Can Dean Singleton Save the Oakland Trib?
Kent, Chris, Washington Journalism Review
The financially troubled Oakland Tribune has a new owner, but it's understandable if staffers aren't dancing in the streets. William Dean Singleton says he plans to slash costs and eliminate about 400 of 650 jobs at the 118-year-old daily when he takes over this month--a modus operandi that has kept other struggling Singleton acquisitions afloat.
Singleton hails his purchase as a resuscitation, saying the Tribune was destined to close without the $8 million in capital he provided to buy its name, 110,000 circulation and advertising accounts. And veteran editor David Burgin, tapped to oversee editorial development from his post as head of Singleton's Alameda Newspaper Group, promises big improvements in content and coverage. Singleton has also named Pearl Stewart, a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter who covered Oakland for 11 years, as editor.
Under Burgin's guidance, readers of the "new" Tribune can expect such Singleton hallmarks as splashy graphics, high profile columnists and warm-and-fuzzy news stories. Before becoming editor in chief of the Alameda group, comprised of four dailies east of San Francisco and now the Tribune, Burgin edited the San Francisco Examiner, the Orlando Sentinel and the Singleton-owned Dallas Times Herald and Houston Post. Singleton now owns 17 papers.
Tribune owners Robert and Nancy Maynard, who bought the Tribune in 1983 from Gannett but earned profits in only two of the following eight years, signed a deal with Singleton in mid-October. The Maynards nearly had to close the paper in August 1991 before a rescue by the Freedom Forum (see WJR, October 1991). Fourteen months later, Robert Maynard told employees he could no longer run the paper, the nation's only black-owned major daily, because of his long battle with prostate cancer. Singleton will repay the $9.5 million the Forum had loaned the Maynards.
Singleton's immediate plans include opening a Washington bureau and beefing up the San Francisco and Sacramento bureaus, Burgin says. The paper will also add full color and share its sports and entertainment sections with the Alameda papers. A new column, "Frisco Schmisco," will hype the civic rivalry with San Francisco.
Burgin says that "the Tribune was like the Alamo--they didn't have enough guns and enough bodies." That will change, he says, by joining forces with the Alameda chain. Editorial and business operations will be combined and operate from one location after the newsroom is moved out of the earthquake-damaged Tribune Tower.
Alec Davis of the Tri-Valley Herald fears he and other reporters from the suburban Alameda chain may appear as outsiders when covering Oakland's multi-ethnic population. …