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Society of Professional Journalists Chapter Expresses Grave Concern Over Cutbacks at MediaNews Papers in Northern California--Calls for Greater Accountability for Effects on News Coverage

For Immediate Release:

Linda Jue, President, NorCal SPJ, 415/321-1733
Tom Murphy, SPJ NorCal Board Member, 415/924-3364

San Francisco -- The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists today expressed grave concerns about the latest round of staff reductions at the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and the 26 other regional newspapers controlled by the MediaNews Group.

These cutbacks--to be initiated in the next few days--combined with two staff reductions in 2007, raise serious doubts about the newspaper
chain's ability to cover local and regional news responsibly, according to the chapter's board.

"Reports from chapter members signal to us that we can no longer stand on the sidelines when it comes to scrutinizing the effects of these cutbacks on the breadth and quality of news coverage," said board President Linda Jue. "We aren't simply talking about saving jobs. We're talking about how business decisions are narrowing the choices reporters and editors make about which stories to pursue. This is of special concern during an election year, when keeping the public informed about fast-changing economic, political and social issues is essential to the democratic process."

The board is mindful of the economic challenges facing newspapers today, but it calls on MediaNews to rethink its current business strategy and continue its stated commitment to quality journalism. The board notes that the latest announcement of budget cuts comes just after MediaNews reported a 33.9 percent increase in quarterly net income, placing its current action in apparent conflict with the company's own mission statement, which begins, "Our corporate mission is to be the leading provider of local news, information and services in our strategically located markets by continually expanding and leveraging our news gathering resources."

The long-term consequences of newsroom cutbacks have been well documented through ongoing public discourse about the state of journalism nationwide: reduced competition, diminished quality, limits on the flow of information to the public, falling readership and, eventually, consolidation or closure of regional newspapers.

SPJ is dedicated to the perpetuation of high journalistic standards that keep citizens well informed on matters affecting their lives and their communities. Therefore, the chapter has a professional obligation to monitor the impact of this series of cutbacks on the free flow of reliable information to residents living in communities served by MediaNews.

The NorCal chapter will work with its membership to collect data documenting the effects of the cutbacks on San Francisco Bay Area news coverage. Chapter representatives will seek direct discussions with senior management of MediaNews as well as journalists, union representatives, media analysts, academics, community leaders and other interested parties. The board plans to share its findings with the public and with concerned governmental officials.

Founded in 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is the nation's most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.

For further information, contact: Linda Jue, 415/321-1733 or Tom Murphy, 415/924-3364.


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