits will soon be non-existent.

  6. Has BANG Executive Editor Neil Chase ever used the Mercury News website for desktop and mobile? Their poorly implemented full screen ads on every article suck the life out of the browser especially on mobile while the ad slowly loads. If digital is their future, the Mercury News does not have a chance with such a miserable user experience.

  7. This is what the start of a dark age looks like. There’s already so much going on behind closed doors in city halls all across the county that residents know nothing about, now we’re all about to know even less.

    • Yes. The impact on the laid-off journalists, many of them friends of mine and all of them kindred souls, is heartbreaking. But the dearth of local watchdogs on the beat is the much bigger tragedy.

  8. They are poorly managed. Not allowing readers on the web read their articles by trying to force a subscription on them has limited circulation. Circulation loss leads to less paid add revenue. Why not allow reader to read your articles and build up web based adds for your revenue like the rest of the modern news groups adapting to the web? By blocking your readers after reading a few articles you are forcing them to go elsewhere for their news. You have ultimately made your web presence an unreliable news source in the time of Social Media news consumption.

    • Yes, and they way they implemented even this is poor. All anyone had to open was open the link in a private browsing window, and the articles aren’t blocked.

  9. Now you understand when you were told about the swamp being drained. This is only the beginning of the end for “Alternative News” . So please stop blaming Facebook for giving consumers a worthy option.

    • > So please stop blaming Facebook for giving consumers a worthy option.

      HA!

      Russian bots on Facebook and Twitter tricked me into voting for Trump.

      Now, I’m a social outcast in California.

      • You’re a social outcast everywhere here on Earth & most likely everywhere else in our Solar System. Don’t sell yourself short,you’re disliked,disbelieved & dismissed by intelligent life forms wherever they’re even remotely aware of your existence. Who tricked you into joining the ignorant hordes of Facebook & Twitter users ? Oh yeah that’s right Comrade Booble,nobody really cares who’s duped your gullible backside into to doing any of the many foolish things you’ve done ! Typical Trump voter,rootin’ & tootin’ for Putin !! Just say nyet !!!

        • > You’re a social outcast everywhere here on Earth & most likely everywhere else in our Solar System. Don’t sell yourself short,you’re disliked,disbelieved & dismissed by intelligent life forms wherever they’re even remotely aware of your existence.

          Really?!

          I didn’t know I was that famous.

          If you could get me some positive props in as many places you might have a career in PR.

          • Put Kulak in a Gulag ! It’s the Commie collaborator Trump & his ignorant supporters who’ve turned red. Has Putin offered Trump political asylum after his impeachment ? He certainly won’t be able to venture out in public here anymore & he’ll have to find refuge somewhere. When tens of millions of his detractors & adversaries drown out the cheers of his minority of deplorable supporters,you can stick a fork in him because he’s done. In fact he’ll have so many forks stuck into his pasty carcass that he’ll look like a porcupine. “The Night of a Million Forks” will make a great headline & the Merc can print thousands of extra copies for those who wish to commemorate the occasion in print. Join tens of millions of like-minded patriotic Americans & FORK TRUMP ! You can fork him fast,you can fork him slow,you can fork him hard or you can fork him long time,it’s still a free country so fork him any way you want.
            When we’re done pricking the Prick-in-Chief his supporters will be running for their lives,because millions of angry forkers hold them personally responsible for the Trump debacle & want retribution. I think “Bloodbath at the Ballot Box” or “GOP Hugely Forked by Angry Voters” will make fine headlines come November ! Remember to register more & more Democratic voters & turn out the vote on Election Day. Let’s all do our part to really “Make America Great Again” by purging a record number of Republicans from Congress this year. Beat back the bigoted bastards & backward blowhards who brought us Donald Trump,because they must be forced to pay & pay dearly for their treachery. Guilt by association is now the rule for these right-wing crackpots,so “fork you & everyone who looks like you” will send the GOP politicians packing & not a moment too soon !

  10. Education reporter Sharon Noguchi took “the package.” She is a great
    reporter and we will miss her stories on our school district (ARUSD).

  11. I’m surprised. I thought democrats were so durn educated that they put the rest of the country to shame. But they cannot even keep their own paper going??? Seeing as how it is a fake propaganda arm for the democrat party, you would think they would pony up? Maybe they are waiting for Soros to bail them out.

  12. Papers nationwide did this to themselves. They are no longer reporters of fact but PR machines for the DNC. The public is voting with it’s pocketbook and abandoning biased reporting. I, for one, am glad these unscrupulous people are finally ending up on the unemployment line. Good riddance to trash.

  13. To be honest, I won’t be missing Kezra, who never spoke to the silent despair of so many in Sunnyvale whose rents increased 300% percent within about a decade, and were likely swept by cops protecting (forced to, and some enjoying) ABSENT LANDOWNER: REITS, Foreign Property Flippers, and a handful of original owners, down to San Jose when they ultimately became homeless; unless, of course her bosses blocked it, but that’s not the impression I came to after looking at an abundance of her articles.

    Won’t be missing Marshman either, especially her slobber for the Silicon Valley Robber Baron Technocracy, so called Meritocracy; and clearly I’m not of the same ol’ same ol’ SJ Insider camp of about 6-7 regular white male commenters who despise renters, even while they prey on them n various manners.

    • On the other hand, it’s a disaster what’s been done to the San Jose Mercury (which started when Dean Singleton took the reins). It should horrify not only the locals, but the world at large – who are all affected by Silicon Valley now – that the worlds 6th (or 5th?) largest economy does not have enough journalists with press passes to cover what’s going on behind closed doors.

      I’m still wondering what happened to Ramona Giwargis, I highly doubt it was ethical, but am very glad she’s found new footing.

