Times Will Cut Some Sections, News Jobs : Media: State’s continuing economic downturn and rising newsprint prices are cited as factors in shifting focus toward core news operations.
Citing the California economic downturn that has steadily eroded advertising revenue, the Los Angeles Times on Friday announced the closing of eight specialized editorial sections, including the weekly World Report and Spanish-language Nuestro Tiempo sections, and the elimination of 150 editorial positions.
The cuts are part of a broad restructuring that Mark H. Willes, the new president and chief executive of The Times’ corporate parent, Times Mirror Co., announced this week as a means “to focus . . . on our core businesses.”
Besides World Report and Nuestro Tiempo, sections being eliminated are the Westside and City Times suburban sections, Valley Life, Valley Business, Ventura County Life and the Washington Edition, a 2,600-circulation, streamlined version of The Times printed weekdays in Maryland and distributed in Washington and New York.
Except for Westside, founded in 1957, all the sections being eliminated have been started since 1990, the beginning of one of the region’s worst postwar recessions. The sections will be phased out over the next few weeks.
“The strategy behind a number of the section cuts is a painful one--several noble experiments will have to be ended,” Editor Shelby Coffey III said in a memorandum to Times staffers, adding, “These moves reflect a continuing shift away from weekly local zoned sections, and an emphasis on the main paper and its four daily editions in Southern California.”
In The Times’ Downtown newsroom Friday, department managers called employees into meetings to outline the cuts, described in Coffey’s two-page memo. Those whose jobs were being eliminated were notified in subsequent one-on-one meetings with supervisors.
To achieve a cutback of 150 positions--most by involuntary termination--The Times is eliminating the jobs of 176 people--73 full-time, 80 part-time and 23 temporary staffers.
Full-time workers will receive severance packages based on their tenure at The Times, with up to a year’s pay for those having 10 years or more of service.
The actions represent the most widespread involuntary cutbacks at The Times in decades. Even with the reductions, The Times will have one of America’s largest editorial staffs, about 1,100 people.
Those affected include editors, reporters and researchers who have helped to chronicle the region’s long and painful recession but until Friday had escaped its most devastating effects.
Coffey, in his memo, likened the staff reductions to “surgery without anesthesia.”
During the day, subdued staff members gathered in small groups to discuss the cutbacks, and there were several emotional leave-takings by workers who had lost their jobs.
Pushing the restructuring is an advertising downturn that has persisted despite some signs of economic recovery in California.
So far this year, The Times’ advertising has seen “a further softening in major categories like retail and food,” spokeswoman Laura Morgan said Friday.
After peaking in 1990 at $1.125 billion, the newspaper’s revenue slid to $992 million in 1993, Morgan said. Although revenue crept back to just above $1 billion last year, it has been flat so far in 1995, despite increases in advertising rates and circulation prices, she said.
Meanwhile, newsprint costs have soared 85% since the spring of 1994. The price increases for newsprint--The Times’ single largest expenditure after salaries--are expected to add $50 million to the newspaper’s 1995 costs beyond initial projections, The Times said in a statement.
“Our financial performance compares unfavorably to our peers in almost every significant financial category and is far from where it should be,” Times Publisher Richard T. Schlosberg III said in a statement.
“The elements we are eliminating are unprofitable, and in the current environment we simply cannot continue publishing them,” he said.
Much of the news and advertising from the weekly Ventura County Life, Valley Life and Valley Business sections will be folded into the regular daily pages of the regional editions in which those sections now appear. The recently expanded Metro section will add news now appearing in the City Times and Westside sections.
The twice-weekly Westside section will be replaced by a new twice-weekly local news section to be produced by California Community News Corp., a Times Mirror subsidiary that publishes community newspapers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The Times is also working with La Opinion, the Spanish-language newspaper in which Times Mirror has an ownership interest, to develop a marketing alliance to attract advertisers.
In addition, The Times will distribute a limited number of newspapers in Washington.
Newspaperwide, Times employment peaked at 8,500 in 1990 and has since dwindled, largely through attrition, to today’s level of about 6,200. By the end of the year, employment will have fallen to about 5,800--including the 150 positions announced Friday and others outlined earlier.
Times Mirror last week shut down its money-losing New York Newsday newspaper, eliminating 750 jobs. Its profitable sister, Long Island-based Newsday, continues to publish.
Times Mirror also publishes the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and other newspapers, plus consumer and trade magazines and books and other information and educational products for professional markets.
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