Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dean Singleton Memo

Talk of MediaNews' financial problems is nothing new. But the news that Standard & Poors Ratings Services has lowered the company's credit rating has again raised questions about the stability of the newspaper chain.

MediaNews is one of several media companies that have way too much debt and could be in danger of going bankrupt, according to recent articles.

Today, MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton responded to those reports with a memo to employees.

Here it is:

TO: All MediaNews Group Employees

FROM: CEO Dean Singleton and President Jody Lodovic:


Many of you have probably heard or read the recent negative press surrounding
the newspaper industry, including MediaNews Group. The focus on MediaNews Group
was prompted by a recent downgrade by Standard & Poors. Given the speculation and
innuendo contained in recent stories, we wanted to provide as much clarity to each of you as possible.

Before getting into specifics, we want to put the recent S&P downgrade into
context. MediaNews is not alone, nor is the newspaper industry unique. Unprecedented
turmoil in the financial markets and the economic challenges faced by many industries
has resulted in a great deal of dislocation and irrational behavior in the market place.

Rating agencies such as S&P and Moody's have been criticized and threatened for not reacting quick enough to update their ratings. It is our opinion (shared by others) that the rating agencies have now gone to an extreme and are being overly conservative with their ratings. As a result, every newspaper company, including MediaNews Group, has been downgraded multiple times during the past year. While we can debate whether these downgrades were warranted, we acknowledge that the economic headwinds we (and many others) face pose a real challenge. Let us assure you, MediaNews Group is up for the challenge!

We also want to address the speculation regarding the recent leadership changes
at Hearst. While it is not appropriate for us to address the specific reasons for the change, we can tell you that Hearst remains committed to and supportive of MediaNews Group. In fact, we expect to announce another transaction with Hearst shortly which will better position us to weather the current economic storm. We and Hearst have identified several areas where we can work together for our collective benefit, as well as for the potential benefit of the industry. Some of these strategies, such as our joint Kaango and PSA investment and formation of the Yahoo! consortium, are already underway. We look forward to expanding our efforts with Hearst in the future.

Aside from the matters addressed above, we are sure other questions come to
mind about the future of newspapers and MediaNews Group. Let us address a few that
come to mind.

Is MediaNews Group meeting financial commitments under the terms
of its various debt agreements?

Yes, MediaNews is in compliance with the terms of its bank
agreements and continues to take steps to reduce its total debt and
expects to remain in compliance in the future. As has been the case
in the past, MediaNews may from time to time seek amendments
of its debt agreements as necessary to provide maximum

Is MediaNews concerned about the level of its debt?

Certainly, given the economic environment we are in, we would
rather have less debt. But, this is not our first rodeo. In the last
newspaper recession (in the early nineties), we operated with
higher relative levels of debt. We came out well positioned and
led the industry in growth for much of the next decade. With our
collective efforts, we will lead the charge again!

Is MediaNews looking to buy more newspapers in the near term?

While Mediapews believes the future of newspapers is bright,
MediaNews is not currently looking to acquire more newspapers.
We believe our resources should be more internally focused on
reinventing our current newspaper model to support future growth
plans. That said, we believe that consolidation within the industry
is inevitable and will help facilitate the change necessary for
newspapers to thrive well into the future. MediaNews expects to
be a leader in that consolidation effort.

MediaNews has always been focused on cutting costs. Is there a
different strategy for the future?

Unfortunately, all newspapers are faced with making significant
cost cuts. Declining revenue and higher newsprint prices, as well
as ever increasing benefit costs, simply leave no choice.

The recent necessary downsizing at some of our newspapers was a
difficult decision, from both a personal and professional
perspective, and we will certainly miss our cohorts. Each played
an important role in the company, and there departure, through no
fault of their own, leaves a whole that the rest of our employees
will have to find a way to fill.

MediaNews doesn't believe cost cutting is a long term strategy.
However, we recognize that there is a structural change in our
business, and we must align our cost structure accordingly. That is
precisely why we engaged Bain last Fall - to provide us a roadmap
to build the newspaper company of the future by leveraging the
vast resources of the entire company. Individual newspapers can
only cut costs so far without impacting the perceived value to
advertisers and readers. Accordingly, we must work together (as
well as with other companies) to find new and creative ways to
streamline operations in ways that are transparent to both readers
and advertisers. In fact, we believe it is possible to improve our
products and services and operate more efficiently at the same

Unfortunately, gone are the days where we can operate as a
collection of standalone newspapers. We must leverage our
collective resources and position ourselves to reinvest in our
business going forward in order to provide the tools and resources
to ensure success in the future. And, we are starting to do just that,
with significant investments in the sales, marketing and research

We hope that this addresses many of your questions and conveys
MediaNews Group's commitment to taking the necessary steps to ensure our
future success. No one said change was easy, and the current economic
environment makes it all the more challenging. But the rewards for successfully
navigating through this period of transformation will be great.

