Evaluating the Draft 

Dozens of these journalists will soon have new or no jobs.

MediaNews executives have publicly played down speculation that they will go on a firing spree once they get control of the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News. MediaNews president Jody Lodovic told the Times that while the takeover will create obvious staffing redundancies — three TV columnists, for instance — people won't necessarily lose their jobs. "We would have an opportunity to redeploy resources, and not cut back resources. ... You don't always have to eliminate staffing." Taking those comments at face value for a moment (yeah, right), I've found some places where management will probably be looking to redeploy writers and editors. Make sure you give them all nice new beats, Jody.

Entertainment Sections

ANG, the Times, and the Merc all have their own weekend sections — which could be consolidated and improved by retaining the best of each. ANG's Preview has a wonderfully spare one-column table of contents that wastes no space; on the other hand, the calendar in Preview is visually dreadful — the listings look like they haven't even been typeset. The Merc's eye and the Times' Time Out Weekend have much better listings. Go with theirs. And keep Randy McMullen's Top 10, another handy guide. Geographically speaking, the Times and ANG cover a lot of the same territory so the two should merge, and Timeout is the best of the three, overall. Leave San Jose alone — the South Bay is another world.

Features Sections

The merger will create more editors than will be needed in this category. Each weekend section has its own editor and the weekday feature sections all have their own editors. Someone's gotta go. Then there are the old shoe-gazing columnists who need a shoe to the butt: Ray Orrock, we knew thee too well. We also could do without the community columns — Martin Snapp, Chris Treadway — in our daily paper.

TV Columnists: ANG: Susan Young, On TV; Times: Chuck Barney, As Seen on TV; Merc: Charlie McCollum.

Analysis: You don't need three paid remote jockeys.

Recommendation: Keep McCollum. He's funny and prolific — and he's got a blog in addition to the column.

Movie Critics: ANG: Barry Caine; Times: Randy Myers; Merc: Bruce Newman.

Analysis: Same principle as TV — you don't need three full-timers to cover a handful of new movies every week.

Recommendation: All three are funny and insightful, but business is business. Keep Caine and let him do his more general overview stories; Newman or Myers can handle the individual film reviews. Freelancers and wire service can handle the leftovers.

Pop Music Beat: ANG: Jim Harrington; Times: Tony Hicks; Merc: Brad Kava and Marian Liu.

Analysis: If you're the kind of reader who needs to have the word "mixtape" defined for you, then daily music criticism is for you. (By the by, mixtapes are "underground CDs with a mix of songs that are produced differently than on the radio," according to the Merc.) As a rule of thumb, music writing in the dailies is hopelessly mainstream and square. But hey, squares like music, too.

Recommendation: The merger presents an opportunity to use music writing to attract younger readers and serving niche interests. Dedicate Liu, who occasionally covers rap for the Merc, to working a hip-hop beat full-time. Her stories can run in the ANG papers, especially the Trib, which has been woefully MIA covering the local hip-hop scene, notwithstanding Oliver Wang's monthly column. You don't need both Kava and Hicks covering music favored by aging suburban heshers — reassign one of them. Harrington is versatile — he can write about rock, country, and even rap — so keep him on.

Food Sections

Analysis: The merger makes the food section top-heavy with three editors. The Merc has one of the best food sections around — it's been nominated two times in the past three years for a prestigious Beard award. The food sections in the Times and ANG are underwhelming.

Recommendation: Stick with the Merc's editorial team; it does quality work. The Times' East Bay food writer John Birdsall, a freelancer, does a nice job. Bill Brand's beer column in the Trib is worth keeping and is a good vehicle for covering the Bay Area's microbrew scene. We prefer Laurie Daniel's more populist wine column in the Merc to the snooty connoisseur in the ANG papers.

Business Sections

The ANG business sections are dreadful. They're not even sections at all — more like afterthoughts. While ANG does have business writers, the two pages are filled mostly with wire copy from AP. With the additions of the business writers from the Merc and Times, ANG has an opportunity to, well, have a real business section.

