12 in Projo union take buyouts, including Harrop; layoffs loom

A dozen members of the Providence Newspaper Guild have agreed to accept buyouts at The Providence Journal but layoffs are still expected to hit the newspaper later this month, a union official said Tuesday.

Guild President John Hill told WPRI.com 12 of his union’s members have taken the buyout, including nationally syndicated opinion columnist Froma Harrop, who serves on The Journal’s five-member editorial board. Harrop has been with the paper since at least the mid-1980s.

Harrop told WPRI.com she will continue to write her twice-weekly column, which is carried in more than 150 newspapers, for distribution by Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate. The column will continue to appear in The Journal because the paper has agreed to pay to carry it, she said.

Two other newsroom veterans who took buyouts were Richard Dujardin, a longtime religion reporter, and Tracy Breton, a legal and investigative reporter. Dujardin has been with The Journal since 1966, except for a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy, while Breton has been with the newspaper since 1973.

“With 30-plus jobs on the chopping block, I have decided to take a buyout from The Providence Journal and continue teaching at Brown,” Breton wrote on Twitter. She added: “I still plan to do journalist writing, just in different venues. … It’s been a great 40-year ride.”

Four of the 12 Guild members who took buyouts work in the newsroom, and the other eight work in advertising, Hill said. An unknown number of non-union employees have also taken buyouts, he said.

Journal executives informed the union last month that they were planning to eliminate roughly 30 jobs after second-quarter advertising revenue declined by 14% and Sunday circulation fell 10% through March.

Asked if the number of buyouts indicates there will still be layoffs at The Journal by the end of this month, Hill said: “I imagine there will be.” The union has not received a breakdown of how many layoffs would be Guild members versus non-members.

“It’s like waiting now,” he said. “We need to know what the numbers are and we don’t have them yet. If you’re not worried about your job, you’re worried about your friend’s job.”

While the deadline to accept a buyout was Monday, Hill said Journal executives have indicated they would still allow employees to take one to offset potential layoffs. “They’re still willing to take them if people step up,” Hill said. “We’re thinking when the numbers come out some people who might have been on the fence might come over. But we’ll see what happens.”

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, but the pact will remain in effect until a new one is negotiated.

Journal executives did not respond to an email seeking comment.

This post has been updated.

More coverage of The Providence Journal on Nesi’s Notes:

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