The layoff-by-phone drill represented yet another backpedal from the lofty rhetoric of just 11 months earlier, when William Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group bought the paper and its suburban cousin, the Contra Costa Times. MediaNews acquired both dailies in a complicated deal with McClatchy, which in turn had purchased them a few weeks earlier from Knight Ridder, the Merc’s deceased and dismembered former owner. “We have bought the crown jewels of Knight Ridder,” Singleton declared at the time. “They are excellent papers that we expect to make better.”
Perhaps he meant “smaller.” The first layoff at the Merc newsroom (15 people) came just four months after Singleton, known in some quarters as “Lean Dean,” assumed control. A series of resignations starting in June trimmed 15 more jobs. Combined with the Passover cuts, the newspaper’s staff had shrunk by 22 percent in the first year of the Singleton era.
The Mercury used to have more than a dozen reporters in its San Francisco peninsula bureau located about 15 miles from San Jose. Now there’s just one. The Merc gets most of its peninsula news from the short-handed San Mateo Times and the Palo Alto Daily News, a free tabloid MediaNews acquired in the Knight Ridder deal last year. Some parts of the paper’s newsroom have simply just disappeared, among them a five-member projects team that included 40-year Merc veteran Pete Carey, who was part of a group that won a Pulitzer for foreign reporting in 1986. Carey is now a business reporter.
I can also add this: We used to have 40 copy editors. Now we have 15.
Singleton says it’ll be a rough three or four years till things turn around. Well, not so rough for him, I suspect.