Projo plans roughly 30 job cuts amid ongoing slump in sales

Projo_ad_sales_2Q2013Providence Journal executives told employees Friday they plan to cut roughly 30 jobs in the coming weeks through buyouts, and will resort to layoffs if too few workers choose to leave voluntarily, a union official said.

Providence Newspaper Guild President John Hill said reporters, editors and other employees were informed Friday morning about the decision to downsize the staff.

“We were told today they’re looking for in the ballpark of 30 positions but did not have a specific number at this point,” Hill told WPRI.com. “They said the uncertainty is because they want to see how many people will put in for buyouts.”

The Journal’s management plans to get rid of both union and non-union jobs across the company, and Hill said they are “probably looking for more [cuts] from editorial than advertising.” The news was first reported on Twitter by Mike Stanton, who retired recently as The Journal’s chief investigative reporter.

The Journal’s advertising revenue fell 14% in the second quarter compared with last year, according to its Dallas-based parent company, A.H. Belo. “There’s really not much good news in the Rhode Island economy right now,” CEO Robert Decherd told investors in late July. The Journal’s average weekday circulation fell to 79,244 during the six months ended March 31, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Journal executives did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Hill said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“I was disappointed and not surprised – that’s probably the best way to put it,” he said. “Anybody who’s picked up the papers the last few months can see they’ve been thin.”

Like newspapers across the United States, The Journal has been hit hard by the transition of readers – and advertising dollars – from print outlets to digital ones. The paper’s total revenue fell from $166 million in 2005 to $94 million in 2012, a drop of 43% in seven years.

“It’s tough,” Hill said. “These things have the potential to be very divisive. First off it’s a morale-killer right off the bat, because you’ve got people walking around for a month or so wondering if they have a job here, and there’s a lot of fault lines this can split people on. … People who can go, we hope will. And we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

Journal employees are being offered a buyout package equal to 1.25 weeks’ pay for each year of continuous service to the company, up to a maximum of 10 weeks’ pay, Hill said. Medical coverage will not be included, he said. The deadline to apply for the buyout is Oct. 7. The last day of work for those who take a buyout will be Oct. 12.

“Once they know who’s gone they will then decide on which positions are going to be eliminated – that would be the layoff phase – and there are projections that that could be done by the end of [next] month,” Hill said. “It’s taken longer in the past.”

It’s unclear how many people currently work at The Journal. The size of the paper’s staff was pegged at 709 in August 2008, before the first in a series of rounds of layoffs over the past five years, and had fallen to 468 by the end of 2011. The newspaper laid off 23 more employees last November.

Hill’s Providence Newspaper Guild union currently represents about 150 to 160 Journal employees. Its current contract with the newspaper expires on Dec. 31, though Hill said the pact will remain in effect until a new one is negotiated. He said the union offered to discuss other concessions to avoid job cuts.

“Thirty is a lot, period, but the real question will be how many come out of the Guild, frankly,” Hill said. “It’s the Guild people who are out there in the field – be it reporters, photographers or ad people selling the ads – the Guild is where the rubber meets the road that makes the newspaper function. … Anything that diminishes that ability to do journalism to generate ad revenue is going to slow the whole thing down.”

Ironically, the new round of job cuts comes the same week the Providence Newspaper Guild is commemorating the 40th anniversary of its extended 1973 strike against The Journal.

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