RPT-UPDATE 2-L.A. Times to cut 250 jobs, 150 in editorial

Thu Jul 3, 2008 12:39am BST

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(Repeats to more subscribers) (Updates with Times planning redesign, combined newsrooms)

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES, July 2 (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Times will slash 250 jobs, including 150 in the newsroom, and trim its published pages by 15 percent in an effort to save money in the face of declining revenues, the newspaper said on Wednesday.

The cuts are the latest in a series for the Times, which will have whittled its newsroom from nearly 1,200 reporters in 2000 to just over 700 as circulation and advertising revenues have faded in the face of competition from the Internet.

Most of the business-side positions had already been eliminated and the editorial jobs will be gone by Labor Day, in time for the Times to combine its print and Web newsrooms, the newspaper said.

The Times also intends to roll out new redesigned versions of both its print and Web editions.

"These moves will be difficult and painful," Editor Russ Stanton said in a memo to the staff. "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 Times said in a separate story on the website that the editorial cuts amounted to about 17 percent of the staff. Publisher David Hiller told the paper that the goal of the cutbacks was long-term survival.

"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, adding that he expected the downturn to "bottom out" by early 2009.

$13 BILLION IN DEBT

The layoffs are part of a wider effort at Tribune to reduce expenses as it labors under some $13 billion in debt -- a good portion coming from an $8.2 billion buyout led by Chicago real estate tycoon Sam Zell that took Tribune off the public market.

Some debt analysts say Tribune could default on its debt as early as next year. According to Reuters Loan Pricing Corp, the company needs to repay at least $1.6 billion of its loan facilities in 2008 and 2009.

The Chicago-based company has been selling off properties and is looking to divest even more, including the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field. It agreed in May to sell New York Newsday, its Long Island-based paper, to Cablevision Systems Corp (CVC.N) for $650 million.

Morale at the paper has also been rocked by the departure of a string of editors and publishers who had resisted orders from Tribune to lower costs. Former publisher Jeffrey Johnson and former editor Dean Baquet both left the paper in 2006, as did Baquet's replacement, Jim O'Shea.

Before Wednesday, the most recent round of cuts came in February, when the paper lost 100 jobs, 40 in the newsroom.

Tribune's problems mirror that at other U.S. newspapers: revenue is falling, dragging profit margins along with it, as advertisers flee to the Internet. Newspapers in California and Florida are suffering especially as the downturn in the housing market cuts into advertising revenue.

Other Tribune newspapers are sharing in the pain. Tribune will cut 100 jobs at The Sun in Baltimore and 60 jobs at the Hartford Courant in Connecticut.

Elsewhere in the industry, McClatchy Co (MNI.N), which publishes the Miami Herald and Sacramento Bee, said last month it would slash about 10 percent of its staff. The Boston Herald and Cox Newspapers also are cutting back, as are the New York Times (NYT.N) and Washington Post WPO.N. (Additional reporting by Robert MacMillan in New York; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Braden Reddall)

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