Fed up after years of cost-cutting and layoffs, employees of the San Jose Mercury News took out a “Help Wanted” ad asking for a new owner.
“WANTED: NEW OWNER,” the ad reads. “Employees of your community’s newspaper want a new attitude respecting quality jobs and quality journalist on the part of ownership. And if the attitude won’t change, maybe the ownership should.”
The message was repeated in similar ads across the country, an appeal from unionized newsrooms for deep-pocketed buyers to rescue a host of papers from Digital First Media and the New York-based hedge fund that runs them.
“We haven’t had any across-the-board raises—cost of living, that sort of thing—since I joined the company,” Mercury News reporter Rob Salonga told the Pacific Media Workers Guild.
Salonga, hired by the Bay Area News Group in 2007 and transferred to the Merc in 2012, says he’s endured pay cuts, unpaid furloughs and a dearth of healthcare options.
According to the guild, Media News/Digital First “operate in the black but benefit little from the revenues they generate.” Instead of investing in better journalism, the owners have “sold off presses, offices and properties, extracting the proceeds.”
Digital First operates under the aegis of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund specializing in “vulture investments.”
Sale of the Mercury News property reportedly made the company $30.5 million. Yet newspaper staff at BANG papers remain a quarter their size of six years ago. Asking management for a new contract, Salonga said, “is pretty much like talking to a wall.”
“Newspapers are supposed to be a community asset, a public service,” Salonga said. “It’s high time to make a push for reinvestment into the field and into the craft—content delivery in print and online. Professional news-gathering has never and will never go out of date.”