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Herald selling printing plant and relocating

- Yet another round of downsizing


Published: May 24, 2013

IN A move that didn’t surprise longtime employees, the Monterey County Herald announced this week the newspaper is laying off more workers, getting rid of its printing press, selling its Ryan Ranch office building and moving its remaining operations to an undisclosed site.

In an email message to Herald employees Wednesday, Herald publisher Gary Omernick said the changes will result in the paper being printed somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“There is an industry-wide effort to relocate newspaper operations into facilities that better suit our needs, and this is part of our ongoing digital strategy,” according to Omernick, in a press release printed in the Herald Thursday. Nationwide, newspapers have seen sharp declines in revenue and readership and have been forced to make significant cutbacks.

While they knew something was up, most employees didn’t know exactly what the newspaper’s latest move to save money would be until they received Omernick’s email message at the end of Wednesday’s work day. Press workers were also called saying they would be laid off in about a month.

“All of (press) production got laid off yesterday,” according to an employee, who said workers were notified they would be out of a job by the end of June.

A steep decline

Omernick said there’s no timetable for the move, and tried to put a good face on things by claiming the changes will allow the Herald’s “content, advertising and business operations to relocate into office space with easy access for employees and customers.”

The publisher also stressed the changes would “not affect the content or delivery of the newspaper” and that moving print operations “will improve color quality and color capacity.”

“Our focus remains meeting the needs of our audience and our customers,” Omernick said.

The Herald will begin “staging down production” in mid-June and will complete the transition by the end of that month, Omernick said.

One former Herald employee described Omernick’s message as “sugarcoated” and described it as another example of a what happens when a local publication gets taken over by a large, out-of-town corporation.

“What we are seeing is another step in the continuing dismantling of a once pretty good newspaper,” the former employee told The Pine Cone.

In November 2011, the Herald laid off employees in the ad production department and outsourced that work to India, where it is now done. Over the last decade, and especially since the economy nosedived in 2006, the paper has eliminated jobs in management, the newsroom and the advertising department and imposed furloughs on remaining employees. The print circulation has declined by almost half, bylined stories on the front page are frequently written by unpaid interns, freelance columnists have been told they’d have to start working for nothing, and the front page — formerly off-limits to advertising — routinely carries large ads.

‘Saw it coming a long time ago’

Another former Herald employee, who didn’t want to be named because he didn’t want to jeopardize any possible future employment there, said the paper’s move “follows the trend” in downsizing.

“Nobody is ever surprised by anything that happens anymore,” the former worker said. “It’s more like, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”

Several other Herald workers also told The Pine Cone that Omernick’s announcement is not stunning.
One of them is former Herald printer and graphic artist Larry Ellis, who worked at the newspaper for 52 years before being laid off last year when it outsourced his work to lower-paid workers in India.

“I saw it coming a long time ago,” he told The Pine Cone Thursday.

Ellis, 71, said about a half-dozen people work in the press room. He figures the paper will have its printing done at the San Jose Mercury News, which also has put its large building up for sale.

‘Way too much space’

Another employee said the Herald’s fewer than 100 workers, in a building that not too long ago housed more than 200, don’t begin to fill the large Ryan Ranch complex — which mostly does not have open windows or a working air conditioning system, and becomes sweltering on warmer days.

“If you’ve walked through the building lately, there are big open areas and open desks,” he said. “So obviously there is way too much space for the people working there.”

While the worker said he didn’t believe quality of the Herald’s journalism would suffer with the reorganization, he said it’s possible deadlines for reporters would be earlier with the printing no longer in house.

Lewis Leader, who worked at the Herald as a reporter and editor for 18 years, and later at the LA Times as a regional editor, told The Pine Cone that an employee he spoke to last night was still trying to make sense of the announcement.

“This is a sad day,” Leader said. “I remember the great excitement and optimism when the Herald completed its move from downtown Monterey to Ryan Ranch in 1990.”

Some have suggested that the Scotts Valley-based Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Herald — both owned by MediaNews and managed by a company called Digital First Media — could merge, while another said it would be logistically too difficult for employees for both newspapers.

In an April interview with John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, Paton said he didn’t think news organizations were dying but that newspapers “are going to stop running in print.”

“Newspapers in print are clearly going away,” Paton told journalist Matthew Ingram. “I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.”

But he said print advertising at the company has fallen dramatically, and revenue from online operations hasn’t come close to making up the difference.

Omernick reiterated the company’s focus on the Internet in his email to employees, saying, “Monetizing real estate and right-sizing office space to fit our digitally focused strategy is something [Digital First Media] is doing — and has done — across the organization.”

However, from a reader’s perspective, the Herald has done little to improve its website, which is bogged down with irritating pop-up advertisements.

Editorial errors, such as name misspellings, are usually left unchanged on the site, which is often filled with links to generic news stories that are not pertinent to Monterey County.

On the leading edge?

One Herald employee said the idea of replacing dollars the Herald has earned in print with digital advertising cash doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“They think they are somehow on the leading edge of digital news,” he said. “But in order to make that work you have to have an established name. It works for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, but these guys [the Herald] doesn’t have a national reputation, and there is no reason for anyone to depend on them.”

While Omernick directed questions about the Herald’s changes to New York-based Digital First Media spokesman Jonathan Cooper, Cooper did not return several phone and email messages left by The Pine Cone.