Chronicle Financial Woes Could be Fiction

Retired pressmen say Hearst overstates the case for bargaining leverage

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20: San Francisco Chronicle journeyman pressman Niel Nielsen inspects a copy of the Chronicle after it rolled off the printing press at one of the Chronicle's printing facilities September 20, 2007 in San Francisco, California. Newspaper sales in the U.S. continue to slide as people turn to the internet and television for their news. The Chronicle saw its circulation plunge more than 15 percent in 2006 to 398,000 during the week which has hurt newspaper vendor Rick Gaub's business. Unable to sell as many papers as he used to, Gaub is looking for a new way to earn money after selling papers for 42 years. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    Fans of the San Francisco Chronicle can rest assured that there will be a paper arriving on their doorstep for the foreseeable future, because parent company Hearst isn't losing money as fast as they say according to retired pressman Denis Mosgofian.

    When the Hearst Corporation declared they were “losing” money in the 2004-2006 round of negotiations with the Local 4 pressmen, they told us they were losing $1 million a week, and laid down demands for huge concessions worth millions to the company. When that did not work, the next week they began declaring they were losing $2 million a week. When that was not convincing, two weeks later they declared the paper was losing $3 million a week.

    Hearst, as a private company, is under no compulsion to share their books with the public, and tallies disclosed in the last round of contract negotiations with the unions "would not have been admissable in a court of law," argues Mosgofian, a former president of the union.

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    The theory goes that the highly-publicized financial woes and dreary outlook painted by the publisher is just a way of gaining more leverage against union negotiators looking to stave off a reduction of up to half the paper's workforce.

    In the last few years, the Hearst partnered with Canadian company Transcontinental to build a state-of-the-art press at the cost of up to a billion dollars.

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    However, none of the union pressmen who've applied for jobs at the new plant have been given an offer according to fellow former pressman Bruce Carleton. Manpower Inc., which is hiring printers for Transcontinental, is further "blackballing" union men with decades of experience, Carleton told the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

    Over 100 of our pressmen have either taken the online test and/or progressed to an interview, but not one of them has gotten a job at this new printing plant.

    If true, readers can rejoice that there will still be a newspaper. However, there would also be fewer, and more poorly paid, newspaper-related jobs.

    It's an interesting story, and it certainly paints a rosier picture for the competence of Hearst executives.
    Rather than the nine-figure stinker of an investment that was subsequently horribly mismanaged, in this version of the story, they come off as ruthless businessmen in the George Hearst mold, and Chronicle management shrewd media manipulators a la son William Randolph Hearst.

    Too bad Orson Welles isn't around to direct.

    Jackson West certainly sees Phil Bronstein's mea culpa in a new light this morning.