Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ten Top Editors Out at the San Francisco Chronicle

The grimmest workplace in the United States today might be the San Francisco Chronicle, after a first round of layoffs bit deeply into a veteran reporting staff.

You know times are bad when Executive Editor Phil Bronstein gives the boot to men and women who have been his colleagues for years – some all the way back to his early tenure at the Examiner. These cuts are so draconian and eliminate so many veteran journalists that one can’t help believe that the Chronicle will have a tough time putting out a quality product. And there are another 80 cuts of reporters yet to come!

This is bad, bad news for Bay Area journalism.

Robert Rosenthal, the managing editor, made his exit last Friday. By Monday, nine other top managers had been axed:

John Curley, the deputy managing editor and the last name on the masthead from the days before the Chronicle was bought by the Hearst Corporation.

Leslie Guevarra, the deputy managing editor. She has been Bay Area journalist ever since I can remember

Steve Cook, the assistant managing editor for enterprise, project and investigative reporting.

Jim Finefrock, editor of the Insight section

Paul Wilner, the editor of the Style section

George Judson, the assistant managing editor of enterprise. (This is hard for me to hear personally as I credit George for giving my own newspaper career a boost. When I was a young reporter in Ithaca, New York, George worked as an editor at the New York Times and hired me as a stringer)

Laura Impellizzeri, assistant metro editor

David Tong, assistant business editor

Hulda Nelson, the art director in charge of graphics.

The new masthead is already up. Boy is it short.

There was no official notice of the layoffs in Tuesday’s newspaper. But columnist Leah Garchik did give a nod to her departing colleagues.

“You've probably read in this very paper that The Chronicle is cutting about 100 jobs. This is necessary if we are to survive; newspapers are in trouble all over the country. Meanwhile, the rest of us labor quietly, hoping not to be tapped. The process has started; those whose jobs have so far been spared are cowering.

So this is written as a loud public sob. Every leaving colleague/friend will be missed. We are all diminished."


Anonymous said...

Woo-hoo, this is the first layoff story I have seen that shows an editor approaching layoffs the right way -- from the top down. It is the editors who created this mess today's newspapers are in, but all too often, it's the lowest rungs on the staff who feel the pain first. New top-level visions are needed, and needed quickly if the remaining readers and advertisers are going to have anything to do with newspapers anymore. No better way than to clean out the top offices and put these well-paid failures out to pasture.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with that last comment. While I am sorry to see some of those journalists depart -- some are friends of mine -- I think that the Chronicle has been a mess for years, way too top heavy with editors. The staff has been too big and unwieldy, and I for one hope that the smaller staff size makes it a leaner and meaner paper. It had overlapping editors and reporters whose bylines wouldn't show up for months at a time! With as many newsroom employees as the Chron had, it should not only be covering SF, but the entire Bay Area. As it stands, it does a mediocre job of good, solid city beat reporting in SF, and it pretty much forfeited the South Bay to the Mercury News and The East Bay to the Contra Costa Times and ANG. That's a shame, because there are a lot of ad dollars to be made out in the suburbs. Whoever created the current business model and editorial structure should be the first ones to go.

Anonymous said...

What is ESPECIALLY extraordinary is that there are NINE mg, depmg and asstmg editors there who've now GONE ... and how many remain ??
Jeez, you've got the entire staff of half of the leading national dailies in 100 third world nations who are out the door.
Frankly, though I'm sure each was an extremely talented professional, what the hell did they DO all day?!
Oh wait .. .I know: MEETINGS.
No doubt they will be missed ... NOT !

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with some of the sentiment here. The failure of newspapers is not the fault of the editors -- or the fact a newspaper may have "too many editors".

Newspapers are dying all over the country because they see themselves as "newspapers" not part of the media world, in general. In the real world, products compete for eyes, promote themselves, aggressively market themselves, reinvent themselves, evolve.

Newspapers pretend they are not part of our world -- they smugly blame readers for not subscribing, or they blame other media outlets for stealing eyes. They blame the competition for their decline in advertising. What happens when advertising declines? They layoff salespeople. What happens when circulation declines? They layoff circulation staff and hire independent contractors.

This is no way to run a business, let alone a newspaper. Laying off 100 people at the Chronicle will not make the paper better. It will only cut some costs which will make the paper marginally more profitable -- for a while.

As for those the Chronicle competes against, the Chronicle had already lost the East Bay to the competition (Lesher and ANG) and the South Bay to Knight-Ridder when I worked in the area in the late 80's.

But both of the Chron's main competitors are not doing so well either. The CCT group has gone nowhere since its growth petered out in the 90s, run by a megalomaniac who has since moved to the Merc. And the Merc? It has not recovered since the hey day of classified advertising.

Anonymous said...