We truly believe in the future of newspapers, the services they perform
and the value they provide. You, our employees, are our most valuable asset.
And, if we all work together, MediaNews will lead the industry into the future!
We recognize and appreciate your efforts and dedication during this
challenging time.

Remember: Together we can!

Monday, June 16, 2008

One big Bay Area union!

Congratulations to the folks at Bay Area Newspaper Group, who voted on Friday to unionize their newspapers.

The vote means about 200 reporters, copy editors, clerks and editorial employees at the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and East Bay newspapers will be covered by the Northern California Media Workers Guild. They'll begin negotiations on their first contract with MediaNews management soon.

This is a big win for workers there, who had organized in order to ensure greater employee input as MediaNews seeks to consolidate operations at the Bay Area newspapers.

You can learn more about the vote and background, but in the meantime, here's a big hurrah for the guild and workers in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One Big Newspaper Union in the Bay Area

On June 13, employees at nine newspapers owned by MediaNews in the East Bay will vote on whether they want to be represented by the Newspaper Guild.

This is a big vote and it comes nearly a year after MediaNews consolidated operations in the East Bay and revoked recognition of the union at the Alameda Newspaper Group. Rather than roll over, the workers organized, reached out to their colleagues at the Contra Costa Times and launched an effort to create a bigger, more powerful union.

What do they want? A seat at the table with management and the opportunity to have some input on the decisions that affect their jobs and the quality of their journalism.

You can learn more about their effort and sign a petition in support of their vote to create a new guild for the East Bay Newspaper Group.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ron Kaye

We lost a great editor today.
Ron Kaye leaves the paper after 23 years.
He has been the backbone and personality of the Daily News for so long and he made the newsroom a fun, challenging and kooky place to work.
As a manager, he is respectful of his employees, yet pushes us to dig deeper, be more creative and do this job more passionately. That's been an inspiration, especially over the last year as the newsroom budget was cut and cut again.
But Ron really showed his true character in February during the layoffs. He met with every person let go. He apologized. He cried for the newsroom. We were told the truth and treated with dignity. And that is what every worker deserves from their boss.
I could go on and on.

Here's Ron's goodbye message:

All good things in life come to an end sooner or later, even my love affair
with the Daily News.
What will always be with me is my love and respect for all of you.
You've shown in the last two plus years just how talented and capable you
are working together -- so capable you've made me obsolete. Under the
circumstances, I'll always be grateful for that. Doug Hanes will be
announcing my successor on Monday and I hope you will give that person the same effort and support you've given me. You have made this into a real newspaper with a soul and passion and creativity and shown your commitment to discover how this newspaper, any newspaper, can survive in the digital age. I know it can be done and I wish you all the best in whatever you, wherever the road leads you.
Thanks for everything, these have been the happiest and most fulfilling
years of my life. Keep the faith, love always.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The state of newspapers

Public radio has a story on the sorry state of newspapers that includes an interview with Brent Hopkins, our own reporter turned cop.

What the publisher said

Publisher Doug Hanes and LANG CEO Ed Moss visited the newsroom Monday explain the state of the company and take questions on the layoffs and the health of the company. I wasn't there but colleagues said the message was that the company has made a lot less money this year and the layoffs were an attempt to "stop the bleeding."

They acknowledged that cost-cutting is not a growth strategy.

The big LANG effort to consolidate is a bust, at least for the Daily News, it appears. The company is breaking into three clusters: Inland division overseeing San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire, South Bay with the Breeze and the Press-Telegram, and the Daily News on its own.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Publisher pays a visit?

Good evening,

I'm told Daily News Publisher Douglas Hanes may come by the newsroom Monday to talk with staff about the state of our paper. I hope so. We've gone through a rotten week and taken a serious hit to the newsroom. People need some reassurance that the company has a strategy to weather these difficult economic times, beyond cutting staff. I think our publisher will find a creative, flexible, hard-working newsroom that is committed to ensuring the Daily News is a professional and profitable enterprise.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Our colleagues

Hi all,
We lost some awesome co-workers yesterday and it didn't seem right to let them leave without a virtual toast. Here's to colleagues who worked hard, made an impact and helped make the Daily News a rewarding and generally kooky, fun place to work. Your talent, humor and commitment will be missed. We wish you success in your next gig.

