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Dean Singleton: Media Consolidator, Unionbuster

How the MediaNews Group Destroys Journalism, Jobs, and Democracy

You probably haven't heard of Dean Singleton or his MediaNews Group, but you've most likely read one of his 57 daily papers.  Singleton is in the business of buying and restructuring local newspapers.  But his goal is not just to turn a profit - Singleton squeezes every drop out of a paper to bring in money. 

When Singleton buys out a paper, he guts it: huge staff layoffs, lowered wages for remaining staff, and community beats eliminated.  Then he buys more papers in the community and consolidates:  combining staff positions so that one staff writes for 5-10 newspapers.  Singleton also has a sophisticated strategy and record of breaking up unions at the newspapers under his ownership, and doing all he can to prevent his workers from having any control over their work and lives under MediaNews. 

Dean Singleton's media consolidation destroys a free and independent press and denies workers their rights.

Singleton's Strategy of Unionbusting

Singleton specializes in breaking up unions at papers owned by MediaNews Group.  The steps are virtually the same at every paper where he effectively eliminated the union: 

  • Step 1.  Purchase a small, but struggling local newspaper cheaply.
  • Step 2.  Buy all the local papers in a single geographic region.
  • Step 3.  "Cluster" to combine the operations of the small papers in a single geographic region under one roof.  This way all the papers share the same staff, advertising, editors, and printing presses.  Also, combining staff makes it easier to eliminate "wasteful redundancies," MediaNews Group's name for newspaper staff members.
  • Step 4.  "Consolidate" all of the papers of a region under one media group, essentially a subsidiary of the MediaNews Group.  This media group houses only one staff writing for 5-10 papers.
  • Step 5.  Break up the union.  Through clustering, union-represented positions are typically eliminated first, resulting in a smaller, weaker union.  When consolidating, MediaNews Group combines union-represented staff papers with non-union papers.  The tactic is usually the final step in killing the union - as the union-represented workers are now in the minority and cannot overcome the barriers that MediaNews puts in place to stop the union. 

Mean Dean's Latest Attack: Northern California

  • July 26, 2007: MediaNews Group announced consolidation of several union-represented papers and non-union newspapers in northern California.  Papers are consolidated into a 'new' media group: Bay Area News Group-East Bay.  BANG-EB is a subsidiary company of the larger MediaNews Group.
  • On August 13, 2007, MediaNews Group unilaterally withdraws recognition of the Northern California Media Workers Guild as the bargaining representative for 125 union-represented copy editors, photographers, and reporters at five Northern California newspapers: Oakland Tribune, The Daily Review, The Argus, Tri-Valley Herald, and San Mateo County Times.  The union had been in place since 1987.  A letter from MediaNews Group's attorney simply states, "We can no longer recognize the guild."
  • Later that week in response, the union files charges with the National Labor Relations Board against MediaNews Group to protest the company's clear violation of labor law in withdrawing union recognition, despite the union's 20 year history at the papers.
  • August 20, 2007:  Northern California Media Workers Guild announces new organizing campaign to help win back union rights and attract new members who now work for the Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

Unionbusting History

Dean Singleton's record of unionbusting dates back 25 years:

  • August 2007: Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California
    MediaNews Group refuses to negotiate a new contract with the union represented employees.  In 10 years, the number of employees fell from 220 to 90, and salaries decreased by 30%.  In 10 years, the number of union-represented employees fell from 220 to 90 due to firings and resignations, and salaries decreased by 30%.
  • July 2007:  St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota (ongoing)
    The union's contract expired and MediaNews Group freezes staff pensions and announces plan to cut staff members. Union asks for 401k matching plans to replace the pensions.
  • July 2007: San Jose Mercury News, California
    In 2006, Singleton purchased the San Jose Mercury News.  Less than a year after assuming control of the paper, over 40 employees were fired.  In July 2007, 15 additional staff members resigned, protesting Singleton's moves to dismantle the paper's staff.
  • June 2003: Brattleboro Reformer, Vermont
    Pro-union workers harassed, and one illegally fired during a union organizing campaign.  MediaNews hired a Nashville based unionbusting law firm to coerce and intimidate employees who expressed interest in the union.  The union ultimately failed when brought to a vote.
  • 1995: Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
    After purchasing the paper, MediaNews Group gave staff sheets of paper with their new job descriptions and reduced salaries.  Staff had to decide on the spot if they accepted or rejected their new terms of employment.  All of this occurred without negotiations or any communication with the impacted employees. 
  • 1981:  The Paterson News, New Jersey
    Paper acquired by Singleton before founding MediaNews Group.  Union-represented typographers and drivers went on strike.  Singleton locked them out of the offices and lived in the newspaper office for six months to prevent the striking workers from returning.  Eventually the union staff members lost their jobs.  Singleton's statement on the dispute, "We were losing money, and had to fix it, so we took on the unions and threw 'em out" 
  • Early 1980s:  The Trenton Times, New Jersey
    Fired 60 staff members just two days after Singleton purchased the paper.  One reporter, not fired in the early rounds, lost his job after refusing to publish a press release as-is as a news article under his byline, instead of writing an article with details from the press release. Singleton allegedly fired the staffer as a way to show his power at the paper and intimidate other employees from not following orders. 

Dean Singleton and MediaNews Group

  • Founded Media NewsGroup in 1983, currently serves as Chief Executive Office and Vice Chairman
  • Denver-based MediaNews Group is the 4th largest media company, owns 57 daily newspapers in 12 states, with a combined circulation of 2.9 million readers, including The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Dean Singleton's business philosophy: "If I had my choice between pleasing one banker or 1,000 journalists, I'd rather please the banker." 

Who Loves Dean? 

In spite of Dean Singleton's attacks on community journalism, his employees, and their unions, he often receives praise for his business acumen and leadership in the publishing community:

  • Served on the Associated Press Board of Directors
  • Former President of the Newspaper Association of America
  • 2001 Editor & Publisher's "Publisher of the Year"

Additional Reading & Resources