By John Geluardi
East Bay newspaper managers announced another round of layoffs Friday continuing the slow decimation of newsrooms and the ability of more than a dozen daily newspapers to deliver community news.
The Bay Area’s largest newspaper chain, the Bay Area News Group – East Bay (BANG) has announced it will cut 10 newsroom jobs by Nov. 14th. The company owns all of the major dailies in the East Bay including the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, The Argus and the Tri-Valley Herald.
BANG Executive Editor Kevin Keane sent out a short memo late Friday afternoon announcing that eight non-exempt employees, who he did not name, and managers Jon Kawamoto and Mike Wolcott have been notified they will be laid off.
“I wish circumstances were different, but as you know the newspaper industry remains on unstable ground at the moment,” Keane wrote in the memo. “While I can offer no guarantees about any further staff changes, I'm cautiously optimistic that the industry will regain its footing soon. In the meantime we wish nothing but the best to our departing colleagues.”
Keane’s announcement was the latest wave of bad news to hit BANG newsrooms. In the spring 57 newsroom employees took buyouts and in July the company laid off another 38 employees.
“We’re doing everything we can to lessen the blow of this,” said Guild Unit Chairwoman Sara Steffens. “This has been devastating for people. We’re concerned that at some point they are going to cut so much that the newspapers won’t be able to recover.”
BANG employees drew national attention last June when they voted to form a union. The vote created the first new newspaper union in the United States in more than two decades. But union organizers have seen their bargaining unit shrink from 300 employees to 200 since the union was approved.
Union organizers Steffens, an award winning Contra Costa Times social services reporter and Karl Fischer, the West County Times award winning crime reporter, were heralded as heroes for not only overcoming a management hostile to unions, but also for inspiring newsroom employees to stand up for themselves during a time of declining revenues and uncertainty in the newspaper throughout the industry.
Steffens was among the 29 laid off in July. The guild has filed charges of unfair labor practices against BANG management, which are still pending, for the manner in which those layoffs were carried out.