Layoffs hit Daily Breeze, other local papers

by Mark McDermott
Published January 15, 2009

The Daily Breeze newspaper last week announced layoffs of five journalists in addition to an undisclosed number of staff reductions elsewhere in the paper, believed to total roughly 15 positions.
In a letter sent to staff last Friday, Executive Editor Phillip Sanfield announced the layoffs within the newsroom and acknowledged that further reductions could be in the offing.
“I’m deeply saddened by it, both personally and professionally,” Sanfield wrote. “Between these departures and last Friday’s announcement of the likely move toward a consolidated newsdesk, this has been the most challenging time in my tenure at The Breeze.”
MediaNews, the Breeze’s parent corporation, has announced its intentions to consolidate operations between papers located in the same region. The corporation owns 54 newspapers, including nine within its Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Other LANG papers include the Los Angeles Daily News, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, The Beach Reporter and the Palos Verdes News.
According to LAObserved.com, a blog that focuses on the news industry, the Breeze journalists laid off included longtime photographer Bruce Hazelton and theater critic Jim Farber. Hazelton has been with the paper more than two decades, and Farber a decade and a half.
In an interview Tuesday, Sanfield declined to identify the names of the journalists laid off out of respect for their privacy. But he reiterated the difficulty of the decision.
“I’ve been here more than 25 years, so this has been a difficult time for me,” Sanfield said. “Both personally and professionally, I’ve known these folks…It’s just the way it is in this business.”
Sanfield said that the paper has managed to keep its core city newsroom operation intact. Those departing were largely part of Breeze’s features and arts coverage. He said that the paper would likely use more freelancers to fill those gaps, and stressed that the paper is more focused than ever on local coverage – even as the paper has been reduced from four sections to two sections two days a week, he noted, the cuts have mainly been to wire service and national sports coverage.
“I think we still have — with no offense to the Easy Reader or The Beach Reporter – the most thorough reporting of what is going on in the South Bay. Obviously, we are a daily, and we still have a lot of veteran journalists who still believe in this business.”
It’s a difficult time in the newspaper industry, both due to a migration of ad revenue to the internet and because of larger economic forces at play. Other local newspapers, including Easy Reader, are also making cutbacks because of the recession. Easy Reader has eliminated four sales positions and a production position and reduced its circulation outside the beach cities. The Beach Reporter publisher now also serves as publisher of the Palos Verdes News.
Nationally, some of the biggest players in the industry are struggling mightily. The Tribune Company, owner of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, recently filed bankruptcy, while the New York Times has mortgaged its new headquarters to raise cash.
MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton last September told paidcontent.org that he believes the larger problem facing newspapers at the present is the recession, not online competition. In fact, MediaNews has launched a partnership with Yahoo! that it hopes will help create new online revenue streams. Singleton singled out real estate advertising as a particularly troubling area of revenue decline.
“The biggest thing we need right now is an improved economy, because at least 60 percent of the revenue problem we’re facing today is good-old fashioned economic recession,” Singleton said in the interview. “It was less than two years ago that some of our California newspapers were seeing 80 percent annual growth in print real estate ads. Today, it’s down 60 percent. That wasn’t structural change – that was ‘We ain’t sellin’ houses anymore because people can’t get a mortgage.’ More than half our problems today are economic and that will come back when the economy does.” ER