SF Chronicle holds talks with union

February 25, 2009 7:27:46 PM PST
A desperate effort is underway to save the largest newspaper in Northern California. Union leaders and the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle are meeting to figure out how to cut costs immediately, or the presses may stop.

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The newspaper, around since 1865, right after the Civil War, has never seen a situation like this. If talks between the union and management do not go well, then the paper will go up for sale.

The future of the Chronicle is up for discussion at the offices of the Media Workers Guild Local 39521. Media Guild Executive Director Carl Hall says workers have been doing givebacks to management for years and wonders how much is left to give. Still, he thinks both sides have their eyes wide open for this meeting.

"They gave us a comprehensive package, pretty well thought out package, that apparently is what they and in New York they think would be necessary to get the company on a solid footing," Hall said. Hall says management recognizes the need to make more money, in addition to cutting back. "There's no way you can just keep cutting the content and producers and end up with anything people are going to want to buy."

Chronicle management declined a chance to speak on camera on Wednesday, saying their position was made clear on Tuesday, when they announced a $50 million loss last year.

"The Chronicle is also a business, like any other business, it must live within its means, but it has not," Ward Bushee, Executive V.P. and Editor SF Chronicle said.

The thought of more cutbacks did not surprise any workers who talked with ABC7.

"This has been kind of a slow train wreck and we have all sort of been aware that the news industry has been in trouble for a long time - the downturn in the economy has just made things a lot worse," said Andy Ross, Chronicle columnist.

Hearst sold the San Francisco Examiner in 2000. It is now a free daily paper and has dramatically streamlined its operation.

"Like everyone else, we feel the recession, but from what we can see, we're feeling it a lot less than the legacy newspapers; we think of ourselves as being a lot like the Southwest Airlines of newspapers," Examiner publisher John Wilcox said.

Daily newspapers have increasingly lost ground to the Internet and the slow economy has caused advertising revenue to plummet. The cost of producing and delivering the Chronicle is now double the $8 weekly subscription charge.

Assistant foreign and national editor Tim Innes and his wife both work at the Chronicle. If the paper folds, he says it will be a calamity for them, and the readers.

"It's terrible for the people who need to be informed and for the role of the press as a watchdog on government," Innes said.

According to two union representatives, Media News, the owner of the SJ Mercury may be in line to buy the Chronicle if talks do not work out.

The Chronicle also operates SFGate, one of the nation's 10 largest news Web sites. It is unclear how cuts, a sale or closure would effect the site.

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