Sun, hurt by revenue declines, to eliminate 100 jobs

June 26, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore Sun Media Group, which publishes The Sun and community newspapers, will eliminate 100 jobs by early August to cut costs and stay competitive, Publisher Timothy E. Ryan told employees yesterday in an e-mail.

The company said it plans to reduce the 1,400-person work force through voluntary buyouts, layoffs, attrition and by closing open positions. A majority of the cuts are expected to come from the newsroom.

"In the face of today's tough economy, adapting to consumer trends while maintaining our fiscal strength is proving to be even more difficult, yet even more critical," Ryan said. "By adjusting our business model and redesigning our core publication, we expect to stimulate readership growth and improve our financial performance."

The letter did not specify where job cuts would be made. A company spokesman said executives had no comment on the announced changes.

In addition to The Sun, the media group includes Patuxent Publishing Co., publisher of community newspapers; Homestead Publishing Co., which produces community papers in Harford County, including The Aegis in Bel Air; and b, a free daily tabloid aimed at young adults.

Officers of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents nearly 400 Sun workers in the news, advertising, circulation, building and finance departments, said yesterday that they were told by Sun management that 55 to 60 jobs would be cut in the newsroom, which would be a reduction of roughly 20 percent.

"Employees are disheartened, to say the least," said Tanika White, a reporter and co-chair of The Sun unit of the Guild. "They're angry at what they perceive to be the poor management coming from the outside that has led us to this point," White said. "They're frightened, and they have every right to be."

She said she also feared the community would suffer from decreased news coverage.

"It's about democracy," White said.

Buyouts will be available to all employees, who will have two weeks to apply after receiving offers, according to Ryan's letter. Decisions on layoffs will be made based on the number of accepted buyouts. Employees will be notified of layoffs on July 18.

Top executives at Tribune Co., parent of Baltimore Sun Media Group, had said earlier this month that all of the company's newspapers would be reduced in size and staff and redesigned by the end of September to further cut costs.

Tribune is grappling with high debt and rising production costs at a time when newspapers are continuing to experience a sharp erosion in revenue as more advertising migrates to the Internet.

Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, said the cuts are being made by newspaper executives across the country as newspapers lose readers and significant advertising dollars to the Internet.

"There's a lot of fear for the future," Rieder said. "The problem ... is that if the cuts get too deep, if you weaken the product in terms of size and what you're offering, it is not a smart strategy to drastically weaken a product in an increasingly competitive environment."

Tribune executives have said the goal is to grab readers' attention and better serve time-strapped customers with a redesign of all its papers, which also include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. For most of the Tribune papers, the reorganization and new look will emphasize charts, graphs, maps and lists, Tribune executives have said.

"The goal is to create a newspaper that is relevant, visually appealing, respectful of readers' busy lives and journalistically distinguished from our competition," said Judy Berman, The Sun's senior vice president of marketing.

The other Tribune papers are expected to make staff reductions as well. Yesterday, the Hartford Courant notified employees that "to meet economic realities," newsroom staff would be reduced from 232 to 175 with the newspaper printing 67 fewer pages a week, according to a memo to the staff.

The Sun has been through a series of buyouts, cutting staff in areas such as finance, human resources and events planning. The newspaper eliminated about 45 jobs from its 1,200-member work force in March through voluntary buyouts and layoffs.

Change has swept rapidly through Tribune's newspaper properties since December, when Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell acquired control of the company in an $8.2 billion buyout, through an employee stock ownership plan. The deal took the company private and added billions of dollars in debt.

Just months after taking control, Zell said a difficult economy and a steeper-than-expected decline in revenue were forcing the new management to re-evaluate its original plans to keep all of the media giant's assets. Print advertising revenue in the first quarter continued to decline because of the weakened economy, Tribune had said.

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