East Bay Times, Mercury News face losses after buyouts, layoffs

Matthias Gafni/Courtesy

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Nearly 30 reporters and staff at the East Bay Times and the Mercury News accepted buyouts from parent company Bay Area News Group, or BANG, last week, with more layoffs expected.

The buyout package includes 26 weeks’ worth of salary and five months of healthcare benefits in exchange for leaving the newspaper company. Employees with at least 25 years of experience at BANG were eligible for buyouts and were given until the end of January to accept the package.

“Hundreds of years’ worth of journalism experience leaves us today. We’re spending much of it signing farewell cards and tribute pages. Then those of us who are still on will get back to work to keep you informed the best we can,” Mercury News reporter Robert Salonga said in a tweet.

BANG Executive Editor Neil Chase explained that the company is cutting costs because it does not have a strong enough revenue model. He said the newspaper industry as a whole has been shrinking for almost 20 years since it stopped being the only avenue for advertisement.

“Fundamental parts of the staff are disappearing, and it’s going to take a heroic effort by those who are left to fill the gaps,” said Pacific Media Workers Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall. “Why would you pay this kind of talent to go away? It’s sad to see.”

Hall said he thinks the buyouts and layoffs are part of a “short-term, profit-bleeding strategy” orchestrated by Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund that owns BANG.

“We are calling for them to sell this company to somebody who is willing to invest in journalism,” Hall said.

Chase said the loss of local journalists is a potential “hazard” to news reporting, as there is a lower chance of unearthing local corruption when there are fewer people physically covering certain areas. He added, however, that there are also creative ways, including data reporting, emerging to cover the news and combat this loss.

BANG is reorganizing the newsroom to account for the staff it has lost and will continue to evaluate its coverage to ensure the paper serves its obligation to the community, Chase said.

East Bay Times reporter Matthias Gafni tweeted Jan. 31 that it was a “very sad day” in the office, with 17 goodbye cards to sign.

“Each card represents about a quarter of a century of institutional knowledge,” Gafni tweeted. “They served the communities. And they’re our friends.”

Hall said that though the staff cuts will “seriously damage” BANG’s news-gathering capabilities, the “heroic” reporters who are left will fortunately pick up the ball.

“They will do everything they can do to keep the quality as high as they can. It’s the way journalists work,” Hall said.

Contact Hannah Piette at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.