Robert Avege - sports clerk, started Sept. 2007 - "The sports department got to know Robert during the 2006 World Cup, when he walked over from accounting every day at lunchtime to watch games on the TV in that corner of the newsroom. Later he joined sports to help the editors -- immeasurably -- with the finances. Without Robert, who was born in Ghana and educated in London, the office discussions of Arsenal soccer will never be the same."

Semhar Debessai - features reporter, started Sept. 2006 - "There is Sem, who was always hungry both figuratively and in reality. Not a big fan of junk food, she was always looking an hour two earlier than lunchtime for something healthy that would give her a little burst. And she inspired me with her dedication to the craft. When she got the nod from the folks downstairs to join the in crowd online, she opted to stick around and kick it with us old school. That was impressive. Whatever it is that makes a person yearn to be a writer and a journalist, a real one, not a professional dilettante, that stuff in the marrow that makes you stick to it, Sem has it. And she's taking it out the door with her. I hope wherever she ends up she finds something to sink her teeth into."

Alex Dobuzinskis - reporter, started Jan. 2004 - "Alex is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Must be because he's Canadian. Alex was one of the hardest working reporters at the Daily News who was able to put out several stories in a day and he did it with a strong sense of passion and heart that it's going to be tough to work without him. He covered Glendale and the Northeast area of the San Fernando Valley, areas which are already under covered anyway. Readers in those areas will be poorer without this intrepid reporter.

Lisa Friedman - Washington D.C. reporter, started 2001 - "Lisa is a virtual force of nature, indefatigable in tracking down wily legislators and holding their feet to the fire. As a consummate driven journalist, she has worked long hours, weekends and nights pursuing lawmakers through the halls of the Capitol in search of the hottest stories. She has not only untangled political speak, but has found the life amid what could otherwise be dry and boring policy moves. She has approached all of this with nearly endless cheer and a spirit of teamwork. Her bright perspective, hard work and key connections in Washington will be sorely missed."

Karen (Duffy) Walker-Gindick - paginator/news design desk, started in 1981 - "So renowned is Karen that she has a copy desk phenomenon named after her. To "duffy", as in "I duffied that headline" means that you wrote the hed to fit perfectly the first time. A duffy is something that happens serendipitously due to the skill of the headline writer."

Heather Gripp - sports reporter, started Nov. 1997 - "Grippster! She loved baseball more than anything. If you gave Heather a choice between going to a baseball game, and a 10-day all-expenses paid trip to Europe, she'd choose the ballpark in a second. Her year was divided up into two parts, Baseball season and the offseason. Along the way, Heather became one of the more respected sportswriters covering the area. Coaches, players, parents all knew her. And when guys that she covered in high school made it to the big leagues, they always remembered Heather, and made time to talk to her, no matter what was going on with their new teams."

Minerva Hernandez - editorial assistant, Dec. 1990 - "Minerva was often the first person people would talk to when they called the newsroom and she always tried to help. Her patience was a marvel and she managed to be nice even to the crankiest, nastiest caller. And Minerva played a key role in breaking one of the paper's biggest news stories -- interviewing Corina Villaraigosa's mother by phone in Spanish about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's affair with a Telemundo reporter."

Brent Hopkins - reporter, started Dec. 2000 - "I think we're all still in shock that Brent is leaving, and to be a LAPD cop, of all things. But I guess he does have a thing for suspenders and fedoras. This is a guy who started as an intern out of UCLA and got on as a full-time business reporter, leaping onto the front page in a Superman suit running up a store aisle with a shopping cart for a photo to accompany a story about "Retail Heroics." And then he started writing really damn well - a la Joseph Mitchell - and coming up with some of the most creative stuff I've seen here. A bright spot in a windowless office. I wish you the best luck in the new chapter of your life. I think you'll make a great cop, a true life action hero trading in the Super suit for a blue uniform. Now you'll really get to apply that "More Cowbell" method at the cop shop. Although it might look kinda funny. And you'd probably get written up in the consent decree."

