The axe falls at The Seattle Times

Up to 150 jobs will be eliminated through voluntary or involuntary layoff.
Crosscut archive image.
Up to 150 jobs will be eliminated through voluntary or involuntary layoff.

Other papers and magazines are bracing for cutbacks of reporting staffs after Election Day, but The Seattle Times apparently decided it couldn't wait to notify staffers they're going to see up to 150 jobs disappear soon. Rumors of serious cutbacks at the state's biggest paper have been circulating for weeks, leaving the Times newsroom badly traumatized, according to staffers.

A memo today by Times Publisher Frank Blethen and President Carolyn Kelly will hardly relieve tension. "As the 2009 budgeting process continues," the Times executives wrote, "there will be additional expense reductions, which may include additional layoffs."

Seattle Times Co. spokeswoman Jill Mackie told Crosscut that the staff cuts would be across the newspaper, including the elimination of 35 to 45 newsroom positions. The Times currently has 1,600 full and part-time employees.

Across town at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Managing Editor David McCumber tells Crosscut that the paper has so far staved off layoffs by reducing the news staff through attrition. "While we currently are not planning layoffs," says McCumber, "I certainly can't guarantee that will continue."

One group of Seattle Times Co. employees who aren't bracing for further cuts are the company's Blethen Maine Newspapers staffers. "We've had four rounds of layoffs in the last five quarters," says Portland Newspaper Guild President Tom Bell. The Times Co. is seeking to sell the chain to raise cash but so far hasn't reached an agreement with a buyout group headed by Pennsylvania newspaper publisher Richard Connor. "We don't expect any cuts for the remainder of the year," says Bell.

The memo:

TO: Seattle Times Employees
FROM: Frank Blethen and Carolyn Kelly
DATE: November 3, 2008

Even in this unprecedented national economic crisis our newspaper readership and online audience continue to be strong and stable.  The Seattle Times Company'ꀙs print and online network reaches 70% of the adults in King and Snohomish counties.  We are, by far and away, the area's leading and most popular provider of news and information.  And we are also the leading and most effective medium for area advertisers.

With so much challenging news, it's instructive to note that:

  • The Seattle Times was one of the only metro newspapers in the United States to actually grow circulation from 2000 through 2007
  • The Seattle Times Company'ꀙs online network is the most dominant online news network in the state
  • recently ranked among the top 16 newspaper Web sites nationally

But even with this great readership and audience success, we have had to adjust to structural industry changes which have reduced advertising revenue in all media, worldwide.  Even the growth of online revenue has stalled in this world economic slowdown.

Prior to the country's current financial crisis, the Seattle Times Company did an excellent job making necessary adjustments in staffing and infrastructure in response to the structural changes in the newspaper/electronic media business.  Unfortunately, today'ꀙs economic situation is forecast to last through 2009 and possibly into 2010.  Like almost every other business, we are now forced to further downsize the Seattle Times Company to adjust to the economic malaise.

Within your departments today you will hear more detail about the steps being taken for the 2009 budget, including the staff positions being reduced.

Among the most difficult is the workforce reduction of approximately 130-150 positions, a combination of voluntary separations and layoffs. Additionally, there will be reductions in hours for some groups.  In certain job categories, Expressions of Interest (voluntary separations) are being considered.  Specifics will be communicated within departments.

As the 2009 budgeting process continues, there will be additional expense reductions, which may include additional layoffs.  

As difficult as these operating decisions are, it is important to remember we have been here for 112 years, weathering many ups and downs, and these budget actions are necessary to respond to the current economic conditions and to position our newspaper and online operations for many more years of success and community service.

As always, we are deeply appreciative of your contributions as a member of The Times family.

Frank and Carolyn


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