Our new devil is a guy named Dean Singleton, who has just sealed a deal to purchase the San Jose Mercury News, which pays my salary. Dean owns the Denver Post, the Salt Lake Tribune and a whole bunch of suburban dailies aroud the Bay Area. Dean bought up all these papers up the road, slashed their staffs and spread havoc in East Bay newsrooms. People there didn’t forget, and they didn’t forgive.

He tried and failed to save papers in Houston and Dallas. All those newsies lost their jobs, and they, too have spread the word: Dean is the devil. Pray that he doesn’t buy your paper.

I’ve gotten unsolicited e-mails from two newspapers to inform me they have openings — you know, just in case. Because, from all they’ve been told, Dean is the devil.

Well, Dean told us today that there would be no job or salary cuts resulting from the transaction culminating in his purchase of the Mercury News. He told us that the managers we have now will determine what, if anything, gets cut. He strikes me as straightforward, not shifty or conniving. But the devil would be that way, right?

For some reason, though, I’m just not buying the Devil Dean story. The guy’s worked at newspapers all his life, taken some crazy risks, lost his shirt a time or two. He did his share of slashing, but heck, our industry-leading leadership cut our newsroom staff by over a third in the past couple years. Knight Ridder cut us and 11 other papers loose to cinch a deal to sell the rest of the chain.

Could Devil Dean do us any worse than that? I suppose, but it strikes me as unlikely. The guy likes newspapers; throws vast sums of his own money at them. He thinks local papers ought to focus on local news. Not exactly an evil concept.

Nobody has ever called me a cockeyed optimist. Well, cockeyed, but not an optimist. I have the same assume-the-worst gene as everybody else in the news biz. Sure, ol’ Dean could run roughshod over the Mercury News. I don’t see why he would — heck, he called the Merc the “Crown Jewel” of Knight Ridder. People take good care of their jewels, right?

Dean’s defenders — he does have a few — insist he did only what had to be done to save papers that otherwise would’ve gone out of business. Better to have a paper be 80 percent something rather than 100 percent of nothing. He’s done right by the Denver Post, which has gotten much better since he bought it. Word from Salt Lake is that he pretty much left ’em alone to peddle their papers.

Awhile back I talked about why I wasn’t bailing on the Mercury News. Most of it was about how I like the paper and the town, a rare match. But in the back I mind I was also thinking: don’t run till you know what you’re running from. Well, now I know.

So, what next? Well, I figure I had a tiny role in helping Dean decide to buy Merc, so I may as well hang around to see what’s up his sleeve, if anything. In any case, I’m freed from talking about work stuff till something new and interesting happens. I’m sure this will come to everybody as a relief.