Ben Jauron - editorial assistant, started Nov. 2002 - "Gruff, smart and surprisingly sweet. Ben would stomp around the newsroom, throwing out his snide, dead-on observations of life and politics. "

Matt Kredell - sports reporter, started Dec. 1998 - " One of the most versatile writers on our staff. He's excelled at every level, and on every beat he's covered. He started out as an agate clerk with us when he was 19. Matt hit his stride on the USC basketball beat in 2007 and the Kings hockey beat this season. Matt's work on the Kings blog is a success story, maintaining traffic that ranked behind only the USC and UCLA blogs .His writing is sharp, insightful and full of depth. The only good thing about Matt leaving is that someone else has a chance to win the fantasy football league next year."

Val Kuklenski - features reporter/copy editor, started Sep. 1999 - "Dogged in pursuit of factual accuracy, and to top it off, she has a quick wit and wicked sense of humor. Val is a sister. She was full of kind and smart words during those woozy moments in my pregnancy. And when my daughter was born, she doted on her like an aunt. She has been a kind of sherpa for me in motherhood and work. When I needed professional guidance, I could always look over to her corner for some off-the-cuff wisdom or a sympathetic ear. She is full of passion, and never shied from letting you know where she stood. When Bush won in 2004, Val was so depressed she called in sick that day. I rang her up at home to make sure she was ok. I don't remember her exact words but she talked then about giving up newspapering to do political work. Maybe now she will."

Matt McHale - sports columnist, started Aug. 1996 - "Matt was here on and off for 20 years, covering the sublime (Kirk Gibson and the 1988 Dodgers World Series championship team) and the ridiculous (some really bad Kings hockey teams) with the same good humor before becoming a deputy sports editor and sharing his story-telling gift with many a young writer. One of this papers' wisest voices. Matt's probably logged more time in press boxes across the country than the rest of our staff combined. A great, great baseball writer. If you ever want to really find out what was happening with the Dodgers during their glory years, Matt's your guy. The last couple of years, he's had some health issues to overcome, but he's never complained about it. The last few weeks, Matt's been writing again. Columns, features, and his first love, baseball. If you have a chance, go back and read some of his last articles, they are some of the finest stories in the paper. Everybody roots for him to regain his health and get back to writing great stuff."

Tom Mendoza - photographer, started July 1990 - "The photo crew lost Tom Mendoza today and we’re all sad to see him go. I’ve known Tom since 1986 from College of the Canyons where he was known as one of the “Photo Gods.” He was good, pretty damn good. I wanted to grow up and be just like him but better looking! Well the latter one worked out for me. But as a photographer, he is one talented shooter who never let that get into his head. He just has the eye and knows the shot to get no matter what it was. When it came down to sports however, forget about it! He knew the sport, the players and exactly who to look for and what to look for. It’s sad to see him go, but he’s got other plans for his talent that’s not in journalism anymore, but still graphic related and driven by all the cash flowing around the survivors in the real estate industry. We’ll all miss you, Tom, and don’t forget us when you’re hanging out with
the Trumps!"

Elizabeth Pyles - librarian and administrative assistant, started Sept. 1994 - "Liz is always seen with a smile. When you pass her in the hall or ask her for help, she is always gracious and kind. Her positive attitude in challenging times has been incredible and will carry her through to her next success."

Rick Quist - executive editor emeritus, started Sept. 1972 - "Rick came to work here when God was a boy. He's the go-to-guy for the history of the Daily News, as a well as the history of the San Fernando Valley. Rick is the soft-hearted-est guys around despite his somewhat gruff exterior. Just a big goofball. Nightside people know him for constantly putting the days news events to the tune of whatever tune was running around that evening. He was always plunking in a jasper - a Rick term for a little dab of a story with no significance to fill a hole - or demanding a jeremy (a headline that must fit) on a story. Everybody who knows him looks up to him. A good man with a long history of keeping this place going."

Fred Shuster - music critic, April 1989 - "He talks like Woody Allen but could do the physical comedy like Harold Lloyd. Fred is a classic. Take the time we were all sitting at our desks when he got up and ambled over to the Zebra Lounge and after arching an eyebrow back at us once or twice, suddenly charged the table, heaving his half-century of mass across the smooth oak surface. Then he came back, sat down and made a few calls. There aren't many people like that in most offices but every newsroom especially should have one - if only to keep the absurd at hand and the tragic at bay. Fred's wicked sense of humor made me seek him out when I wanted a good, hearty laugh -- not the fake, polite kind of laugh -- the real ones when you look at the person and think, wow, is he really this clever and funny. His departure will leave a huge void and the level of wit in the newsroom will take a devastating hit."

