Vol. 23, No. 3/Spring 2001
The San Francisco Examiner on November 21, 2000, the day before the newsroom merged with the San Francisco Chronicle. Credit: San Francisco Chronicle file photo.
Merger in San Francisco:
Writing this article five months after THE MERGER is fairly good timing. No way could I have done it any sooner. Without being overly dramatic, the November 22, 2000 merger of The San Francisco Examiner and The San Francisco Chronicle newsrooms was the most awesome professional experience of my life.
The afternoon Examiner and the morning Chronicle had been linked in a Joint Operating Agreement since 1965. A JOA is an exemption to antitrust laws designed to keep competing papers alive. Under it, business operations such as advertising and circulation are shared, while newsrooms are kept separate. But a JOA is a far cry from a merger between two competing newspapers.
Both Examiner and Chronicle employees lived with uncertainty for years. That was our existence, as the rumors never stopped circulating that one of us would be sold, the other would be closed, or we would be merged.
The strange world of rumors and counter-rumors became reality in June 1999 when it was announced that Chronicle Publishing was for sale. We knew the Hearst Corporation (owner of the Examiner) had always wanted to purchase the family-owned Chronicle. And on August 6, 1999 we learned in a noon staff meeting that Hearst indeed planned to buy the 134-year-old Chronicle, the second largest newspaper in the West, and try to sell the Examiner.
They also announced that all Chronicle employees and all employees of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which handled the non-editorial functions for both papers, would be offered continued employment. And if the two papers ended up combining, Hearst promised they would keep all Examiner employees.
The Examiner Sale
On March 17, 2000, Hearst sold the Examiner to a local publishing concern, the Fang family. As part of the sale, Hearst would keep the Examiner employees and merge them with the Chronicle staff, leaving the Fangs with the Examiner's name, delivery trucks, news racks, newsroom equipment and web site.
Examiner employees were not pleased at the sale itself, but even more heart-rending was that the Examiner news archives also went to the Fangs in the sale. For reporters it meant goodbye to their bylines. For photographers it meant the same for all their photos. For all of us it meant no more access to our microfilmed reels of the paper, dating back to 1865. And to the librarians it meant goodbye to a collection that we knew was one of the best in the world.
For our library was a good solid collection of clips from 1906 to the present. All of that as well as our electronic library from 1988 to the present went to the Fangs. In the intense legal world we were operating in, it was made clear to us that no aspect of the Examiner library could be copied. This included the wonderful old San Francisco historical photos from before the Earthquake and Fire. It has been estimated we had 7 million photos, and the local Bay Area images as well as the World War I and World War II photos were priceless.
The week of November 20th was deeply traumatic. Tuesday the 21st was the last publishing day for the Examiner, and a large number of us boarded vans bound for the printing plant to see our last papers come off the presses. There were a lot of tears shed at the printing plant. That night a rather decrepit alley next to the Examiner building was transformed into the brightest, most colorful party scene imaginable and with great music and a catered buffet we partied it up. We tried to strike a balance between the sadness of the Examiner's closing, and the trepidation mixed with anticipation for becoming part of the Chronicle.
Wednesday November 22nd, our first day as Chronicle employees, sticks in my mind as a day of never-ending colorful feelings and images. At 10 a.m. our new publisher, John Oppedahl, cut a red ribbon between the old Examiner newsroom and the Chronicle newsroom. Suddenly we were allowed in the Chronicle newsroom, an area that had been off limits to me for twenty-one years. A red carpet was rolled out through the composing room and linked the formerly separate newsrooms. Not only did we get a paper out that day, we got two papers out: the revamped Chronicle as well as a very new P.M. edition.
In looking back, that first week was a marvel. Thanksgiving came and went, along with a beautiful catered turkey dinner for folks working that day, and the Sunday paper was another step in a new direction. Under the JOA the Examiner had done the Sunday news sections while the Chronicle concentrated on features. On November 26th, we had new Chronicle news and sports sections.
