Hearst 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.