Oakland mourns the loss of its daily paper

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Photo by Sara Bloomberg

 

As a weekly insert, the Oakland Tribune now has one reporter dedicated specifically to watching over a city of close to 400,000 people.

By ANGELA WOODALL

OAKLAND, California  — When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, the Oakland Tribune was staffed with an arsenal of reporters, editors and photographers. Their coverage of the earthquake earned the Tribune a second Pulitzer Prize, and other awards followed.

Two decades later, layoffs, buyouts and pay cuts had stripped the paper down to a fraction of its earlier size and, on April 4, 2016, a skeletal staff produced the last edition of the Oakland Tribune as a daily paper.

Beginning the next day, the Tribune became a weekly insert in the newly named East Bay Times, which combined the Oakland paper with the Contra Costa Times, the Daily Review in Hayward and the Fremont Argus. Those cities would no longer have a daily paper covering local news. Instead, the former mastheads would only be seen once a week, on Fridays.

Oakland residents and officials reacted with a mixture of disappointment and anger at the move, which would all but end a daily that had served the city for 142 years.

“You like to see your hometown paper. It’s civic pride.”
— Tim Foster, Oakland resident

It’s hard to see the Tribune’s familiar masthead only once a week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.

The paper was a trusted and widely respected fixture in our community and the field of journalism, she said, adding that she is hoping the name change will still allow for coverage about the people, events and issues that define Oakland.

“I hold out hope that there might be a return to the familiar moniker for our hometown paper as the city continues to grow and shine,” she said.

Tim Foster, a 55-year-old Oakland resident, saw the Tribune as a symbol of Oakland. “You like to see your hometown paper,” he said. “It’s civic pride. That was our paper and now we don’t have a paper.”

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Oakland resident Tim Foster, 55, leaves DeLauer’s News Stand after buying a newspaper. Photo by Sara Bloomberg.

Bay Area News Group executives described the merger of the papers as an economic necessity that would be a plus for readers, who, they said, had shown a demand for the combination of mastheads.

“Readers have been quite clear with us about how much they like their newspapers and what they want more of, and we’re changing to serve them better,” President Sharon Ryan said in a March 2016 staff memo. “We’ll give them better focused front page stories that cover national and Bay Area news from each region’s point of view.”

However, the paper’s increasing regional focus prompted Diane Woloshin, a resident attending a May 3 Oakland City Council, to cancel her subscription three years ago. “I could read that stuff online so I stopped subscribing.”

James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, continues to subscribe to the East Bay Times but said he leafs through it quickly because the stories are not pertinent to Oakland, or timely. “The Tribune just doesn’t cover the stories that need covering or tell people what’s going on.”

On May 3, two employees, a photographer and database producer, were laid off. A month later, the East Bay weeklies stopped copy-editing stories.

Ryan’s assertion about the demand for regional news also clashed with statements she made the same month Digital First Media, the publisher of the Tribune and the other papers under the BANG name, bought the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise.

She said in a statement that the sale was motivated by what she called DFM’s “deep affection for local news,” adding that, “we understand how to make local news both meaningful and profitable.”

The company announced layoffs at the Register almost immediately after paying a final price of $50 million for the two papers.

At the same time, BANG was preparing to cut 20 percent of the approximately 200 reporters working for the Bay Area papers through layoffs, buyouts and firings. The cuts were expected to come from copy editors, designers and other non-reporter positions. On May 3, two employees, a photographer and database producer, were laid off.

A month later, the East Bay weeklies stopped copy-editing stories. Instead reporters would be responsible for proofreading and fact checking their work, according to an April 22, 2016 memo from BANG Managing Editor Bert Robinson.

Robinson said the alternative was “cutting more deeply into the ranks of content producers or neglecting our digital needs.” Economic realities, he said, “force us to make smart, tough choices.”

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Curtis Keye, 61, buys a copy of the new East Bay Times. The Oakland Tribune was the local newspaper of record since 1874. Photo by Sara Bloomberg.

As a weekly insert, the Tribune now has one reporter dedicated specifically to watching over a city of close to 400,000 people.

Daniel O’Kelly, a telecom project manager who moved to Oakland a year ago, questioned the timing of the consolidation and cuts.

Oakland is a news-rich city with an identity distinct from its neighbors, he said.

“It’s important to capture that,” he said. The East Bay Times, he said, is “putting a blanket over a paper that should be distinct.”

 

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