Bay Area Papers Make 107 Cuts — But Avoid Layoffs

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A group of newspapers in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area said Thursday it will cut its staff by 10 percent but will avoid layoffs because enough workers took buyout offers.

The cuts affect the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and a string of 14 other daily and weekly newspapers operated by the Bay Area News Group-East Bay. The cuts will come from every department, including the newsroom.

Of the company’s 1,100 workers, 107 took buyout offers, making layoffs unnecessary, according to John Armstrong, president of Bay Area News Group-East Bay.

Armstrong said he told the staff the cuts would improve the company’s financial health, but he warned them he couldn’t guarantee there won’t be more cuts.

“We feel good about the fact that participation was wide enough we were able to avoid involuntary layoffs,” he said. “It’s important that our people focus on improving our newspapers and Web sites and growing our revenues and building our audience for advertisers.”

More cuts are expected at other Bay Area newspapers.

The San Jose Mercury News planned to notify workers on its business side Thursday night whether they’re being laid off, and it expects to announce newsroom layoffs Friday morning, according to Suzanne Arnaud, administrative director of the San Jose Newspaper Guild.

Arnaud said the paper’s management told the union it planned to lay off 17 editorial employees. The Mercury News currently has 173 newsroom workers, down from 242 a year and a half ago, Arnaud said.

“It’s getting wearisome,” she said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a pretty black day around here.”

A call to Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc., which owns the Mercury News, was not returned Thursday.

The Contra Costa Times wraps it up on Friday as follows.
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The operator of this newspaper and numerous others in the Bay Area will reduce its staff by 10 percent, but was able to avoid outright layoffs by achieving the job cuts entirely by voluntary buyouts.

The buyouts will be given to 107 employees out of 1,100 workers. The reductions will be company-wide and will affect every department, including the newsroom.

The staff reductions involve 23 Bay Area daily and weekly publications, including the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune, the company said Thursday. The papers are operated by Bay Area News Group-East Bay, also known as BANG-East Bay.

“We are pleased that we gave our employees some control over this decision,” John Armstrong, president and publisher of Bay Area News Group-East Bay, said in an interview. “Enough of the employees took that opportunity that we could avoid involuntary layoffs. That had been our goal all along.”

Bay Area News Group-East Bay undertook the effort to slash operating expenses in the face of an ongoing weakness in revenue. The papers are owned by a three-newspaper partnership that includes Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc.

Executives with the company had previously said a drastic economic slump and the meltdown of the Bay Area housing market has eroded newspaper revenues. They warned that the residential real estate debacle is unlikely to abate any time soon.

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