Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chronicle to readers: We're not dead yet!

Facing the threat of closing, reporters and photographers of the San Francisco Chronicle voted Saturday to make major concessions. As the Chronicle itself reported Saturday night:

Members of the San Francisco Chronicle's largest union overwhelmingly agreed to contract concessions that clear the way for cutting at least 150 union jobs and eliminating certain benefits and rights, measures the company says are essential to save the newspaper.

The 366 workers who cast ballots approved the revisions by a margin of around 10 to 1. If a majority of employees had vetoed the changes, management said they would have had to cut 225 positions represented by the California Media Workers Guild, Local 39521, with limited severance, to achieve the necessary savings, according to the union.
The Guild represents 483 Chronicle employees, including 218 in editorial and 265 in advertising, circulation, finance, ad production and other functions. The union had recommended membership approval.

Saturday's agreement is just the first step in Hearst's efforts to achieve the hoped for cost savings. The company still must negotiate a deal with its other major union, the 420-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853.
Like many other papers, the Chronicle has no solution to its woes.

NY Times publisher Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger said last week that there is no imminent solution, and when (if) there is one, it’s unlike to be one-size-fits-all:
I am not here to tell you I have the answers to our current dilemma – attracting more revenue, be it by charging for an online article reporting on the day’s activities in the Middle East the way iTunes charges for U2’s latest hit single; or examining new journalistic organizational structures, such as moving from a traditional profit-making model to a not-for-profit entity whose funding is secure in the hands of, say, Bernie Madoff.

One of the many reasons why such a solution is so elusive is that what works for The New York Times is not going to work for Newsday or The LA Times; what works for is not going to be a solution for Politico, Salon or Slate. As I will discuss shortly, each site has a different relationship to the Internet and has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

In our heart of hearts, we all wish there would be the equivalent of the deus ex machina moment when the gods descend and provide us with a perfect business model for the new media. Alas, Mt. Olympus has been quiet for quite a while, and real life tends to be a bit messier and less predictable.

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