Monday, November 12, 2007

Dean: Lean or mean?

Unlike my mother, I'm not that much of a worrier. But the more I learn about Dean Singleton, the more I worry about the future of both the people who work for him and for the quality of journalism at his newspapers.

Singleton has earned the nickname “Lean Dean” from fellow publishers and owners, many of whom seem to admire his penny-pinching ways. But his actions over the past couple of weeks make “Mean Dean” seem like a more appropriate moniker. “Out of Control Dean” might work, too, but it doesn’t have that rhyming thing going for it.

By now we’ve all heard of Singleton’s commitment to strong local journalism, and how he’s saved so many local newspapers. That commitment was missing a week or so ago in Connecticut, where, shortly after assuming control of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time (He didn’t actually buy them; Hearst purchased the papers and gave them to Dean to manage. But that’s a topic for another item), he fired seven top editors plus three reporters, three copy editors and a paginator. Many had been long-time employees, credited with making the small papers two of the best in the country.

So much for loyalty, institutional memory, knowledge of local history and traditions. So much for strong local journalism.

Then Dean seemingly went off the deep end, ordering up an anti-labor editorial and placing it on the front page of his flagship paper, the Denver Post. In it, he ripped the Colorado governor for signing an executive order that allows state workers to join unions. And he did so in a particularly nasty fashion, likening the governor to Jimmy Hoffa and accusing him of being “a toady to labor bosses.”

Now, we always knew that Dean didn’t particularly like unions, but it always seemed like more of a business thing. But the editorial makes it seem that Singleton harbors a deep hatred for organized labor.

So, what exactly does that mean for his promise of letting the journalists of ANG Newspapers and the Contra Costa Times decide — without undue influence or misinformation from MediaNews management — whether or not they want to be members of The Newspaper Guild?

As I said at the start, I’m worried.

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