The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday announced plans to cut 250 positions across the company, including 150 positions in editorial, in a new effort to bring expenses into line with declining revenue. In a further cost-cutting step, the newspaper will reduce the number of pages it publishes each week by 15%.
“You all know the paradox we find ourselves in,” Times Editor Russ Stanton said in a memo to the staff. “Thanks to the Internet, we have more readers for our great journalism than at any time in our history. But also thanks to the Internet, our advertisers have more choices, and we have less money.”
He also noted that the poor economy had struck particularly hard at the California housing market, traditionally a robust source of advertising revenue for The Times.
The cuts reflect conditions across the newspaper industry, which is confronting sharply deteriorating print advertising revenues. Although online ad revenues are rising, they have not made up for the losses. Amid the current nationwide economic slowdown, the prospects are for continued revenue shrinkage through the end of this year.
Times Publisher David Hiller said the goal of the cuts was to “get to where we need to be for the long term. We want to get ahead of the economy that’s been rolling down on us and get to a size that will be sustainable.”
Hiller said the size of the reductions was predicated on the expectation that the economy would “bottom out and reach equilibrium” early next year. The editorial staff cuts will be among 250 positions cut across all departments of The Times, including circulation, marketing and advertising, Hiller said. Companywide employment will be about 3,000 after the reductions, he said.
The editorial staff cuts, which amount to roughly 17%, will be spread between the print newsroom and The Times’ Web operations and are to be completed by Labor Day. The two operations employ about 876 people, meaning that the editorial staff will remain above 700. The paper would continue to have one of the largest corps of editors and reporters in the country. Details on the reductions, including severance terms, will be forthcoming.
Hiller said he expected that the severance terms would match those of earlier staff buyouts at The Times, including payment equivalent to two weeks’ salary for every year of service, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, to be paid into the employee’s retirement account. One issue still under study, Hiller said, is whether the reductions trigger the California Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification Act, or WARN, which requires 60 days’ notice of impending layoffs under certain circumstances.
As part of the reduction process, Stanton said, The Times will be combining its print and Web staffs into a single operation with a unified budget.
“These moves will be difficult and painful,” Stanton said in his memo. “But it is absolutely crucial that as we move through this process, we must maintain our ambition and our determination to produce the highest-quality journalism in print and online, every day.”
The cuts are the latest, and among the most severe, in a series of reductions that have pared The Times’ editorial staff down from its 2001 level of nearly 1,200. The most recent reductions, announced in February, involved the elimination of more than 100 jobs in all Times departments, including more than 40 in the newsroom.
The reductions have come amid considerable management turmoil: In 2006, then-Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet publicly refused to make cuts requested by management at Tribune Co., owner of The Times. Both eventually left the newspaper. Tribune was then a publicly traded company, but it has since been taken private in a buyout led by Chicago entrepreneur Sam Zell.
Johnson was succeeded by Hiller. Baquet was replaced by James O’Shea, then the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune; O’Shea departed in January, also after objecting to planned cuts in the newsroom budget. Stanton, a 10-year veteran of The Times, was named editor three weeks later.
Announcements of hundreds of reductions were issued only last week by dailies in Boston, San Jose, Detroit and elsewhere. Among Tribune newspapers, the Baltimore Sun said it would cut about 100 positions by early August and the Hartford Courant announced plans to cut about 50 newsroom positions. The New York Times and the Washington Post both instituted layoffs or buyouts to reduce their staffs this year.
Besides the changes in the newspaper industry, Tribune carries the burden of about $1 billion in annual payments on its debt, much of which it took on to finance the $8.2-billion buyout.
Since the buyout, which became effective at the end of December, Zell has moved to reduce the debt through asset sales. A $650-million sale of the suburban New York daily Newsday is pending, and the sale of the Chicago Cubs along with the baseball team’s iconic Wrigley Field ballpark and related properties is expected to bring in $1 billion or more when it is completed, probably this year.
Zell said last month that the Newsday sale and new credit arrangements would ensure that the company would meet its interest and principal obligations this year and would remain in compliance with its loan agreements.
“Even with the reductions, this is one amazing place with great people and great customers,” Hiller said, “and we’re going to keep doing amazing work for them.”