San Francisco paper cutting staff by 25%

May 19, 2007|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

San Francisco Chronicle executives told employees Friday that they would cut the newsroom staff by one quarter as readers and advertisers continued to flee to the Internet.

About 80 union members and 20 management employees will lose their jobs, reducing the Chronicle's editorial staff to about 300. The paper had an editorial staff of 570 in 2000.

Unlike many big-city newspapers, which have continued to make solid profits despite new-media challenges, the Hearst Co. publication has been losing money for years. The paper's daily circulation has declined by a third, from its 1990 peak of 566,020 to 373,805 in September.

But its website,, has a robust following, with the sixth-largest audience of unique viewers (4.2 million) in April among American dailies. In another measure, by page views, ranks only fractionally behind, the fourth-place Los Angeles Times website.

The problem for newspaper companies has been making money from those Web audiences. Big-city papers typically get about 5% of their ad revenue from the Web and 80% from print ads. (The rest comes from subscriptions and newsstand sales.)

Chronicle Publisher Frank Vega sent a memo to employees saying he hoped that the job reductions could be accomplished through voluntary buyouts, but that layoffs were possible.

"Unfortunately, many of the industry's financial challenges are magnified at The Chronicle, and have been for some time," Vega wrote. "Our goal is to provide the financial strength that allows us to continue to serve our communities in the Bay Area."

Employees expressed sadness about the loss of reporters, editors and photographers.

"It's certainly a deep cut and there is no way you can end up with the level of ambition and comprehensive coverage we have tried to have," said Carl T. Hall, a science writer and union representative.

"If we put together the newsroom in a sensible way, we can still do quality journalism here," Hall said.

Many big-city papers have been hit by cuts in recent years. The Times is now buying out about 70 employees from a staff of 925. In September, the Dallas Morning News cut its newsroom by one-fifth to about 450.

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