Times to Offer Voluntary Retirement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Times, blaming the economic slowdown, announced a voluntary retirement program for older employees Thursday as part of a cost-cutting effort by its parent corporation, Chicago-based Tribune Co.

Tribune became the latest of several newspaper companies to reduce payrolls this year as the industry battles the effects of slumping advertising revenue and the rising cost of newsprint.

Officials at The Times wouldn't say how many jobs they hope to eliminate, but Tribune's goal is to cut about 6% of the 21,000 employees for its 11 daily newspapers. About half those are expected to result from employees taking the early retirement offer, and the rest from reorganizations and attrition.

Including cuts already made, Tribune said that by year's end, it will have reduced its publishing division by 10% since it merged with Times Mirror and acquired The Times in June 2000.

At The Times, "fewer than 50" jobs will be eliminated involuntarily, said publisher John Puerner. Most involve changes announced last month in the circulation department. Puerner said that although he could "never rule out the possibility" of more involuntary staff reductions, he expects voluntary retirements to achieve "the objectives of the program."

More than 900 of The Times' total staff of about 6,000, who range from drivers and pressroom operators to advertising and marketing employees, are eligible for the early retirement offer. Not all will be permitted to retire early since department limits will be invoked, Puerner said, to "preserve the quality of our journalism and the integrity of our operations."

In the newsroom, Editor John Carroll said 171 of the editorial staff of 1,086 are eligible, but only 30 early retirements will be approved. All the newsroom retirements will be voluntary. Carroll said additional retirements might be permitted "if we feel it won't cause operational difficulties." During the economic downturn of the early '90s, The Times offered voluntary buyouts to a much larger number of employees and lost 981 full-time equivalent positions, 129 of them in the newsroom. In 1995, the paper eliminated the equivalent of 375 more full-time positions, including 90 in the newsroom.

"I believe that this program has been fashioned with care . . . I have every confidence that The Times will be an even better paper a year from now than it is today," Carroll said.

The voluntary retirement program is available to those 50 and older with at least five years of service. Eligible employees will receive their pensions in a lump sum or as a full monthly pension beginning at age 50, instead of 65, and other inducements.

The Times exempted about 100 newsroom staffers who would have been eligible for early retirement but whose jobs were deemed essential.

They include section heads and their deputies, news and copy editors, columnists, critics, foreign correspondents and their editors and various categories of reporters and bureau chiefs.

Industry analyst John Morton said Wall Street probably would be "favorably disposed" to Tribune's moves. "Any time you cut costs, Wall Street likes it," he said, "no matter the consequences at the paper. It shows Tribune wants to bolster its [profit] margins as best it can in these difficult times."

The announcement was made after the close of trading.

Tribune, which also publishes the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and the Baltimore Sun, cut its earnings projections Thursday for the second quarter. Tribune also owns several television stations.

Tribune put its earnings estimate at 22 cents a share, versus a consensus estimate on Wall Street of 28 cents. Tribune stock closed at $40.63, down 64 cents in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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