Web coupon clippers surge in downturn

The deepening recession is leading to a surge in Web coupon clippers.

Coupon clipping has surged 10 percent in the past four months, the Wall Street Journal reports in a front-page story.

“And increasingly, shoppers are skipping the scissors and getting coupons online or having discounts sent to their smart phones and rewards cards,” according to The Journal.

Online coupon redemptions jumped 140 percent last year, the paper said, citing marketing researcher Inmar.

One mother said she saved $50 off a $120 shopping bill by jumping online before heading out to shop.

At Raley’s, for example, you can save $20 on a $100 purchase this week with an online coupon.

Will The S.F. Chronicle shut down? Nope.

images9Hearst Corp. is seeking cost savings at The Chronicle within “days and weeks” that would include “significant” layoffs  — or it will sell or close Northern California’s largest daily.

Will the Chronicle close? No, but it could lose more circulation because of the rancor.

This doomsday ultimatum is all about labor negotiations. Will the labor unions make concessions? Yes, or they will be permanently replaced by non-union staffers. Either way, the paper continues.

In this case, management has the upper hand, even in a union town such as San Francisco.

The Chronicle’s most likely buyer — if it were to come to that — would be Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, whose papers already ring S.F. Merging The Chronicle into MediaNews would create savings in news, advertising and production.

Billionaire Philip Anschutz, who has turned the S.F. Examiner into a free tabloid, also is a possible suitor, at least for some assets.

Here’s the scoop behind “The Voice of the West’s” ultimatum that is missing from the wire-service reports: The paper is opening a state-of-the-art color printing plant in the East Bay in June — outsourced to a Canadian outfit Transcontinental.

“Freemont plant hiring now: Opening Summer 2009,” the Transcontinental Web site reads, actively recruiting workers.

Hearst and the Teamsters have been holding informal negotiations for months on staffing for the new plant. Now the gloves are off.

The unions representing other workers, including newsroom staffers, vow to back the Teamsters, a common labor tactic.

But the solidarity will be greatly tested during the worst economic crisis in decades.

Along the way, I do predict Hearst will close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer next month, absent of finding a last-minute buyer, providing a motivating force to compromise in S.F.

The Chronicle’s publisher is Frank Vega, nicknamed “Darth Vader” for his union-busting tactics at the Detroit newspapers, where he worked previously.

The Detroit papers, once strong journalistically, are now shadows of their former selves. But that’s more a byproduct of being a publicly held newspaper chain, just like in other markets.

The Chronicle lost more than $50 million last year and may lose more this year, but the real motive for the ultimatum is breaking down the unions and their work rules — a long-standing goal of management.

Let’s be real: The privately held Hearst empire is big enough to bankroll a flagship paper, and its sfgate.com is one of the fastest-growing newspaper Web sites.

In short, The Chronicle recently has been more innovative than many newspapers, despite being in the backyard of Craigslist. The paper was redesigned this year as well.

Besides making headway on several fronts, the Hearst legacy is to own the dominant S.F. paper.

The great-grandson of William Randolph Hearst (WRH III) lives in San Francisco and is an active member of the Hearst board, as well as a partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

What’s left for The Chronicle is getting the unions to join the party. I think they will. But if they don’t, Northern California’s largest daily will still survive, with a new color format that will knock your socks off.

Where’s Waldo? I mean Tom Hastert

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Waldo lost at the circus

 Truth is stranger than fiction: “We the people” spent more than a year investigating Loan Sense’s Tom Hastert for fraud, dotted all the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s” on the complaint and exhibits — and spent oodles of taxpayer’s money along the way. Then we filed the complaint and issued an arrest warrant, as well as a finely crafted press release, taking all the credit. But  — guess what — “we the people” forgot to locate Hastert, so we can’t arrest him.

I’m surprised more people aren’t asking some tough questions to officials in the DA’s office, law enforcement and the state AG’s office (including the ones we elected to office). Sounds like a blunder. It merits further scrutiny.

Journalistic conflict on the gold mine coverage?

I noticed the editor/publisher of The Union wrote a column today supporting the reopening of the Idaho-Maryland mine. Fine: It’s what publishers do, promote business, (though some local businesses are still undecided about the mine).

But the editor/publisher also directs the paper’s news coverage nowadays, which included two other recent front page stories in support of the mine: Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote this weekend: “The local paper seems to be gung-ho for the mine to reopen — both in its editorials and on the news pages.

I was surprised to see an article above the fold on Feb. 4 (with no byline) about an alleged vandalism incident way back in May 2006. The headline read ‘Grass Valley Mine Shaft vandalized.’ It was not breaking news. It should have been promoted in a less prominent place.

Then on Saturday, the lead news item is ‘Mine touts investments as gold hits a grand.’ It suggested that the mine would fetch $5 billion on the open market.

But that’s misleading: Gold price fluctuate wildly, the city would see no sales tax from that, and sales from the ceramic tile plant are highly unpredictable.

I’m glad the article raised some of these issues, but I wondered about the article’s positioning on the front page — as with the earlier one. ”

(end of excerpt)

This is *not* a simple growth vs. “no-growther” issue. A lot of *business* people here are on the fence about the mine, including developers, high-tech executives and the board of the Economic Resource Council (of which I have been a member). Most are waiting for more information.

