Newhouse Paper Comes To a Crossroads

By: Joe Strupp

It’s no surprise that Advance Publications wants to save The Jersey Journal, its money- losing daily in Jersey City, N.J., even if it means severe reductions that would cut the number of its unionized employees in half. After all, S.I. “Sam” Newhouse, who long ago built the Advance empire and Newhouse Newspapers, began his newspaper career with The Bayonne Times when he was 16.

Although the Times ceased publication more than 30 years ago, Bayonne readers of The Jersey Journal — which merged with the Times in 1971 — still receive copies of the paper subtitled “Bayonne Times Edition.”

Such respect for Sam’s legacy seems to be continuing as the next generation of Newhouses propose to save the unprofitable Jersey Journal instead of folding it into The Star-Ledger, Advance’s much-larger newspaper in nearby Newark. “We believe The Jersey Journal has a place as a news organization,” said Steven Newhouse, Journal editor in chief and grandson of S.I. Newhouse, who denied that family ties had any bearing on the decision to streamline the Journal instead of killing it. Last week, the paper proposed to its three unions a stiff round of layoffs to cut costs.

Although Newhouse would not provide specific financial information, he said the paper has been unprofitable for several years and needs major cost reductions to survive. Average daily circulation has dropped sharply in the past five years, to 43,411 last year from 53,553 in 1996, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Specifically, executives propose to lay off 17 of 35 unionized editorial employees, 19 of 42 unionized clerical workers, and 9 unionized drivers. Publisher Scott Ring and Editor Judith Locorriere declined to comment on how the paper would continue to cover its area properly with a much smaller staff. “I’m hopeful,” is all Locorriere would say.

Those who lose their jobs would receive two weeks’ severance for every year of service, but only if they sign releases protecting the paper from future legal action. Layoffs also would not be based on the seniority system, and unionized employees who remain with the paper would receive a $10 weekly raise.

“In good faith, I can’t sell [the proposal],” said Pat Hoffman, business agent for Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, who said the proposal gives away too many employee rights. Union members have until the end of the month to accept or reject the Journal management’s layoff proposal.

The severe belt-tightening was proposed a couple of months after The Star-Ledger told its employees it would seek about $10 million in savings. Advance President Donald E. Newhouse declined to comment on whether any of the chain’s other newspapers plan to make cuts this year.

“I’m taking them seriously,” said Ron Leir, president of the Hudson County Newspaper Guild, adding that he believes the paper is in financial trouble and dismisses theories that the proposed cuts constitute a union-busting ploy. OPEIU’s Hoffman agreed, saying, “I think the paper is in big trouble.”

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