UPDATE: ‘L.A. Times’ and ‘Chic Trib’ to Lose Up To 250 Jobs

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By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press

Word emerged over the weekend that the Los Angeles Times would announce today that it was cutting 150 jobs — hopefully, via buyouts — and this indeed has come to pass.

The Tribune Co. late in the day announced a total of 250 cuts, with 100 at the Chicago Tribune and 100 to 150 in Los Angeles. In both cases the company will seeks buyouts first with layoffs if needed.

Noting that the Chicago Tribune group’s first-quarter revenue dropped 4 percent from a year ago, Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, said in a memo to employees, “Therefore we need to achieve additional expense savings at the same time we focus on revenue growth.”

The Times said it hoped to cut its staff of 2,625 by up to 150 employees, or nearly 6 percent. The Chicago Tribune said it intends to trim its staff by as many as 100, or 3 percent.

“The actions being undertaken at our newspapers reflect fundamental changes going on across the media industry,” Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said. “We cannot stand still; as revenues have slowed, our newspapers are scaling expenses accordingly.”

The Times said up to 70 jobs could be cut from the newspaper’s news operations, which would reduce the newsroom staff to about 850 people. The Times news operation employed about 1,200 at the time of its purchase by Tribune in 2000.

Chicago Tribune spokeswoman Christine Hennessey declined to say how many news positions could be affected or give the current number of newsroom jobs.

The popular blog LA.observed posted a lengthy memo from L.A Times Publisher David Hiller to staffers today. Then a memo from Editor James O’Shea appeared on Romenesko at www.poynter.org.

“I did not come here to preside over a decline of this great newspaper,” O’Shea declared. “I consider the loss of each and every journalist or employee in this company a failure. I guarantee you I have worked extremely hard to minimize any staff reduction. I will also guarantee you that I will work just as hard in the future to avoid another day like this.”

One new wrinkle added to the L.A. buyout plans: A “Voluntary 4-day Week for 80% of Pay” proposal. Hiller writes, “One additional idea that we’re considering is allowing full-time employees to voluntarily reduce their work week from five days to four days. This schedule change would also involve changing from full-time benefits to part-time benefits and, of course, would be contingent on each department’s workload and staffing needs.”

Here are some other highlights from the two memos, first from Hiller.
*
HILLER:

We?re announcing today a series of actions, including an Employee Voluntary Separation Program that will eliminate between 100-150 jobs at the Los Angeles Times.

These actions reflect the fundamental and ongoing changes occurring in our business. You read last week that the company announced our first quarter financial results, and they were not good. For our whole Los Angeles Times Media Group, revenue down 4% and cash flow down 13%. There was some good news, with online revenue growing 20%. But the growth in new media is not yet big enough to offset the decline on the print side of the business. The picture was similar at the other Tribune newspapers.

Over the past months, we have been talking (and doing) a lot about how we need to change to sustain our mission and business as the best and most trusted source of news and information in Southern California. What we do is too important not to change in ways essential to sustain us into the future. We simply can?t afford not to change.

As we?ve talked about before, here are some of the major lines of how we need to change:

Re-tool everything to be fully multimedia

Grow online faster, integrated with print

Change the newspaper to better serve our local audience and reflect how readers live, and use print, today

Offer more products for more audience segments, like Hoy for the Spanish-speaking part of our communities

Invest and re-allocate resources to grow

Get our employees engaged and fired-up about how we will change, where we are going

We are making headway. Our efforts to transform the newsroom to a 24/7 multi-media world are getting traction. We are adding people and other investment to these print/online efforts, and will add more, including more interactive product development people and supporting technology….

But in addition to adding people and resources to achieve growth, we have to find expense savings to offset some of the decline in revenue on the print side. We are looking at everything:

Recent product changes, including elimination of the Sunday TV Book will save several million dollars

We have been revamping operations and distribution to find very significant efficiencies

Out-sourcing efforts in circulation call centers and the tech help desks will achieve further savings

We are finding savings in supplies, postage expense, travel, and many other areas

But, we also have to look at our staffing levels again, as painful as it is, and as many times as we have done it before. The fact is we have to take actions to keep staffing in line with the revenue picture, which currently is falling in the core print business.

So through a combination of approaches, we are planning to eliminate in the range of 100-150 positions (roughly 3% to 5% of our workforce). We have tried to approach this as carefully and thoughtfully as possible across all departments. Here are the components of the plans:

— Eliminating positions that are currently open

— An Employee Voluntary Separation Program

— Eliminating certain other employee positions

— Voluntary 4-day week for 80% of pay

***

O’SHEA:

I know this is not a happy day for people in the newsroom, including me….

We consciously made the offer available to everyone because we wanted to be fair, not because we don’t care about who stays and who leaves. We value each and every one of you. As the notice said, we will not accept every request. If your job has to be backfilled, chances are you will not qualify. In a perfect world, I would prefer that every employee stay here. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world….

There will be some position eliminations, too. We will determine how many once we know the results of the voluntary program. ..

A number of you have asked me how we could cut jobs to save millions of dollars at a time when a group of unnamed executives will reap bonuses and stock grants worth millions when the change of ownership is complete. I cannot – and will not – defend any such bonuses. Frankly, I understand why you are angry about these plans.

But this staff reduction is not because of — or about — bonuses. Unfortunately, the business model at newspapers across the nation remains under challenge and we are no exception.

We still make lots of money. But a negative cloud hangs over our projected future revenues. Advertisers simply doubt we can continue to attract readers as we have in the past. They are abandoning newspapers for other advertising venues, eroding our revenues and cash flow and increasing the pressure on our costs.

I personally think these doomsayers are wrong. Newspapers have a far brighter future than the doubters think. Sam Zell, who will make his first investment in the company soon, says he agrees. We are making substantial progress at latimes.com. The newspaper remains editorially vibrant; our stories, photos and graphics are excellent and we are dramatically increasing our ability to deliver news and information across a variety of platforms. We are moving in the right direction….

We must continue to deliver exceptional editorial performance during these troubled times, and we can do that by continuing to practice quality journalism. Good, solid, relevant journalism flowing from the newsroom is more valuable than ever today, not only for us but also for the public we serve….

I did not come here to fail. I came here to make things better for the journalists and the public we serve in Southern California. Today is one of the more challenging days. But better times are ahead. I truly believe that.




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