Star-Ledger slashes newsroom staff

October 25, 2008 3:50:08 PM PDT
The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., will reduce its newsroom staff by nearly half through voluntary buyouts as New Jersey's largest newspaper seeks to return to profitability.Jim Willse, the Star-Ledger's editor, said Friday that the newspaper accepted 151 buyout offers from its news staff, or about 45 percent of its 334 editorial employees. He said 17 buyout applications were rejected.

Some staffers already have left, and others are leaving by year's end, many after the elections.

"We've got from now to the end of the year to figure out what adjustments we have to make," Willse said. "We will be able to produce an abundance of good stories. We will still have a good paper but we have to figure out exactly how to accomplish that."

The number of buyouts accepted outside the newsroom was not immediately known. The newspaper had sought at least 200 total, out of 750 full-time, nonunion workers, and received more than enough applications.

Two unions agreed to another 120 buyouts combined.

The Star-Ledger, with daily circulation of about 350,000, has posted losses for at least three straight years and was on pace to lose between $30 million and $40 million in 2008. The newspaper won union concessions and enough voluntary buyout applications from nonunion employees to lift a threatened sale or closure by January.

The newspaper's owner, Advance Publications Inc., believes that upcoming operational changes and payroll cuts should return the paper to profitability even if the advertising outlook doesn't improve, though ad prospects are looking worse following last month's financial meltdown, which further depressed spending.

Willse said the paper has no plans to pull back its coverage or circulation area following the staff reductions. He said he did not know whether the newspaper would need to expand the use of freelancers, who now write food, travel and other items.

Newspapers across the country have been reducing staff through attrition, buyouts or layoffs, but few have seen such drastic cuts.

The East Valley Tribune, a daily newspaper primarily serving Phoenix suburbs, has announced plans to eliminate 142 jobs, or 40 percent of its employees, early next year when its print edition will become a free distribution publication running four days a week. A third of the jobs cut belong to journalists.

Also Friday, Gannett Co. said it would explore additional job cuts beyond the 1,100 announced this summer because of poor economic conditions, while A.H. Belo Corp. said it was imposing a companywide wage freeze Nov. 1 and suspending profit-based payments to retirement plans in January until it returns to profitability.


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