LA Times, Chicago Tribune to cut jobs

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune will cut up to 250 jobs to offset declining circulation and advertising in the latest effort by parent company Tribune Co. to curb costs ahead of its plan to go private in an $8.2 billion deal.

A view of the "Los Angeles Times" newspaper building in downtown Los Angeles April 2, 2007. The Times will offer buyouts to up to 150 employees to offset declining circulation and advertising in the latest effort by parent company Tribune Co. to cut jobs ahead of its plan to go private in an $8.2 billion deal. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The Times plans to cut up to 150 jobs, which it will try to achieve through buyouts. It would equal 3 percent to 5 percent of workers at the Times, the Tribune’s largest newspaper, publisher David Hiller wrote in a note to the staff.

“The fact is we have to take actions to keep staffing in line with the revenue picture, which currently is falling in the core print business,” