The Oakland Tribune in Oakland, Calif.
Twitter screenshot

Buyouts, Firings Planned as Papers Consolidate

"No longer will a daily newspaper bear the name of Oakland or San Jose due to a mass consolidation by Bay Area News Group, which on Tuesday also announced plans to cut roughly 20 percent of the company’s newsroom staff," Marissa Lang reported Tuesday for the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Half a dozen Bay Area newspapers will be folded into two daily publications meant to serve the East Bay and South Bay.

"The last daily edition of the 150-year-old Oakland Tribune will be published April 4.

"On April 5, the East Bay will get its first look at the East Bay Times — a consolidation of the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, the Daily Review in Hayward and the Argus, which serves Fremont. The company will also replace the contracostatimes.com and insidebayarea.com websites with a new East Bay focused site, eastbaytimes.com. . . ."

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The Oakland Tribune holds a prominent place in the history of journalists of color and of advocates of newsroom diversity because of its ownership by Bob and Nancy Maynard in the 1980s. During the decade they owned it, the Tribune became a model of newsroom diversity. Its alumni, whether retired or working in newsrooms, journalism foundations, academia or other parts of the news industry, spread that message to this day. Maynard became the first African American publisher of a mainstream newspaper.

According to the 2010 Census, Oakland is 34.5 percent white, 28 percent black, 25.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, 16.8 percent Asian American and .8 percent Native American and Alaska native. The city had a population of 413,775 in 2014 Census estimates.

With the latest changes, Lang reported, "Roughly 20 percent of the news group’s 200 newsroom employees are expected to lose their jobs — some through voluntary buyouts, and others in layoffs.

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"A total of 23 buyouts will be offered to newsroom employees age 60 or older, who have been with their paper for at least 20 years. There are only 30 people company-wide who meet these conditions. Out of the 23 newsroom buyouts, only five will be offered to reporters, said Dan Smith, BANG’s vice president of audience.

"On top of that, 10 to 20 employees will be fired. . . ."

Under the new arrangement, Lang wrote, "Every Friday, subscribers in Oakland, Hayward and Fremont will receive hyper-local news inserts bearing the mastheads of the Oakland Tribune, the Daily Review and the Argus, respectively.

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"In the South Bay and on the Peninsula, the San Mateo County Times will join the San Jose Mercury News to become the Mercury News, also debuting on April 5.

"Bay Area News Group president and publisher Sharon Ryan pointed to a 2015 survey of readers as the impetus for the changes.

“ 'We are committed to enhancing the quality of that journalism and creating an economic model that ensures a thriving BANG and a well-informed Bay Area community,' Ryan wrote in a memo to employees. 'Readers have been quite clear with us about how much they like their newspapers and what they want more of, and we’re changing to serve them better. We’ll give them better focused front page stories that cover national and Bay Area news from each region’s point of view.' . . .”

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Digital First Media, a New York publishing company controlled by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, owns the Bay Area News Group.

Tuesday's development is the company’s latest effort to streamline operations and cut costs at a time when newspapers across the country are struggling.

The Tribune has been part of that struggle. "It was the earthquake and fire, combined with the national recession and a troubled city economy, that finally forced the Maynards to sell The Tribune in 1992," according to the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism education.

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"When the paper was sold, its most valuable assets were its loyal readers and advertisers, its scrappy editorial product and the most diverse newsroom of any major metropolitan newspaper in America."

After the paper was sold to the Alameda Newspaper Group, now the Bay Area News Group, its owners hoped that sharing content with competing BANG-owned suburban community newspapers would reduce costs.

But changes in the news business, particularly the rise of the Internet, continued to challenge the Tribune and its sister news organizations.

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"The new round of downsizing comes as difficult news for a staff that has already been decimated," Robert Gammon reported Tuesday for East Bay Express. "Currently, the Tribune only has one full-time reporter who is dedicated to covering Oakland: David DeBolt."

The company called the latest changes "part of an ongoing transformation to make BANG more responsive to its print and digital audiences, streamlining production while improving news gathering and presentation to provide readers with news when they want it and where they want it. BANG is launching a new video team, expanding its digital advertising operations and preparing for a technology overhaul later this year that will make its mobile and desktop websites simpler and faster-loading."

"Our journalism continues to draws millions of readers in print and online. We are committed to enhancing the quality of that journalism and creating an economic model that ensures a thriving BANG and a well-informed Bay Area community," Ryan said.

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HARRIS-PERRY REJECTS EXIT PACKAGE OVER “GAG ORDER”

"Melissa Harris-Perry has chosen the freedom to speak over an exit package," Dylan Byers reported Tuesday for CNNMoney.com.

"On Tuesday, the outgoing MSNBC host said that her exit negotiations with the network fell through after she refused to accept the terms of a non-disparagement clause that she described as 'a gag order.'

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" 'They wanted me to sign a non-disparagement clause, and we had a deep disagreement over what constituted the non-disparagement clause,' Harris-Perry told CNNMoney on Tuesday. 'They wanted me not to speak about MSNBC. I said no.'

"James Perry, Harris-Perry's husband and the one who led the negotiations with MSNBC, said that MSNBC's non-disparagement clause would have restricted his wife to speaking about MSNBC only when it was 'positive or in her academic work.'

" 'I'll never get another penny from MSNBC,' Harris-Perry said.

"The channel announced on Sunday that it was 'parting ways' with Harris-Perry. That came two days after she published an email to friends saying that she had been 'silenced' because the network had pre-empted her show for two consecutive weekends.

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"Yvette Miley, the senior vice president of talent and diversity, told CNN that Harris-Perry's show, like others on MSNBC, was only pre-empted in order to focus on the contentious 2016 presidential primary contest and said there were no plans to cancel it or strip Harris-Perry of editorial control. . . ."

The lack of journalists of color covering the Super Tuesday contests was evident when a viewer tuned in at midnight. For most of the following hour, an all-white panel led by Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow, assisted by Steve Kornacki, Chuck Todd and others, filled MSNBC's screen. Eventually, Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist who is African American, joined the group. In previous event-night coverage, the Rev. Al Sharpton would have been on such a panel.

(On CNN, meanwhile, the presence of panel regular Van Jones, an African American former Obama administration official, led to "a heated debate about race, the Democratic Party and the Ku Klux Klan" with Jeffrey Lord, a white former Reagan staffer and Donald Trump supporter, Justin Wm. Moyer reported for the Washington Post.)

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In a letter last week, Harris-Perry "pointedly noted a 'dramatic change' in the 'editorial tone and racial composition of MSNBC's on-air coverage,' Brian Stelter wrote for CNNMoney.com on Sunday.

Byers also wrote, "Harris-Perry took to Twitter on Tuesday night to apologize to other former MSNBC hosts of color whose shows were canceled in recent years, including Martin Bashir, [Touré] and Karen Finney.

"A few apologies: @MartinBashir @Toure @finneyk I am sorry for and ashamed of my earlier silence. I gave into to culture of fear at #MSNBC."

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Byers added, "In addition to Harris-Perry, Bashir, [Touré] and Finney, several other hosts of color — including Al Sharpton and Joy Reid — have seen their shows canceled or moved to weekends. To be sure, several white hosts such as Ronan Farrow, Ed Schultz, Abby Huntsman and Krystal Ball have also seen their shows canceled and left the network.

"On Monday, CNNMoney reported that Alex Wagner, who is Asian-American, would not be getting the weekend show she had been promised last year. José Díaz-Balart, who anchors a weekday morning show, has also seen his show pre-empted for 2016 coverage. . . ."

"Whatever the case, Harris-Perry's decision to [forgo] an exit agreement has freed her up to speak bluntly about MSNBC and her belief that the decision to cancel her show "has strong racial implications" because it silenced a show that promoted diverse perspectives," Byers wrote.

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Chris Ariens, TVNewser: Melissa Harris-Perry Is Not Leaving MSNBC Quietly

Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post: Melissa Harris-Perry shreds MSNBC on her way out

From C-SPAN Twitter feed: @RepGutierrez uses #NBCsoWhite during statement on diversity at NBC. (link) (video)

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BLACK VIEWERSHIP OF OSCAR SHOW DOWN ONLY 2%

"Don't blame the effort to promote an Oscars boycott among blacks because of diversity concerns for the drop in Academy Awards viewership this year," David Bauder wrote Tuesday for the Associated Press.

"The Nielsen company said Tuesday that an estimated 3.22 million black viewers watched the Oscars on ABC Sunday, a decline of 2 percent from the 2015 show. The show's overall viewership of 34.4 million was an eight-year low, and a drop of nearly 8 percent from the year before.

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"Prior to the Chris Rock-hosted show, anger about a lack of minority nominees for the big awards led to the call for black viewers to tune out. It apparently wasn't heeded, or viewers wanted to hear what Rock had to say about the issue — and it was the central theme of his monologue.

"Within the past decade, the Oscars had a smaller number of black viewers in 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008, Nielsen said.

"So the academy must look to other explanations for the drop; the general theory has been that the popularity of movies up for Oscars is the biggest factor in viewership fluctuations. Ratings for the Golden Globes were also down this year. . . ."