Layoff Roundup: Blood on the newsroom floor

Okay, so it’s a hyperbolic headline. But while the world’s media have been watching the Rupester, the long, slow death agony of American newspaper journalism has been accelerating.

Today we’ll give a roundup of the latest layoff news, along with an unconfirmed report that California’s most influential newspaper may be going on the auction block.

Los Angeles Times up for sale?

From Kevin Roderick of LA Observed:

A sudden flurry of high-level meetings and grim faces this week at the Los Angeles Times has people in the newsroom on edge again. There’s been a long quiet period since the last big staff cuts, but the bankruptcy proceedings are moving toward an end, Tribune reorganized this week to treat the Times separately from the chain’s other papers, and if a highly speculative Wall Street Journal story is to be believed, the Times is on the market. Any of that could trigger new budget cutbacks — many staffers have assumed they’re coming, it was just a matter of when — and so could plain old bad financial news. Stay tuned.

A clear sign that the layoffs angle is on the money comes from Chicago, where the Tribune — the paper that gave its name to the conglomerate that owns California’s largest paper — has been laying off editors.

From Robert Feder at Chicago Media blog :

Wasn’t it only a month ago that the Chicago Tribune was touting itself as a “bigger, better” newspaper and promising to deliver more, more, more? Tell that to the 20 or so editors, reporters and writers whose positions were eliminated Thursday.

The precise number was difficult to pin down, but any way you count them, the firings came as a shock to staffers whose morale had been boosted by a handful of new employees hired as part of the “editorial enhancements” to the newspaper announced in June.

In front-page proclamations and online manifestos at the time, publisher Tony Hunter and editor Gerry Kern took bows for adding “depth, dimension and range to our news report” by expanding coverage and increasing pages in the home-delivery edition. “We are investing in the paper to ensure it is vital and rewarding,” they told readers.

Thursday’s layoffs, believed to be in response to declining advertising revenue, now raise questions about the paper’s commitment to those costly additional pages and other improvements. (“Enjoy new-and-improved Tribune while it lasts,” one cynical media critic warned back in June.)

Tribune Co. is under pressure to boost its bottom line as it struggles to emerge from bankruptcy after more than two years. Four corporate executives were cut earlier this week, including Bob Gremillion, executive vice president of Tribune Publishing and onetime interim publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and reports surfaced of new layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, also owned by Tribune Co.

Read the rest.

More on the layoffs from Lynne Marek of Crain’s Chicago Business:

Chicago Tribune, the city’s biggest newspaper, cut employees today, mostly in its newsroom, according to sources familiar with the job reduction.

The sources said that about 20 workers were let go. A spokesman for the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some longtime Tribune reporters and editors were among them, including news administration editor Randy Weissman, editorial page writer Pat Widder and health care reporter Bruce Japsen, according to sources.

The newspaper’s parent, Chicago-based Tribune Co., is continuing to pare costs as it seeks to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings later this year.

Read the rest.

Catastrophic layoffs in Tucson

The second daily paper we worked for was the long-vanished Tucson Daily-American, way back in nineteen-ought-sixty-seven. The paper folded on our second payday, and it’s been gone so long that no articles from the paper appear in a Google search — yet one more example of the much-vaunted search engine’s historical myopia.

The journalistic big dogs in town were the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen, which folded — after 138 years in print — in 2009, leaving only the Daily Star as a major mainstream paper.

Now the Star is witnessing a major round of layoffs, reports Dylan Smith of the online alternative Tucson Sentinel:

In what one now-former employee called “a major bloodletting,” the Arizona Daily Star has let go 52 people, firing nearly its entire marketing department Thursday.

As many as 15 newsroom employees and many employees in the advertising, circulation, finance, and IT departments were also reportedly let go.

Throughout the day, it was unclear how many total employees were let go, but initial reports pointed to about 40 from the newspaper who had to pack their working lives into cardboard boxes.

At 5 p.m., a source said “it’s still coming down on 2nd shift” as more employees were apparently being told their services were no longer needed.

Calls to the Star were not returned by the close of business Thursday. As of 5 p.m., the newspaper had yet to mention the layoffs on its website, which reported Thursday on the Tucson Pops Orchestra and a happy hour at a local restaurant.

At midnight, the paper posted a 6-paragraph brief on the layoffs, headlined “Star announces realignment, layoffs.” The story included the final total of layoffs: 52. The paper said it also eliminated some open positions and realigned some departments’ functions.

And from the Great Plains. . .

On July 1, the Associated Press reported on layoffs in Lincoln, Nebraska:

The Lincoln Journal Star says 11 employees have taken buyout offers to leave the Nebraska capital newspaper.

Incentives from the newspaper’s owner, Lee Enterprises, were offered to workers with 15 years of continuous service.

The newspaper says seven newsroom employees took the buyout, as did two in advertising, one in circulation and one in image services.

The newspaper’s daily circulation is about 70,000.

Lee Enterprises is based in Davenport, Iowa, and owns 49 daily newspapers. The properties include the Journal Star, the Beatrice Daily Sun, the Columbus Telegram and the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska.

And now for bad news at the majors

First, the bad news at America’s “paper of record,” via Reuters:

The New York Times reported $119.7 million in net losses for the second quarter of the year on Thursday, reflecting both the declining value of its regional newspapers and the continued decline of print advertising. The Times operated with a profit of $60.8 million in the same frame of 2010.

However, the Times is reporting growth in online subscriptions, which means consumers are still flocking to the site despite the pay wall instituted in March.

And it looks like more bad news is onthe way for the scribes at the Washington Post.

As the paper’s chapter of The Newspaper Guild reports, the paper demanded tough new language in a contract to be voted on next week:

The Post aimed at the heart of the Guild’s job security protections by demanding the unchallengeable right to lay certain people off permanently. That is, the Post wanted to eliminate the Guild’s right to challenge layoffs that appear to be motivated by reasons other than economy and an employee’s right to return to work if conditions improved. This could have given the Post the ability to get rid of employees it simply didn’t like under the pretext of coping with a bad economy and only “reconsider” giving them their jobs back later. In effect, this would have allowed the Post to treat Guild-covered members almost like “at will” employees who have little or no job security and eroded the protections in the contract that say the company can only let someone go for economic conditions or for “just cause,” such as performance or disciplinary reasons. The Guild kept this out of the contract and preserved largely seniority-based layoffs with recall rights.

So there it is: More evidence that the institution the Founders considered the cornerstone of democracy is a sick beast indeed.


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