Mike Tetreault - editor of letters to the editor, started Aug. 1983 - "Mike wants the world to believe he's a curmudgeon. Sometimes he even tricks people into believing it, at least briefly. The problem is, he can never pull it off for long. His compassion and his humor always shine through. It's what made him one of the most liked folks in all the newsroom. He isn't much of a curmudgeon, but he'd been a great colleague."

Terri Thuente - photo editor, started Dec. 1989 - "Aside from being my Assistant Director of Photography, Terri was my little sister that carried a big stick. We both started at the Daily News on December 4, 1989. As a photographer Terri was a hard charging news photographer that could immediately soften for a sensitive feature story. Her editing skills eventually brought her in as a photo editor. Terri would scare the hell out of a new reporter. You must do this and you must do that---or else. Over time they discovered her soft side (unless they were a UCLA fan). The Daily News photo family has grown and then shrunk over the years. We have all come to appreciate the tremendous effort Terri made to mentor and celebrate the work of an amazing group of journalists. I will mostly miss a close friend as we shared the life and times of our families changing over the years. If you want to keep an eye on what she is doing in her life after the Daily News, go to Go get-em Terri."

Edna Trunnell-Simpson - photo editorial assistant, started Feb. 1990 - "This woman with the spirit of an excited school kid just amazed me every day. With all of the challenges in her personal life Edna brought a cheerful can do approach to everything she did. She learned photography and has made it a passion in her life that will carry on long after her days at the Daily News are a distant memory. Edna just wanted to help in any way she could. She has been the unofficial Daily News family historian. I can't begin to count how many baby showers, farewell parties and other celebrations that she photographed for all departments. She is so loved and will be missed by so many of us that were touched by her kindness."

Billy Witz - sports reporter, started Aug. 1994 - "Since joining the Daily News from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Billy has covered UCLA football and basketball, Galaxy soccer and pro football with a bright and analytical eye, never afraid to tick off a coach with well-considered criticism. A really good guy who says he's never wanted to write a book but clearly has one in him. My favorite Billy story: My first year I had to work the Sunday night shift in the office, answering calls, taking scores, typing up roundups. One time, Billy called in needing to dictate a story. He was at LAX, trying to track down Mike Riley, who was taking a flight into town in order to interview for the UCLA football coaching job. No one had been able to get this guy, or any information on the top candidates for the job. So Billy went to LAX, bought a ticket at the counter on his credit card to get through security and tracked Riley down, as he was coming off the plane. He called me in the office, dictated a perfect story off the top of his head, then tried to get the ticket refunded. That's dedication!

We are happy to learn that Darnell Felton - sports clerk, started March 1996 - and Mohammed Sanati - picture desk editor, started June 2004 - are expected to be back in the newsroom soon as freelancers.

Thanks to Sandra Barrera, Naush Boghossian, Carol Bidwell, Judi Erickson, Chris Weinkopf, Ramona Shelburne, Kevin Modesti, Mary Gautschy, Simone Schramm, Jason Kandel, John Lazar and Dean Musgrove for sending providing comments.

Coming back after a dark day

Hi Guys,

I want thank everybody in the newsroom for showing such class and compassion Friday. It was an awful day. But it was moving to see how everyone came together to support each other, from bringing in coffee and treats in the morning, to the hugs and encouraging words for colleagues who were packing up their stuff. Really, it's you guys and your commitment that has made the job worthwhile. And that's what is going to make it worth coming back to work on Monday.

I've also been heartened by the community response to the news of our layoffs. The comments on show that readers care about the product and they are not happy with the dwindling staff and coverage.

Over the last week, I couldn't help but feel like I was in mourning for the Daily News, and perhaps even journalism. I've already gone through four of the five stages of grief.

Denial: "They can't possibly cut 22 people from our already lean newsroom."

Anger: "Those out-of-touch suits don't know anything about journalism!"

Bargaining: "Maybe we can save some people by job-sharing, taking on new work, anything?"

Depression: "This is the worst day in the paper's history. The Daily News will never be the same."

Next comes acceptance. I'm not really sure I want to accept what's happening to the Daily News and our industry. But I've learned a few things from Mr. Brent Hopkins, including the power of optimism. With his constant, upbeat attitude Brent was able to push himself to do incredible work and inspire his colleagues to do the same.

We can still do great work at the Daily News. We still have the power to tell compelling stories, take amazing photos, design eye-catching pages and write the headlines that demand attention. It's a rough time, sure. But we'll survive.