The Sun offers buyouts in bid to cut 75 jobs, including 12-15 from newsroom

November 12, 2005|By PAUL ADAMS | PAUL ADAMS,SUN REPORTER

The Sun said yesterday that it will offer voluntary buyouts to employees across the company with the goal of eliminating 75 positions, marking the newspaper's latest response to sluggish ad sales and an increasingly fragmented industry.

Sun Publisher Denise E. Palmer announced the cost-cutting plans in a memo to the staff, saying it is part of an industrywide struggle to cope with rising costs and declining revenue as the Internet, cable television and other news sources continue to chip away at readership and revenue sources.

The move was made about a month after Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin announced that two of the paper's five foreign bureaus would be closed to cut costs.

Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns The Sun, recently reported companywide circulation declines and a third-quarter profit of $24 million, down 80 percent compared with a year ago as a result of unusual charges.

It is expected that 12 to 15 of the job cuts will come from the newsroom, accounting for less than 5 percent of the paper's staff of about 350. Most of the newsroom cuts would be in support staff rather than reporters and photographers, the company said.

Officials of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 500 of The Sun's approximately 1,200 employees, said about 140 represented employees will receive buyout packages. The buyout offer is one week of salary for every six months of employment, up to a maximum of one year's pay, and a minimum of six months of benefits.

Layoffs are an option if too few employees opt for the voluntary program, the company said. The cuts would be final in January.

"It's regrettable that any business as profitable as The Sun and Tribune feels the need to reduce its staff and to threaten layoffs," said A. Michael Hill, the Guild's unit chair at the newspaper. "These places make a lot of money in large part because of the hard work of the people they're trying to get rid of."

The union has a dispute with the timetable for the buyouts, which requires members to accept the offer by Nov. 28. Hill contends that would violate a federal labor regulation that guarantees employees 45 days to make such a decision.

The union will continue to negotiate with management in hopes of avoiding layoffs, he said. The Guild raised a similar dispute with management last year and was able to reach an agreement avoiding layoffs.

In addition to staffing reductions, the paper is taking a number of other cost-cutting steps, such as increasing efficiency in its printing and distribution operations. Palmer said readers wouldn't notice much in the way of change as a result of the cuts.

"One of the first filters we looked at was, `Is the reader going to know we did this?' " she said. "If we answered `yes' to that, then we stopped and we thought long and hard about whether it was something we were willing to do."

The buyouts at The Sun are part of industrywide cutbacks. Staffs were recently reduced at The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, The Boston Globe and other newspapers.

Guild employees at The Sun have been through about a half-dozen buyouts in the past eight years, a spokeswoman said.

"We're in the midst of a transformational period, not just for newspapers, but for television and radio, as well as other traditional media," said Franklin, the newspaper's editor.

paul.adams@baltsun.com

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