San Fran­cisco pa­per cut­ting staff by 25%

Los Angeles Times - - Business - By James Rainey

San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle ex­ec­u­tives told em­ploy­ees Fri­day that they would cut the news­room staff by one quar­ter as read­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers con­tin­ued to flee to the In­ter­net.

About 80 union mem­bers and 20 man­age­ment em­ploy­ees will lose their jobs, re­duc­ing the Chron­i­cle’s edi­to­rial staff to about 300. The pa­per had an edi­to­rial staff of 570 in 2000.

Un­like many big-city news­pa­pers, which have con­tin­ued to make solid prof­its de­spite new­me­dia chal­lenges, the Hearst Co. pub­li­ca­tion has been los­ing money for years. The pa­per’s daily cir­cu­la­tion has de­clined by a third, from its 1990 peak of 566,020 to 373,805 in Septem­ber.

But its web­site, SF­Gate.com, has a ro­bust fol­low­ing, with the sixth-largest au­di­ence of unique view­ers (4.2 mil­lion) in April among Amer­i­can dailies. In an­other mea­sure, by page views, SF­Gate.com ranks only frac­tion­ally be­hind la­times.com, the fourth-place Los An­ge­les Times web­site.

The prob­lem for news­pa­per com­pa­nies has been mak­ing money from those Web au­di­ences. Big-city pa­pers typ­i­cally get about 5% of their ad rev­enue from the Web and 80% from print ads. (The rest comes from subscriptions and news­stand sales.)

Chron­i­cle Pub­lisher Frank Vega sent a memo to em­ploy­ees say­ing he hoped that the job re­duc­tions could be ac­com­plished through vol­un­tary buy­outs, but that lay­offs were pos­si­ble.

“Un­for­tu­nately, many of the in­dus­try’s fi­nan­cial chal­lenges are mag­ni­fied at The Chron­i­cle, and have been for some time,” Vega wrote. “Our goal is to pro­vide the fi­nan­cial strength that al­lows us to con­tinue to serve our com­mu­ni­ties in the Bay Area.”

Em­ploy­ees ex­pressed sad­ness about the loss of re­porters, edi­tors and pho­tog­ra­phers.

“It’s cer­tainly a deep cut and there is no way you can end up with the level of am­bi­tion and com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age we have tried to have,” said Carl T. Hall, a science writer and union rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“If we put to­gether the news­room in a sen­si­ble way, we can still do qual­ity jour­nal­ism here,” Hall said.

Many big-city pa­pers have been hit by cuts in re­cent years. The Times is now buy­ing out about 70 em­ploy­ees from a staff of 925. In Septem­ber, the Dal­las Morn­ing News cut its news­room by one-fifth to about 450.

james.rainey@la­times.com

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