Cutting back in Bakersfield

I can't remember the last time I posted media news out of our esteemed neighbor to the north, Kern County. (Though the recent Ry Cooder and Mister Jalopy adventure in the Mojave Desert crossed into Kern.) Today, though, the Bakersfield Californian announced cuts that are noteworthy because 1) the Californian has been a leader of newspaper innovation on the web, 2) Even so it's experiencing the steepest drop in revenue in the paper's history, and 3) CEO Richard Beene's message to the staff seems like the right way to communicate bad news without dissembling or pandering. His email is after the jump.

Dec, 3, 2008
To: All TBC Employees
From: Richard Beene, president & CEO

By now most of you know that our company is going through another painful downsizing. I want to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.

I�m certain that all of you are aware of the economic challenges that face our community and our nation. For those of us on the West coast, this started a full 18 months ago when the real estate bubble burst. That was followed by the credit crunch and a wave of bank failures that triggered an economic crisis of historic proportions.

Here at TBC we�ve witnessed the steepest and sharpest drop off in revenue in the long history of our company. Consumers are tightening their belts and when that happens, our advertisers feel the pinch and reduce their spending.

Over the past year, we have tried to avoid this day by sharply curtailing expenses, cutting travel, freezing dozens of jobs and holding other positions open for 90 or more days before filling them.

It eventually became clear that our efforts fell short of bringing our spending in line with our revenue. So today we announced a staff reduction that will eliminate 25 jobs from The Californian and our subsidiary, Mercado Nuevo. This is a painful decision that was only made as a last resort to bring our financial house in order. Unfortunately these steps are necessary to allow us to continue to invest in new products and technology to move our company forward.

So what does this mean for those of us who remain? For one, it�s important to remember that this downturn is not industry specific. If you run a business in this community or this country today, chances are you�re facing many of the same issues. We�re looking at a global recession that will have to run its course.

In the meantime, a little perspective is in order. We have done great work this past year and we�ll do even better work in the future. And we are all lucky to work for an ownership that has always taken a long-term view and only wants the best for its employees.

We will continue to provide top-flight health care to our employees and their families. We�ll continue to emphasize personal wellness and health programs to encourage everyone to live a healthier and more productive life. We will continue to invest in technology and new products to better serve our readers and advertisers. And we will continue to give you the tools to be successful.

Lastly, we�ll continue to invest in the kind of journalism that leaves Bakersfield and Kern County a better place to live and work. That is our pledge to you.

It�s also important to remember that we have some exciting programs in the works, the kinds of things that will position our company well when the economic rebound comes. Some of these include:

� Our partnership with Yahoo! is beginning to pay important dividends. We see this as a way to leverage our combined strengths to grow both revenue and market share and give us a better foothold in the digital sales arena.
� Our sales team has a New Business Development team that is focused on smaller advertisers that are clearly our future. This group is scoring success after success and I only see this becoming a larger and more important part of our sales efforts.
� The newsroom will be looking at �reinventing� itself next year, including a possible redesign and a whole new emphasis on capturing our community both in spirit and in tone.
� Our web portal will undergo a significant redesign next year as we continue to invest in a future that is clearly more digitally focused.
� Our Colorado team of designers is working on Printcasting, a state-of-the-art web to print program that will truly bring customized publishing to the masses. This is funded by the Knight Foundation and will begin to roll out next year.

These are just a few of the exciting things that lay before us. I know these are difficult times and these decisions are never easy. But it�s important to remember that there is good work to do, and we�re on a path that will allow us to weather this economic storm and emerge from it stronger than before.

I know you may have some questions for Ginger or me, so today at 4 p.m. we�ll gather in the third floor conference room at Eye Street for a short meeting. For those of you at HFPC, we will gather at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday) for a similar meeting.

Thank you for your support.

Richard Beene
President & CEO

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