Sports Editors

Analysis: The merger makes this division way too top-heavy. There will be three sports editors, not to mention deputy and assistant editors.

Recommendation: Make one of the current top guys the executive sports editor and make another his deputy editor. Thin out the rest.

Sports Columnists: ANG: Dave Del Grande, Dave Newhouse, Monte Poole, Art Spander, and Carl Steward; Times: Eric Gilmore, Neil Hayes, Rick Hurd, Cam Inman, and Gary Peterson; Merc: Bud Geracie, Tim Kawakimi, Ann Killion, and Mark Purdy.

Analysis: Readers develop stronger bonds with sportswriters than most other voices in the paper, so there will be some angry letters no matter who leaves the beat — and people will leave the beat. Sports journalism is pack journalism — how many columns on Barry Bonds do the papers really need?

Recommendation: Keep Del Grande on the fantasy sports beat (ANG was way ahead of other Bay Area papers covering fantasy leagues). Geracie's In the Wake of the Week column is awesome — Scott Ostler of the Chron stole his shtick. In the interest of diversity, keep Killion, Kawakimi, and Poole. Purdy is solid; keep him, too.

Sports Beat Writers

You don't need multiple beat writers covering the same pro sports teams. Sportswriters have only so much ground to cover. They trip all over themselves getting the same dumb quotes from the jocks after the game in the locker room. They cover the same predictable angles: Frank Thomas' big return to Chicago; Matt Morris pitching against his old teammates. We foresee plenty of salary cap moves on the sports desk in the coming season.

A's: ANG: Josh Suchon; Times and Merc: Joe Roderick.

Analysis: Both are solid reporters. Suchon, however, has homefield advantage, and as the ANG guy, you know he makes way less than Roderick. Giants: ANG: Andrew Baggarly; Times and Merc: Chris Haft.

Analysis: Both suffer from sportswriter groupthink — see coverage of recent clash between Barry Bonds and heir apparent Albert Pujols — but Baggarly frames the predictable angles nicely.

Sharks: ANG: Roger Phillips; Times and Merc: Victor Chi.

Analysis: Homecourt advantage to the Merc's guy, Chi. Phillips already has the gig as the Niners' beat writer anyway. Or does he?

Niners: ANG: Roger Phillips; Times and Merc: Dennis Georgatos.

Analysis: We can't reassign Phillips from both of his sports beats, can we? Both Phillips and Georgatos have been covering the Niners for their papers for five seasons or more. A toss-up.

Raiders: ANG: Bill Soliday; Times and Merc: Steve Corkran.

Analysis: Reassign everyone, including Art Shell.

Warriors: ANG: Geoff Lepper; Times and Merc: Marcus Thompson.

Analysis: Another coin toss. Compare the leads of two recent stories by these guys. Thompson: "The last time Rod Higgins was on the spot at the draft lottery, he was rubbing the copper off a penny he found at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport." Lepper: "If you happened to pick up a stray penny from the floor at San Francisco International Airport over the weekend, then be aware: You may have altered the course of Warriors history. Five years ago, Golden State general manager Rod Higgins — then an assistant general manager with the Washington Wizards — spotted a coin on the ground at Reagan National Airport prior to boarding a flight to get to the NBA draft lottery." Sometimes it's like picking between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

Where to Redeploy Everyone

If MediaNews execs are truly serious about redeploying reporters rather than firing them, here are some areas that deserve more coverage: aging, the animal-rights movement, biotech, the blogosphere, celebrities, consumer protection, Don Perata, East Bay celebrities, energy, environmental extremism, family court, farming and organic foods, gay and lesbian culture, global warming, health insurance, higher education, homelessness, Internet commerce, immigration, Indian gaming, media, personal technology, prisons, privacy issues, protest culture, race relations, religion, South Bay celebrities, spirituality, tech industry celebrities, the underground economy, visual art, the yoga scene, and youth culture.


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