I agree. This doesn't look like the structure of a newspaper, but a government bureaucracy with deputy assistant secretaries, etc. Clean out the deadwood, and redirect the money to putting reporters back on local courts, staffing the civic association meetings, covering the local council meetings, and yes (horrors) crimes, rapes and muggings. It's that sort of coverage that gave newspapers their readers in the last century. No, not hyperlocal (Ben's Fish and Tackle doesn't have the revenues to buy display ads), but solid traditional producing interesting news stories.

dufus said...

Necessary to survive? I'm tired of that crap. It's necessary so the shareholders can make 20 percent or better. In fact, I can't think of anything more unnecessary than what Wall Street, which places absolutely no value on quality journalism, is wreaking on our industry. And the effect it is having on the journalist students I advise is devastating.

Anonymous said...

Complete dog doo-doo, gang. You blame the editors for taking down the organization? How about the clowns who sit around in the corners of the newsrooms -- or worse yet, don't bother to show their faces for months -- and never contributed to the content of the newspaper? Metro papers are slowly starting to look at themselves and see how fat, pathetic and lazy they really are. It's a shame that the blade had to cut out a layer of management to help keep the blobs in the shadows around long enough to tap their pensions.

Anonymous said...

crazzzzy, are u forgeting they are laying off 80 newsroom reporters and photgraphers, top down my asss!

Joe Sez said...

Laying off senior editorial staff is a great way cut costs. Get younger, cheaper people to do the work, double up the work load. Or better yet - who needs an editor?

It's all about cutting cots, not quality.

Circuit City laid off senior sales force to cut labor costs and then store sales took a dive. customers didn't want to buy electronics from newbies.

There's a newspaper monopoly in SF. No more competition from the Examiner so the Chronicle can cut quality, cut costs and call itself a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Why is Phil Bronstein left standing? The Chronicle turned into focus-group run hash under his disasterous leadership. He undermined a fine enterprise reporting team. He flogged gossip as news. He panders to the horrible Hearst Corp. and was involved in a sleazy deal to trade editorial support to Mayor Willie Brown in return for his approval of the Chron-Examiner merger. Adding insult to injury, he drove Sharon Stone out of San Francisco.

Off with the head!

Anonymous said...

Why hasn't Mr. Bronstein been shown the door? This would be the second paper he's led into a grave.

I, too, must disagree with the sentiment that the editors are responsible for the losses the Chronicle has suffered. It's more likely that the business climate is at fault. As far as I can tell, no major newspaper in the country has come up with a business model that makes money.

Anonymous said...

The Chron has not really cared about covering news other than from within the city limits of SF since the late 70s, so this cutback is just the latest episode of its reducing its size to properly handle the only task it really does perform, even though not doing that very well.
Sad, pathetic and too bad, but even in Herb Caen's heyday, he could not prod the top folks to improve the product, so he just made fun of them

Anonymous said...

this in in response to the first comment: while i agree that editors have made quite a mess of newspapering, i have worked with curley and guevarra and consider them to be the least of the chronicle's problems. in fact, guevarra is probably the best journalist at the paper. that she is laid off is a crime. not only does she have good journalistic sensibility, but she is the most dedicated and hardest-working person i've ever encountered in 20 years of newspapering. if she is repaid for her dedication by being shown the door, no journalist should ever bother to give his or her all, because it's not worth it. it's a crime.

Anonymous said...

Deadwood? The people whose names are at the top here are among the finest public service-minded journalists in California. It may well be that the newspaper's staff is bloated due to earlier management machinations to avoid scrutiny when merging the papers but... and it may be that all this talent has long been squandered by a poorly led company. Butlet it be known that the way these individuals are being shed is not related to their value to this community.

Anonymous said...

Deadwood? Yes deadwood. They may be some of the greatest people in the world, but they failed miserably in the one task they had at their jobs: increasing circulation. Now, I know your response is going to be that circulation is the business of the business department and not the newsroom. But you have to have something to sell, and this team didn't produce it. It's a brave new world out there in newspapering today, and it's going to take an agile team of leaders who understand it to survive. To another comment about the value to the community: the community has spoken with their pocket books what value these people have to San Francisco. Read the Chron's circulation figures and weep. Me: I want a thriving paper that's more than just Top 10 lists and the latest recipe for chicken kiev by some chic New York chef I've never heard of before. Maybe it's too selfish a view, but I don't see how this society operates properly without an educated populace, and independent journalism is a valuable check on the various powers that want to manipulate or lie to us.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kevin. The notion that newspapers have historically or should make 20% net profit is a myth. Only Gannett showed those numbers in the early 1990s. NYT, LAT, WashPost, Knight-Ridder ranged from the low teens to the high teens, with the Timeses and the Post at the bottom of that range.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers are dying because the corporate interference destroyed our credibility, and reduced staff producing inferior work, making silly mistakes further erodes that public trust.

When we're no more reliable than bloggers, why would someone wait to buy tomorrow's paper instead of reading the information immediately, perhaps with video incorporated, free from any number of blogs online, without getting inky hands?

Newspapers were a day late and a dollar short to the online party.