Saturday, February 21, 2009

SN&R reports that the Sac Bee is in trouble

Scoopy, the Sac Bee icon.
The Sacramento News & Review reports, in its Bites opinion column, titled "Exile on Q Street", in the 2/19/09 edition, that things are dire at the Sacramento Bee. It may be that as many as 33% of the newsroom staff at the Bee will be laid off as early as Mar 1.

According to the column, written by Cosmo Garvin, "Sources contacted by Bites put the number of firings around 50 to 75, with anywhere from 25 to 40 of those coming from the newsroom." In the column we are told that there are currently 268 employees who are members of the Media Workers Guild, and that there are around 1100 total employees at the Bee, headquartered at 2100 Q Street in Sacramento.

The SN&R has reason to think that numbers it has of possible firings may be low. Writes Garvin, "[H]ere's the spooky thing: A recent letter from [the Sacramento chapter of The Newspaper Guild] mentions the federal Workforce Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which kicks in whenever a company is contemplating mass layoffs" exceeding 33% by some special calculations. 33+% of the Guild workers would be 90 or more. 33+% of all the company workers would total 367.

More from the SN&R opinion piece:
The Guild’s letter attributes The McClatchy Co.'s attorney Bob Ford as saying the layoffs would be “on a scale exceeding anything before seen at the Sacramento operation.”

“It’s a very scary time,” says Fletcher. Not just for the Bee employees, but for Sacramento, too. People in town like to beat up on the daily paper, and they should. But without it, we’re screwed.

“There’s no way around it. There are fewer people keeping an eye on what’s going on. Some things are going to happen and we’re just not going to know about them,”
Fletcher explains.

“In the beginning, everybody was talking about doing more with less. Now we’re just talking about doing less.”

Reducing the number of pages in the daily paper, layoffs, pay cuts and mandatory furloughs are all said to be on the table. There’s even a persistent rumor that the Bee is considering going to a three-day-a-week publishing schedule, à la the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t know if that’s been seriously investigated, but I doubt it,” says Fletcher.
Any deep cut in its number of employees is sure to greatly reduce Bee reporting on homeless issues. Thus, furthering the neglect of aid for the homeless by the city and county.

It would be quite somethin' -- quite a very bad somethin' -- if our metropolitan area is left without a major, substantial old-style daily newspaper.

UPDATE 3/1/09: In a story on Feb 27, the Bee announced that it intended to layoff 34 Media Workers Guild employees and impose wage cuts. An unspecified number of workers outside the guild will also be laid off. If guild members don't vote to accept a cost-cutting plan, the number from their membership that will be laid off will increase to 53.

The McClatchy Co. is wanting to cut its operating expences at The Bee by an amount in excess of $100 million.

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