The environmental report is not even approved, the air pollution could impact other projects such as the Loma Rica housing development, and the vibrations could impact high-tech firms.

Others worry that Emgold has no experience opening or running a mine; its stock trades at pennies per share.

There’s a lot of complex issues at play here. It’s not like opposing the no-growth initiatives last year, which was a “no brainer” for businesses and many people for that matter.

Even the ERC’s draft economic development report does not mention reopening a gold mine as part of its strategy. It focuses on attracting “green” business and technology.

“It is indeed what got you here…..a 19th century mindset,” Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, wrote at the bottom of today’s column. “The mine is another ‘silver bullet’ instead of a real economic development strategy.”

The news pages and the opinion pages have separate missions. Otherwise, people will lose trust in the information they are receiving.

I’m a pragmatist, too. When it comes to reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine, there’s a pragmatic mission to avoiding a journalistic conflict or the perception of one (a la the Bruce Conklin affair):

People who get information that is not colored by bias or opinion might be more inclined to get off the fence and support the project — rather than recoil and think they are being bamboozled.

We have a lot of “conspiracy theorists” around here, some of whom think the paper is a lapdog for any business. We need to prove them wrong.

In the meantime, it it matters, gold has retreated for a second straight session in trading today.

Where were you in 1997 when Dow was this low?

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

The Dow is at its lowest point in 12 years, a grim sign of our deepening recession. It got me thinking, what was I writing about then? Here’s what I found from some clips:

•Pac Bell Park. I broke a page 1 story in The Chronicle that the Giants new downtown stadium was going to be named Pac Bell Park. The $50 million naming-rights deal was the biggest of its kind. Since then Pac Bell was bought by SBC and renamed SBC Park. Then SBC bought AT&T, and now it’s AT&T Park. That’s enough telco consolidation to make your head spin.

•Whitehouse.com. Entrepreneurs were taking advantage of “Netizens,” as we called them then, who didn’t understand the nuances of URLs. Here’s an article about a guy who turned whitehouse.com into a lucrative porn site. The White House, AKA whitehouse.gov, was miffed. Now we’re more sophisticated, building “social networks,” communicating on Twitter and such.

•Steve Jobs saved Apple. An ineffective CEO named Gil Amelio was ousted from Apple, clearing the way for Steve Jobs to return to the company he founded and turn it around. Jobs is now on a medical leave, sadly, but the company is a powerhouse.

Some other highlights of the year: Clinton began his second term, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash, the Florida Marlins won the World Series and the first color photograph appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

A lot has happened in 12 years. Too bad we’re back to square one with the stock market. I’m glad to be a 40-something rather than at retirement age. We’ll all be working the rest of our lives, I guess.

Bill to legalize, tax pot could raise 1B for state!

imagesWant to close the budget deficit? Legalize pot and tax it, some politicians are arguing. I’ll bet you’ll hear a chorus of cheers up here!

The SFWeekly — an alternative weekly — broke the story on Friday, and it turned out to be true: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from S.F. announcd legislation on Monday (AB 390) to legalize marijuana and earn perhaps $1 billion yearly by taxing it. 

“The bill would additionally prohibit state and local law officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws,” SFWeekly reported. “As for Step Two — profit — Ammiano’s bill calls for ‘establishing a fee on the sale of marijuana at a rate of $50 per ounce.'”

“(His spokesman) said that would bring in roughly $1 billion for the state, according to estimates made by marijuana advocacy organizations.”

The proposed bill also “would remove all penalties in California law on cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, or use of marijuana, natural THC, or paraphernalia for persons over the age of 21.” 

I can hear the cheers from Nevada City to the Ridge, among other neighborhoods, and the groans from the Sheriff’s office. The idea has been floated here before, meeting a mixed response.

While it won’t pass overnight, as Ammiano concedes, the bill could have legs. 

When government/lawmakers fail again and again to cut costs, we need to “get out the box” and consider all revenue-generating options.

GV tech woes make front page of Sac Bee

This morning, the Sac Bee has a front-page article “Grass Valley’s high-tech companies feeling recession.”

It’s sober but fair reporting, with some new details. I’ve blogged “scooplets” on the cutbacks at Benchmark and closure of a Open Solar plant, suggesting “too little has been said” about the plight of these backbone businesses for whatever reason.

The Bee gets into it: It also reveals cuts at ISSIS and Serra, two local tech companies, in the report. It reiterates the risk of losing Grass Valley Group, analyzed here previously.

The longtime Bee business reporter talks to a lot of tech owners, too, and makes the salient point in what journalists call a “nut graf”: “The recession has brought layoffs, cutbacks and ripples of anxiety to the technology companies of Grass Valley and neighboring Nevada City. Some firms are expanding, but what’s happening overall is a small-scale version of the slump in Silicon Valley.”

Not exactly Chamber fodder, but it chronicles what’s happening, with the “to be sure” acknowledgment that “some firms are expanding.” AJA Video is one example.

It’s always interesting to see how “outsiders” perceive us. We tend to be too insular.

Local boosters already are attacking the article. “Nothing but doom and gloom. Or, maybe this is yet another example of the media ignoring the good news. A brand new Home Depot was opened along Hwy 49, and they are thriving,” one writes in comments below the story.

But another — the local guy Keachie — counters: “Buying at Home Depot sends more dollars to China. Buying video gear from Grass Valley keeps them here.” Good point.