More Messages: Back to the ER

Categories: Media
In a March 2003 article, the Columbia Journalism Review declared Denver Post owner Dean Singleton to be a "newspaper surgeon" because of the trims he's made at properties acquired under the auspices of MediaNews Group, the sprawling company he heads. Some of these procedures have saved patients such as the Oakland Tribune, while others only delayed the inevitable demise of the Houston Post, etc. Nevertheless, Singleton continues to wield his scalpel, with one incision breaking the skin near the heart of his empire.

The evidence can be found in the October 29 edition of the Post. A few pages after a piece lauding Singleton for winning the "2006 Volunteers of America Humanitarian Award for his support of local charities" came an effort with a far less cheerful headline: "Newspaper Agency to Cut Up to 5% of Workers." The offering reveals that the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations for the Post and the Rocky Mountain News under a joint operating agreement, will reduce its workforce by as many as 94 employees working in various capacities, including "finance, human resources, advertising, information technology, operations and circulation." The overwhelming majority of these folks will be gone by November 13.

Granted, Singleton didn't personally eliminate these positions, but MediaNews' stake in the DNA means he had to sign off on them -- and his fingerprints are on another big slash, too. As noted in this Denver Business Journal report, MediaNews recently announced its intention to ax 101 toilers at the well-regarded San Jose Mercury News mere months after Singleton said "he would not be laying off staff or cutting health benefits."

As every journalism-scene observer knows, newspapers are facing nasty times right now, and Singleton is far from the only print entrepreneur doing the downsizing shuffle. And while this news was terrible for the individuals losing their gigs mere weeks before the holiday season kickoff, at least MediaNews hasn't mandated layoffs among the Post's editorialists after too few of them accepted a buyout package put forward earlier this year. (This Message column and a subsequent followup provide more details.) Nevertheless, the bad times aren't over, and no one will be surprised if the Post newsroom is subjected to more surgery after the first of the year.

Especially considering who's in charge of the emergency room. -- Michael Roberts

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