Someone just passed a memo to me, no more than an hour old, from the publisher of the Hartford Courant to his staff. News pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. Subscribers will only be getting 75% of what they get now in quantity. The newsroom will go from 232 to 175. The reduction there is also to 75% of current levels. There will be voluntary buyouts and forced layoffs.
All this comes on the heels of the heavily leveraged purchase of the Tribune Corporation, the Courant’s owner, by Sam Zell. It’s a sad day for journalism, for print media, for Connecticut.
There is little public support for newspapers or print in general. The problem is, newspapers still perform an extremely valuable service. No one else provides the depth of reportage papers do.
The Courant’s memo follows after the jump.
From: Teutsch, Clifford
Sent: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 3:02 PM
To: Courant News Staff
To: The Staff
We told you earlier this month that we would be making significant reductions in staff and newshole to meet economic realities. I’m writing now to give you the numbers and tell you how we will proceed.
Our news pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. Positions will go from 232 to about 175. Four of those 232 positions are now vacant.
Perhaps these are the numbers you were expecting. Perhaps they are a shock. I have had a little time to wrap my head around them; many of you will need to do that too. They will be life-changing for some, and they add a sober reality for all as we continue to remake the paper for a September launch.
The staff reductions will be handled as follows:
We are offering voluntary buyouts to everyone in News except the web staff. We will accept or reject applications based on the anticipated needs of the new paper. We will not use seniority as a criterion as we have in the past. People seeking a buyout will have until July 9 to apply to Human Resources, as explained in packets being distributed today.
In addition to buyouts, we expect that layoffs will be necessary to meet our reduction target, and they too will be based on the needs we foresee for our redesigned paper.
Most people will leave by the end of July. There may be a few exceptions for production-critical jobs. The page reductions will come in September.
The packages will be the same as last time, including an enhanced pension benefit paid in the form of a contribution to your cash balance account. The payment will be based on one week of pay for every six months of service, capped at 52 weeks of pay, plus 3%. Health benefits will be continued, and the company will pay for career planning services. HR staff members are available to talk with you about your specific situation. The package is the same for buyout and layoff.
The Courant, Tribune and newspapers across the country are responding to fundamental changes in our business, especially a significant decline in advertising revenue. The cuts we’re talking about today are among a number of moves we are making in the face of those changes. Multiple initiatives are underway to bring in more print revenue and maximize the potential of online. For example, about two hundred potential online advertisers attended an information session yesterday. These moves are all necessary for this paper to sustain itself, pay down debt and invest in the future.
For some, the decision about whether to seek a buyout will depend on knowing how The Courant will change. Our vision for the new paper will be clearer, but not fully formed by July 9. We will let you know as much as possible before then. Bobbie’s note on Monday was the first step in that communication.
In general, we plan to build a more compact paper for weekdays, when readers are pressed for time. We will present information in short form whenever feasible and go in-depth for the most important, relevant stories. On Sunday, when many people spend more time reading, the paper will stay about the same size it is today. Daily and Sunday, we will add new content and new approaches. There will also be takeaways, and we will be as smart as we can about making them. The paper will be completely redesigned. We will fully integrate print and online, and increase interactivity with readers.
Re-inventing a newspaper is a huge undertaking under the best of circumstances. Doing it with significantly reduced resources in a tight timeframe is even more challenging. Now, we must forge ahead with that work while we make the tough decisions about who will go and who will stay.
Those who remain will still be by far the largest news staff in Connecticut, and comparable in size to many papers of our circulation volume across the country. We will continue to be – we must continue to be — a journalistic force. Our readers deserve that. That has been true for 243 years, and never more so than now.
I’ll be available in the newsroom at 7 pm today and 2 pm tomorrow. After that, if you want to talk further, please email or call me or Candy to schedule some time.