The Seattle Times Co. today told its staff that it will reduce the newspaper's workforce by about 200, through layoff and attrition, and cut $15 million from the company's operating budget this year. Those figures are approximate, says spokesperson Jill Mackie. She said about two-thirds of the job cuts would result in actual layoffs, while a third are positions not presently filled. The company's Seattle-area employment is 1,845 full and part time people.
The magnitude of the layoff in coming months will depend to some degree on how many employees might be willing to volunteer to be laid off, with severance benefits. In a memo to employees, Alayne Fardella, the executive in charge of human resources, said the present estimate is 131 layoffs and 60 "frozen" positions going unfilled.
The Seattle Times newsroom of several hundred workers will see elimination of 49 positions, with 30 people being laid off and 19 unfilled jobs staying that way. The paper plans to close bureaus in Snohomish County and in the Eastside suburbs, according to people familiar with the plan.
The announcement comes during a time of turmoil in the newspaper business, with legacy print products attracting fewer readers and advertising dollars, while Web readership and advertising, though increasing, are failing to cover the gap. Though it is the state's biggest-circulation newspaper, The Seattle Times has been hit particularly hard, executives say, due to a 49-day strike in 2000-01 and a three-year legal battle with Seattle Post-Intelligencer owner Hearst over the two papers' joint operating agreement.
Layoffs in business departments of the Times will affect the P-I to some degree because the Times handles advertising sales, production, and distribution for both papers. Employees of the Times were told of the plan at noon-hour meetings at company headquarters in South Lake Union. At the P-I office a mile away, Publisher Roger Oglesby said: "The P-I has no layoffs planned at this time, but that is not to say layoffs won't happen here at some point, too."
Last month, citing financial hardship, the company put up for sale three daily newspapers in Maine – the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Besides The Seattle Times flagship, the company also owns two other dailies in Washington – the Yakima Herald-Republic and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin – as well as the NWsource.com Web portal.
In a memo to the Seattle Times Co. staff, CEO and Times Publisher Frank Blethen and Times Co. President Carolyn Kelly said the layoffs were "to better align our expenses to the reduced revenue we now anticipate."
"We recognize and regret that these decisions have a considerable impact on people's lives," the memo said.
Some Times staff members slated to be cut were notified in the newsroom shortly after the announcement, according to a union official.
Last month, Times Co. officials said the newspaper's print revenue fell by 10.7 percent in January and February and online revenue fell by 6.5 percent. "Our circumstances are in line with the newspaper industry nationally," the memo said.
Last month, Editor & Publisher, a newspaper industry trade publication, said all but three of the nation's top 30 newspaper Web sites had traffic gains in February, with both The Seattle Times and P-I showing increases. Citing figures gathered by Nielsen Online, E&P said traffic to the Times Web site rose 13.3 percent in February 2008, compared to February 2007, while the P-I recorded a 33.9 percent increase in February Web traffic compared to a year earlier.
Sandra Kataoka, a spokesperson for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents Times and P-I staffers, said news and ad employees at the Times had received layoff notices. The union has not been formally notified of the layoffs, Kataoka said.
According to a posting on the Guild's website, P-I officials told members of the newspaper's staff in February that the paper had lost $30 million since 2000 and that it was facing its most substantial loss this year. In an e-mail to Crosscut, Publisher Oglesby declined to confirm the union's post, noting that Hearst, which owns the P-I, is privately held and does not release financial information. Oglesby added, however, "there's no reason to believe the P-I will be profitable this year."
Here's the memo today from Blethen and Kelly to Times employees:
Date: April 7, 2008
To: Seattle Times Employees
From: Frank Blethen and Carolyn Kelly
Due to the continued and increased loss of traditional newspaper revenue for both The Seattle Times and the Seattle P-I, we will be making necessary expense reductions. Our circumstances are in line with the newspaper industry nationally, which continues to see steep declines particularly in areas of Classified ad revenue and also a slowing of online revenue growth.
We had hoped the expense reductions made at the beginning of the year would prevent the need for further downsizing, but that is not the case. The only responsible action to take is to better align our expenses to the reduced revenue we now anticipate.
The SOC team has identified approximately $15 million in budget reductions that will be implemented over the next two months. These include significant changes to the way we do business and involve realignment and centralization throughout our organization. You will hear more about the specific changes in departmental meetings.
The most difficult part of these changes involves a reduction of our workforce of approximately 200 positions through a combination of freezing open positions and a significant number of layoffs. This is not an action we take lightly - we recognize and regret that these decisions have a considerable impact on people's lives.
Most affected employees are being notified today. In certain job categories, Expressions Of Interest (voluntary separations) are being considered, so there will be some continued uncertainty over the next two weeks until the EOI process has been completed. Alayne Fardella will send out a follow up communication with additional details.
While this is difficult news, it is important to note that the Seattle Times Company and the brands we represent remain market leaders. Our audience reach in print and online is deep and broad in the greater Puget Sound. Strategic and thoughtful changes to the way we do business will allow us to be positioned for the future.
Our success is based on our public service mission and our people. We are grateful for each individual's contribution toward sustaining The Seattle Times as an independent and meaningful voice in our community far into the future.
In her memo, Fardella offered this estimation of layoffs:
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