The Bay Area News Group announced today that it is reversing course and will allow the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and most of its other East Bay newspapers to retain their own mastheads.
The newspaper group, which operates 12 daily newspapers in the East Bay, the South Bay and the Peninsula, had announced in August that it was rebranding many of its newspapers to better reflect the scope of its regional coverage and would only have two mastheads.
The East Bay Tribune was to incorporate the Oakland Tribune, the Alameda Times-Star, the Daily Review, the Argus and the West County Times and The Times was to incorporate the Contra Costa Times and several other papers in the outlying areas of the East Bay. But Bay Area News Group President Mac Tully said today, "We have found a way to keep the Oakland Tribune and most mastheads" based on feedback from readers who opposed the proposed change.
"Instead of emphasizing regional news, we will have more in-depth local news and we think people will be excited about that," Tully said at a news conference at the Tribune after he announced the decision to the paper's staff. Tully said the Tribune also will open two new community media labs in Oakland, which are part of the news group's plan to emphasize social media and community participation that's focused on local news. One of the community media centers will be located in the Tribune's newsroom when the paper moves back to downtown Oakland.
The paper had always been located downtown since it was founded in 1874 but in 2007 it moved about five miles away to Oakport Street, near the Oakland Coliseum and the Oakland airport. The other community media lab will be a satellite office. Oakland Tribune Editor Martin Reynolds said, "Today is a very good day for Oakland. So much of the news about the newspaper industry is about its demise but today we're looking at building something."
Reynolds said the media labs are part of a plan to have "an open newsroom" in which community members contribute items to the newspaper and its web site. Reynolds also said he's "excited" that the paper will be moving back downtown sometime early next year, although the site hasn't yet been determined.
He said newspaper officials considered moving back into the Tribune Tower at 13th and Franklin streets, a landmark building that opened in 1924, but its now in foreclosure proceedings so moving back isn't feasible.
Reynolds said, "The staff never wanted to leave downtown and the community took exception to our move and thought we had somehow abandoned the scene even though that wasn't true. Now we'll be back where we want to be."
Tully said moving the Tribune back downtown "is part of re-engaging the community and inviting them in and this building (on Oakport Street) is not conducive to that." David Butler, editor of the news group's Bay Area newspaper, said the changes planned by the news group will still result in job cuts but not as many as originally planned.
Butler said the group had planned to lay off up to 48 newsroom employees but now only about 25 news employee will be cut. Tully said the news group will still proceed with plans to close its printing press operation in Walnut Creek and move those production operations to an existing printing complex in San Jose. Carl Hall, the executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which represents employees at many news organizations in Northern California and Hawaii, said "the number of layoffs is smaller than we had feared but it's still a big number."
Hall said the 25 news employees who will be let go represent about 10 percent of the Bay Area News Group's employees in the East Bay and "it's a sad day for journalism quality when you lay off that high a percentage," especially since the news group has cut many other reporters in recent years. However, Hall said, "I give them credit for re-thinking their plans to shut down most of their mastheads" and listening to readers' concerns.
Hall also said the community news labs "are an innovative approach and are potentially exciting." The Bay Area News Group is a division of the California Newspapers Partnership, which is owned by Denver-based MediaNews Group along with partners Stephens Media and Gannett Inc.
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