      • Had meant to add, that I was further horrified to find absolutely no mainstream coverage of the massive (percentage wise) Bay Area Journalist Lay offs and buy offs by Alden/DFM – despite numerous searches over a span of three days and quite a few hours – No National Coverage.

        Again, the California Bay Area is the core of one of the largest economies in the world, which was already way too opaque in its actions before the further cuts. It’s bad enough that some of the underpaid prior journalists appeared to have (or were edited to appear as such) no understanding of the decades old underbelly of Silicon Valley (hiring local and balancing age and experience to not be lopsided helps, abundantly), but at least they could inform on upcoming events which effect residents.

        As far as the two major political parties aiding and abetting this utter lack of transparency – with the devastating effects it continues to have on every day people (particularly ‘renters,’ who can spend hundreds of thousands for a roof and still die without one) – the Republicans gut from the front and the Democrats (which have been presiding over Silicon Valley for DECADES), gut from the back, is my take. I would never tag either ‘party’ as moral or ethical, at this point in my life.

        • Hey hadenough. I’m one of SJI’s “6-7 regular white male commenters” and I’m heading out now to prey on renters n various manners.
          In pointing out how awful I am you have successfully validated yourself as a thoughtful and caring person.
          Good work.

        • > As far as the two major political parties aiding and abetting this utter lack of transparency – . . . .

          The two major parties in California are the California Democratic Party and Frank Mockery.

          Yes, it’s true. Frank has more political clout in California than the entire California Republican Party.

          Also, if memory serves me correctly, Frank is actually whiter than the California Republican Party.

          Those of you anguished by “white skin privilege”, well, there you have it: a one hundred percent white political party in California.

          • The California Republican Party is an oxymoron (Californian/Republican) consisting of a few million morons & led by such pathetic political posers as Devin Nunes,Dana Rohrabacher & Kevin McCarthy. Ensconced in what due to gerrymandering were once considered to be “safely red districts”,these Trump co-conspirators will be fighting for their political lives this November. Nunes should be indicted for obstruction of justice for his blatant conduct undermining the Russian investigation of the Trump Administration & subsequently exiled to his beloved Azores. Rohrabacher is the biggest ally of Russia & Vladimir Putin in Congress & even his support for medical cannabis isn’t enough to redeem his duplicity. As for Kevin McCarthy his personal political ambition & his wholehearted support of the reprehensible Republican agenda has made him an enemy & embarrassment to the vast majority of California voters. With leaders like this is it any wonder that the California Republican Party is ‘growing’ smaller every day & may soon be holding their annual convention at a Motel 6 in Bakersfield or Visalia.
            Ironically the fewer of them that there are,the louder their angry tirades & the vile bullying of their political vanquishers becomes. These idiots are getting crazier everyday & keep in mind that most of these 2nd Amendment stalwarts are well armed & itching for a fight. It won’t be too long before some of the knuckle-dragging knuckleheads start shooting the people vilified daily by Limbaugh,Hannity,Brietbart & FOX News. It’s time for the FBI to double down on their crucial investigations of the dozens of treasonous,terrorist anti-government militias masquerading as patriotic American freedom fighters. They must be investigated, indicted,prosecuted & then imprisoned for as long as allowed by law. And it needs to be done before these anarchists can unleash their arsenals on those whose political views differ significantly from their own. Keep in mind that they’re all alt-right Republicans supported by Republican politicians,who in turn are supported by the National Rifle Association & the gun manufacturers who profit from the sale of guns & ammunition. It’s easy to see who the real threat to our freedom is in America today,it’s the Republicans & Republican voters & there is no doubt about it whatsoever ! Voting for Democrats is the only way to preserve the American Dream for future generations of decent,honest & hardworking Americans. Voting for Republicans just insures more intolerance,strife & Donald Trumps or worse !

  14. The amount of Trumptards in these comments is saddening. All celebrating the death of a newspaper because it doesn’t feed their propaganda to them. Stick with Fox News and continue to destroy this country.

      • Informer – a tattle-tail or squealer who in gangster movies is forced to dig his own grave,then shot in the head & buried in a corn field. Great moniker Reliable !

  15. It will be interesting to see which will die off first… Sjmn or Sjpd… The murky will be replaced by online alt’s.. Sjpd will go the way of your garbage company… Expensively! And then be absorbed into your already ridiculous county taxes… Enjoy your future San Jose and. Yes…. Santa Clara is better…. Liccardo for governor!

  16. The writers laid off in the community news crew team I heard made well under $40,000 annually. Nearly minimum wage. The fact that Bay Area News Group/Mercury couldn’t keep most of them is a sad commentary on their biz model. Couldn’t hire people to work for peanuts, and then couldn’t even keep the ones willing to work for peanuts. Merc ownership should be ashamed.

  17. Something never mentioned, regarding Newspapers which existed prior to digital news, is what is happening to the original print archives? When a newspaper is acquired, particularly by a vulture entity such as Alden Global’s DFM, is there any safekeeping of original prints (which can’t at all be altered in the same horrifying manner as digital ‘news’)?

    It’s already pretty clear when one looks at the digital histories – at the [San Jose] Mercury News, for this example – of a particular journalist (click an author’s name on an online piece they wrote and it will lead to a page where all (presumably) of their articles are available) that they’re a mess: many are out of date sequence, many have odd dates which don’t align with the hardcopy – or main news page digital – availability (and sometimes they don’t even seem to align with the dates the journalist still worked there), many appear to have been updated, with no clear notes as to the changes made, etcetera.

    My take is that while everyone is arguing over the two major political parties, which to my thoughts and experience are one and the same at the end of the day – one guts the little people from the front, the other, from the back – our written history is not only not being objectively written (due to Millionaire – now Billionaire – Newspaper Families), but what has been written is being obfuscated, altered and even erased.

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