Newspaper woes, contd. UPDATE II | Arkansas Blog

Newspaper woes, contd. UPDATE II

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Chris Spencer, county government reporter for the Morning News in Springdale, confirms to me his earlier Twitter that he'd been laid off today. I'd just begun following his reports, also an entertaining food blog he apparently did just for fun. At least five others -- a photographer, a department editor, a sports reporter and two page designers -- have also lost jobs, according to a paper staff member. More to come as staffers were called in early for work today. Rusty Turner, the newspaper's editor, said the layoffs will total nine in the news department, but he otherwise couldn't comment beyond coverage in the newspaper's own story.

The newspaper has posted a report on its website. The initial posting lead with news about a "change in standard format" -- a euphemism for a reduction in the number of sections produced each day.

People were mentioned in the second paragraph, but no numbers were given about reductions said to have occurred across all newspaper departments. This was to be updated to reflect the nine newsroom layoffs, Turner said.

My source puts the number affected companywide anywhere from 11 to 20. Employees werecalled in one by one to learn of their dismissal or about a "limited furlough program" for newsroom employees. Copy desk hands were added to the list of six I mentioned earlier. One employee reported hearing of pay cuts for some long-time employees.

The word from inside is that some are receiving severance and a limited continuation of health coverage (federal law requires that all are able to continue health insurance at their own expense).

Said a former employee: "There was a great deal of weeping and cussing while I was there today.  ... Some folks even showed up to work with boxes -- even before they were given the official axe."

It was another unhappy day for another group of newspaper people and the people who read their work. All of us have been buffeted by declining ad sales, some also by declines in circulation revenue.

UPDATE II: On the jump, the memo to staff from managing editor Lisa Thompson.

Staff News
By Lisa Thompson | Thu, Apr 23, 2009Morning Message
Guys,
A number of changes took effect today at The Morning News. I share them here in the most candid way I can and trust that this information will stay between us. We will be making (or have made) a web announcement later today and there will be a story in print tomorrow and again on Sunday and perhaps Monday. We will have an editorial department staff meeting in Springdale at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 29.
First, format changes. In order to further reduce pages and to allow us a more simplified press set up, we have combined the four main sections that we produce each day into two sections Monday-Saturday. The two sections will typically be 10 or 12 pages, but will vary depending on the ad percentage. We will continue to zone the front of the A section as we have been. We will try for open “second cover” pages inside the sections to note the change in subject matter as we did with the state/region cover page in the back of the A section, but there may be days when ads appear on those pages as well.
It will be more important than ever that reporters meet their length estimates, especially at night.
A typical 10 page A section would be:
Pages 1-3 – local news, zoned
4 – obits
5 – local common page – may contain state/region news
6 – editorial
7 – biz cover
8- biz jump; stories
9-10- state, regional, national and international news.
A typical 10-page B section would be:
Pages 1-5 – sports
Page 6 –7 - feature cover
8-9 – comics and puzzles
10 – weather, dear Abby and maybe the second crossword and crypto-whatever brought back
For Sunday, we would have four sections with two running in advance. Page count should be 10-12 range but will depend on the ad stack. A typical Sunday would be:
A section – local news, state, region, national, international
B section – sports
C section – would run earlier Saturday evening - Business and editorial
D sections – would run earlier Saturday evening – Our Town.
We will need to start the presses 30 minutes earlier tonight and Friday night and 15 minutes early each night after that.
Second, the reduction in pages, simplified press set up and overall need to cut costs has lead to a number of job eliminations throughout the newspaper that took effect today. Nine of those were in editorial and will mean a shifting of duties, days off and hours for many of us. Please try to stay focused on the tasks at hand and remember that this much change will mean some bumps in the road as work things out.
Third, in order to keep the job eliminations to the lowest possible number, each editorial staff member will be required to take one furlough day each six weeks, beginning Sunday, April 26. These days will be unpaid and TOWP cannot be used. They must be scheduled with the approval of your supervising editor. So that we may track them departmentwide, please note them as furlough days on the vacation calendar assigned to Leeanna.
For planning purposes through the end of the year, this would mean one day between
April 26-June 6; June 7-July 18; July 19-Aug. 29; Aug, 30-Oct. 10; Oct. 11-Nov. 21; and Nov. 22 – Dec. 31.
Last, to mitigate these cuts as much as possible, we eliminated nonpersonnel expenses further, including the elimination of the remaining correspondent’s budget and all professional fees and dues that we have traditionally paid. The reductions affected everyone from Rusty down.
If you have an immediate question, please ask your supervisor, Rusty or myself. General questions can also be addressed at Wednesday’s staff meeting. We’ve done great things with our product in the past few years and will continue to do great things as we strive to be the source of news and information for Northwest Arkansas. We will be focused more than ever in the future to providing that information that can only be found on our website or in our newspaper – unique, local coverage and enterprise.
To coin the boss – I appreciate all that you do each day.

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