Friday, June 25, 2010

Tom Blair's Return Overshadowed by More Layoffs at the San Diego Union-Tribune.


** A constellation of changes impacting the staff of the San Diego Union-Tribune were announced Thursday, June 17, 2010.

** As first speculated on this blog on Monday, June 14, Tom Blair (above), a near-beloved institution on the landscape of San Diego journalism, was among the changes, returning to the venue that first made him famous. Mr. Blair will return to the Union-Tribune as a columnist, with his first write-up expected to be published Sunday, June 27, 2010. His additional responsibilities will include being a multi-media personality and commentator via the web and radio pod-casts - as well as making appearances with the U-T's broadcast news partner - ABC-affiliate KGTV Channel 10 in San Diego.

** At the time of this final update (Friday, June 25, 2010), the jubilant news of Mr. Blair's return was overshadowed by more than 30 layoffs impacting the editorial and support staff of the Union-Tribune. A partial list of confirmed names follows. If there are names of people looking for work who are missing from this list, please e-mail me here. All sources are confidential:

1. Steve Adamek (copy editor)
2. Marc Balanky (multi-media editor)
3. Leslie Berestein (reporter)
4. Michael Burge (reporter)
5. Derrik Chinn (reporter)
6. Leana Dekock (sports desk)
7. Jeff Dillon (web content)
8. Alan Drooz (web content)
9. George Hutti (copy editor)
10. Jose Luis Jiménez (reporter)
11. Anne Krueger (reporter)
12. Tovin Lapan (reporter)
13. Angela Lau (reporter)
14. James Laurin (copy editor)
15. Bruce Lieberman (reporter)
16. Anne Magill (reporter)
17. Marcia Manna (reporter)
18. John Marelius (reporter)
19. Rachel Moore (copy editor)
20. Ruben Navarrette (columnist)
21. Robert Pincus (reporter)
22. Jeff Ristine (reporter)
23. Ozzie Roberts (reporter)
24. Leonel Sanchez (reporter)
25. Basim Shamiyeh (systems editor)
26. Fred Sidhu (reporter)
27. David Gaddis Smith (foreign editor)
28. Ken Stone (web content)
29. Heather Urquhart (copy editor)
30. Nicole Vargas (reporter)
31. Hank Wesch (reporter)
32. Doug Williams (sports editor)
33. Bill Zavestoski (web content producer)
34. Martin Zimmerman (copy editor)

** According to long-time San Diego-based public relations guru Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, prior to last Thursday's layoffs, the management of the San Diego Union-Tribune had composed a list of 34 names to be slashed, 12 of which were to be offered the opportunity to re-join the staff as entry-level reporters. (Another report pegged the expected number of lower-level staff writers at 13, plus 3 new videographers and 2 new graphics reporters/designers.)

** One long-time U-T writer who was laid off posted an update on Facebook about being offered just such an opportunity with a substantial pay cut - OR - to take six-months severance after nearly 30 years of service. At the time of this post, a small number of laid-off reporters are still trying to decide whether to take the demotions to buy themselves more time during the current recession.

** Nevertheless, it is clear the management of the San Diego Union-Tribune had prepared for every possible contingency before executing last week's layoffs. They included composing and posting an online want-ad to recruit entry-level writers -- to replace higher-salaried reporters laid off -- who may choose to reject the paper's offer to be re-hired as lower-paid reporters. (These previously senior-level reporters who decide to stay on will be called "associate staff writers." New hires joining the U-T will be called "junior staff writers.")

** As expected, newsroom executives at the Union Tribune reasserted its mantra to "do more with less," desiring to stay lean and nimble with fewer staff members, while still competing aggressively in the digital age to "be first" with stories breaking in the greater San Diego region. (At the time of this post, a flurry of changes continues, including finalizing a preliminary list of new beat assignments.)

** Jeff Light, the recently appointed editor-in-chief of the San Diego Union-Tribune, outlined his vision for the paper in an "Editor's Note" published last Thursday on the Union-Tribune's website. He declined comment Tuesday, June 15 about the then impending layoffs, citing confidentiality of personnel matters. (Mr. Light formerly helmed The Orange County Register.)

** For nearly 10 years, the San Diego Union-Tribune has been hard hit by job losses impacting every department at its main operations center in Mission Valley and at its bureau offices throughout the San Diego county. However, unlike other papers that have folded without a buyer, e.g., the now defunct Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer - the San Diego Union-Tribune found a buyer in Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills - in March 2009.

** Despite the tremendously somber nature of the layoffs, they underscore renewed confidence by Mr. Light and his bosses about the long-range future of the print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune, albeit in a continued scaled-back form with its online and broadcast television partners, Sign On San and KGTV (ABC) Channel 10.

** KGTV Channel 10 News Director Joel Davis issued the following statement to this blog site about its partnership with the Union-Tribune and its impending relationship with Tom Blair:

** "Our alliance with the Union-Tribune has allowed us to strengthen our brand of major news coverage," Mr. Davis wrote. "If you want to know the major news in San Diego, between 10News and the U-T, viewers can be assured we have it covered. The partnership also allows us to have more fresh content – which means more interesting news stories and less repetition. We’re excited to hear about Tom Blair, too. He has been an institution in San Diego journalism, and his addition strengthens the ability of our partnership to bring viewers and readers the best coverage of major news in San Diego."

** Meanwhile, the return of Mr. Blair (see photo above) to the Union-Tribune, means the 60-year-old San Diego journalism icon will come full circle, returning to the publication where his career started more than 40 years ago at the San Diego Evening-Tribune, which merged with the San Diego Union in 1992. (The San Diego Union was founded in 1868, and remains, in its incarnation as the San Diego Union-Tribune, one of the oldest still-standing daily publications in Southern California.)

** Mr. Blair, who joined San Diego Magazine in 1995, left the monthly publication in April while its owners, CurtCo Media Labs, sought to find a buyer. (The magazine has since been sold to a trio of investors, which includes former owner Jim Fitzpatrick, 64 - who first bought the monthly in 1994 - before selling it to CurtCo in 2005.)

** Mr. Blair's career reads like a page out of an Horatio Alger short story. His career began in 1968 as a resident "gopher" - an unpaid intern - in the newsroom of the San Diego Evening-Tribune - which, like its rival, the morning San Diego Union, was then located in the same office building in downtown San Diego. After graduating from San Diego State University, Blair then became a paid "trainee" - a participant in the paper's editorial training program - and was among those selected to formally join the newsroom staff of the Evening-Tribune during the early 1970s.

** He steadily climbed the newsroom ladder as a reporter, later becoming a ghost writer for columnist Neil Morgan at the Evening-Tribune. He then, in 1982, in good-natured journalistic parlance, "turned traitor" - moving to the rival San Diego Union - and continued writing his stand-alone column after the two papers consolidated their operations in 1992. Three years later, he left to become editor of San Diego Magazine - a monthly lifestyle publication aimed at affluent readers - that has remained in continuous publication since 1948.

** According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, for the six months ending March 31, 2010, the San Diego Union-Tribune is the 23rd most-read daily newspaper in the United States, with a circulation of 249,630, ahead of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Newark Star-Ledger. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, with a circulation of 2.1 million, remains the highest-circulation daily in the United States, and the only newspaper among the top 25 that continues to post gains in the face of an industry-wide downturn in print-based advertising revenue and readership.

Original Material © 2010 by David Kusumoto Communications.

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