When the last newsroom shuts down, who will report the story?
That question had to be on the minds of more than a few staffers at the San Diego Union-Tribune's El Cajon office as they read the news last week of the latest round of layoffs and other cutbacks at their newspaper. Stories in dozens of publications, including the U-T, described draconian cost-saving measures underway at San Diego's largest daily as a way of dealing with an estimated 40-percent loss of ad revenue since 2006.
But reported by no one, including the U-T, was that the cost-saving measures included the closure last week of the paper's El Cajon bureau. Employees now report to either the U-T's main San Diego offices in Mission Valley or its Chula Vista bureau. CityBeat doesn't know whether any of the El Cajon staffers were laid off when the office was shuttered.
Nor is it clear why the El Cajon office was closed so quietly. Repeated calls for comment Monday to the paper's parent company, Copley Press, were routed to Kimberly Koch, executive secretary to Copley Executive Vice President Howard W. Fuson Jr. Koch said someone at the company would call back with a response—no one did as of press time. The U-T's website, SignOnSanDiego.com, still lists the El Cajon address as a viable U-T office. Calls to the bureau itself were automatically routed to the U-T's Mission Valley location.
CityBeat learned of the closure from sources within the U-T.
The demise of the El Cajon bureau is just the latest nail in the coffin of America's withering newspaper industry. It's also another sunset on the once-mighty Copley news empire, which in its heyday wielded considerable political influence in San Diego County and owned more than 40 newspapers in California and Illinois, plus a television station and wire service. The La Jolla-based company has steadily shed holdings in recent years and today publishes just two dailies, a weekly and a biweekly.
Copley announced in July plans to sell its flagship newspaper: the Pulitzer Prize-winning Union-Tribune, created by the 1992 merger of two smaller papers that existed since the 19th century. The paper reported Friday that Copley would to let go of an unspecified number of U-T and SignOnSanDiego.com employees, require hourly workers to take two days off without pay in February and March, cut managers' pay during that same period, freeze merit raises, raise employee health-insurance contributions and end company 40l (k) contributions.
Update: The day this story was published, a spokesperson for the Union-Tribune issued this statement:
'In reference to your CityBeat story of 1/20/09, we would like to set the record straight. The lease was up on the East County building and we chose not to renew. The same staff that has covered East County continues to do so.'