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MediaNews Group Layoffs: Bay Area Newspaper Group Announces Major Cutbacks

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SAN FRANCISCO — MediaNews Group is combining most of its daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area to save money on their print editions so that the company can invest in ways to bring in more revenue from the Internet and mobile devices.

The shake-up announced Tuesday will affect about a dozen newspapers located across the bay from San Francisco. Beginning Nov. 2, those newspapers will shed their distinct identities and adopt one of two new brands, the East Bay Tribune and The Times.

Fewer newspapers brands will result in fewer jobs. The Bay Area News Group, a division that operates the affected newspapers, expects to reduce a staff of 1,500 by about 8 percent, or 120. An office in Walnut Creek, Calif., will close.

Most of the cuts are expected to occur within the newsrooms and operations that print the newspapers.

Mac Tully, president of the Bay Area News Group, said in an interview that it was inefficient to produce so many different newspapers "when two could do the job."

Like other major newspaper publishers, MediaNews has been hard hit by a prolonged advertising slump that has left it with less money to cover its bills.

The downturn caused MediaNews' parent company, Affiliated Media Inc., to file for bankruptcy protection last year and negotiate a reorganization plan that left it under the ownership of dozens of lenders, led by Bank of America Corp. The new ownership is searching for a replacement for MediaNews co-founder and CEO William Dean Singleton, who is also chairman of The Associated Press.

There had been signs that the steep drop in newspaper advertising was easing late last year, but the industry has seen declines grow larger so far this year.

"The economy has been more challenging than anticipated," Tully said.

But he said most of the changes would have been made even if revenue had been rising, so the newspapers could adjust to the rising demand for the digital delivery of news and advertising. Although specifics weren't provided, the newspapers expect to develop more services for tablet computers and smartphones.

The largest newspapers affected by the overhaul are The Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek. The Oakland newspaper will be folded into the East Bay Tribune brand along with the Alameda Times-Star, The Daily Review, The Argus in Fremont and West County Times in Richmond. The Contra Costa Times will be blended with The Valley Times, San Ramon Valley Times, Tri-Valley Herald, San Joaquin Herald and East County Times.

Most of those newspapers already had been re-classified as editions of MediaNews' largest Bay-area newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. But the newspapers retained their own names, making that switch less noticeable to readers. With Tuesday's changes, the new names will appear at the top of the front page.

In another change announced Tuesday, the Mercury News' brand will be stamped on the San Mateo County Times, another nearby daily owned by MediaNews.

Including its various editions operating under other brands, the Mercury News had an average daily circulation of nearly 578,000 during the six months ending in March. That made it the fifth-largest daily newspaper in the U.S.

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