Axe Falls: 68 Or More Spots Lopped Off in Philadelphia

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By: The Associated Press and E&P Staff

The Philadelphia Inquirer, grappling with sharp declines in circulation and ad revenue, said Tuesday it expected to lay off 68 newsroom employees, about 16 percent of its editorial staff. Other estimates ran as high as 71 slots or 17 percent.

Several reporters at the Inquirer, Pennsylvania’s largest newspaper, said they were told Tuesday morning that their jobs were being eliminated. The employees said that they were told to meet with personnel officials Wednesday to discuss details of their severance pay and health benefits.

All the affected workers will be notified by Wednesday, and their layoff dates and benefits will vary, said company spokesman Jay Devine.

?The guillotine has finally fallen,? Dawn Fallik, 36, a medical reporter for The Inquirer who has been at the paper for four years, told The New York Times (she will be laid off). ?In a way, it?s kind of a relief.?

Whatever the final number, it is “significantly less than the numbers that had been discussed earlier,? Jay Devine, a spokesman for Brian P. Tierney, the publisher of the papers and one of the new owners, told the Times.

The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both long part of Knight Ridder Inc., were sold in March to McClatchy Co. In turn, McClatchy sold the papers three months later to Philadelphia Media Holdings, an investment group led by Tierney.

In November, Tierney announced that declining ad revenues would require contract concessions and that layoffs in the Inquirer’s 415-worker newsroom were unavoidable as the company aimed to save at least $20 million.

Through buyouts in 2005, the Inquirer reduced its editorial staff from 500 to 425, and the Daily News cut its editorial staff from 130 to 105.

At the Inquirer, circulation has been on a sharp decline, with weekday figures down 7.6 percent to nearly 331,000 in the six months ended Sept. 30.

The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents more than 900 editorial, advertising, circulation and clerical employees at the Inquirer and Daily News, ratified a new contract last month.

Amid the looming layoffs, the union was forced to accept concessions in the three-year contract including changes in sick-day benefits, the role of seniority during layoffs, and pension contributions. Without the concessions, more people would have been laid off, Devine said.

Inquirer editor Bill Marimow did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Layoffs were not expected at the Daily News.

The Guild released this statement:

The Guild was told late today that the Company will present it with layoff specifics at 8 a.m. tomorrow. The Guild will then begin the process of comparing the Company’s layoff lists for possible discrepancies with the Guild’s own data on members’ hire dates and their seniority. The layoffs are expected to take affect approximately 15 days later.

Just as the Guild stepped up and provided the company with the relief it sought at the bargaining table in the recent contract negotiations, it expects the company to step up and honor the Guild’s request to achieve as
many reductions as possible through voluntary separation.

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