‘Houston Chronicle’ Layoffs Spare Newsroom, Ad Dept.

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By: E&P Staff

Soaring petroleum prices are not lifting all fortunes in the Oil Patch. The Houston Chronicle announced Friday that it would cut its work force by about 7% in a “restructuring” that will include involuntary layoffs.

The layoff news in Texas comes just days after Block Communications Inc. Chairman Allan Block suggested in a conference call with securities analysts that there could be labor reductions at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade in Toledo, Ohio.

In a letter to Chronicle employees, Publisher and President Jack Sweeney said there would be no layoffs or staff reductions in the newsroom or advertising department.

Sweeney said the changes will take place in operations and support areas of the newspaper. In addition to layoffs, the work force will be reduced by not filling open positions, outsourcing more work, and increasing the use of contract labor. Laid off staff will be offered severance packages and outplacement services, Sweeney wrote.

“In today’s multi-platform information world, resources need to be redirected to the content, products, and new initiatives needed to grow our base of readers and advertisers,” Sweeney wrote, according to an account on the Chronicle’s Web site Friday.

The Chronicle is Texas’ biggest paper and the ninth-largest U.S. daily. In the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX, the paper reported a daily circulation of 537,744 for the six months ended March 31, down 3.9% from the same period in 2004, and a Sunday circulation of 720,711, down 2.6% from last year.

Earlier this week, Block Communications reported a loss of $438,768 on revenue of $109.5 million during the second quarter, down from a profit of $9.25 million on revenue of $109.57 million in the same period last year.

Chairman Block noted that union contract negotiations come up at both papers in 2006. He said the company?s goal would be to increase the papers? operating margins by reducing labor costs.

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