Monday, the Contra Costa Times edition of the San Jose Mercury News subsumed the 150-year-old Oakland Tribune nameplate. The re-dubbed East Bay Times will cover Alameda and Contra Costa counties and the Tribune masthead will be no more. The same thing happened to the Tri-Valley Herald, where I spent my print career, when the oldest masthead in the county was folded into the Contra Costa Times after the companies merged in 2006.
The East Bay Times will join the San Jose Mercury News as the two Bay Area News Group daily publications (Monday delivery will be resumed for subscribers to the former Tribune along the I-880 corridor). Those two publications will compete in the daily market with the San Francisco Chronicle to serve the bulk of the Bay Area’s more than 7 million residents with digital and print news.
As I have written, time will tell how well a steadily reduced newsroom staff can cover the two counties.
Perhaps, the most interesting news took place in Southern California where the former Los Angeles News Group won an auction to purchase the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise out of bankruptcy.
The high bid in the auction was submitted by the Tribune Co., owners of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. The federal Justice Dept. stepped in and won an injunction against that purchase because the new combination would dominate readership and advertising opportunities in Southern California. Attorneys for the Tribune Co. pointed out, to no avail, that the economics of newspapering have changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet.
The deal with Digital First marked a reversal for the company which earlier had shopped its print publications to see what the market was. When no buyer emerged, the company has done a 180-degree turn and now owns two very desirable properties in Southern California. When combined with the existing dailies (three in the Inland Empire and six in Los Angeles County), the footprint of what’s now called the Southern California News Group will be impressive.
Sharon Ryan, who heads both the Bay Area operation and the Western region said in a statement, “Our deep affection for local news was the motivation for pursuing The Orange County Register and the Riverside Press-Enterprise. We understand how to make local news both meaningful and profitable.”
Local news has been the franchise of the company since it started buying up family-owned publications. What’s changed it the definition of local news.
In its earlier iterations, MediaNews Group developed clusters of newspapers that could share editorial resources as well as production and distribution facilities. The Bay Area and SoCal clusters will be perfectly situated to do the same. Just how well the legacy print publications can prop up advertising revenues while the firm pushes to expand digital revenues will determine what news coverage will be.
What that will mean for the even shrinking number of journalists and the resulting reduction in coverage will be seen over the next few years.