One of the problems with the merger was that pre-planning for the move was very limited due to legalities. No one, from department heads to reporters, could be told about their job assignments until 24-36 hours before the actual merger on November 22nd. We were allowed to follow Newspaper Guild contract rules and post a work schedule for the week of November 20th, ten days prior. This was just a temporary schedule to get our merger in motion.
For the librarians there were many considerations. Under the JOA, the Chronicle library was not staffed on Saturday while the Examiner newsroom was putting out their Sunday news sections. So suddenly Chronicle librarians had to come to grips with working Saturday, and the archivists had to work Saturday night as well so that our paper would be available for vendors and for our web site (SFGate.com) on Sunday morning. Examiner librarians too had to face a new work schedule, coming in later, working later and working the graveyard shift, quite a change from a library which closed at 6 p.m. daily.
Before the merger, the Chronicle library had two staff breakdowns: the day/evening researchers and the 10 p.m.-5:30 a.m. archivists. There were also four temporary archiving assistants who worked the graveyard shift. The researchers were specialists and sat in the newsroom departments: one in business, one in features, one city-side, one in graphics and one in the newsdesk area. The archivists sat in the library. In November 1999 the researchers and archiving supervisors achieved the same pay scale as reporters (Schedule A).
The Examiner librarians were generalists, each one doing research, photo archiving and text archiving, and did not receive Schedule A pay. Before the merger, Examiner librarians sat together in the library, an area which, come the middle of November, was filled with a moving company boxing up the entire Examiner library for a storehouse, where the contents still reside.
The main issue facing us was combining the staffs into one department. Top newsroom management made decisions on the leadership of the department. I became Library Director, Richard Geiger became Director of Research and Bill Van Niekerken (of the Chronicle) retained his position as Director of Archiving. Three Examiner librarians retired, and the remaining four needed to be merged with the Chronicle staff, who kept their original positions.
Four new positions were created: two Schedule A researchers and two Schedule A Archiving Supervisors. In addition, two Night Library Archiving Assistants positions became available, the hope being that some of the temps who had played a very helpful role in archiving the Chronicle during 2000 would become permanent.
During December the Examiner librarians were scheduled to work two weeks as researchers and two weeks as archivists, giving them experience in both fields of work. After this the available jobs were posted, and applications for the four positions were welcomed.
A committee interviewed all the candidates, and by Christmas the decisions were made. Two Examiner librarians became researchers - one dedicated to the Chronicle P.M. edition and the Sunday paper, and the second concentrating on general reference with an emphasis on Metro and Business. One Examiner librarian opted for an Archiving Supervisor position, while another took a daytime position as an Editorial Assistant.
The merger of the two staffs has been an upheaval for all of us. It has been emphasized over and over that this is a new paper with opportunities for all, amidst the many changes. While there haven't been grief counselor there have been merger experts called in to sit down with individuals. Examiner folks complain the paper is too full of Chronicle bylines, and reporters and editors complain of job assignments, seating assignments and other issues too numerous to relate. Adjustments have been made in many cases.
However, the scene I know the best is the library, and my part in it. And the bottom line is I'm very happy to have been a part of this exciting event. I love working for the new Chronicle. The Chronicle researchers and archivists could not have been more welcoming as they share their knowledge of this new operation as well as the Chronicle culture. Richard Geiger and I have been friends and colleagues for over twenty years, and quite simply, I consider myself very fortunate to work with a friend who is one of the top media librarians. Bill Van Niekerken is the Director of Archiving, and a more responsible, knowledgeable librarian could not be found. The archivists and researchers are all very accomplished in their work, and I'm proud and happy to be linked up with every one of them. We work hard, laugh a lot and are appreciated.
In a merger you have to keep your cool, be focused and upbeat, and be open to new people and situations. Be open to change in general. While I couldn't take a merger every year, I certainly don't regret being involved in this one.
Judy Canter is Library Director at the San Francisco Chronicle. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.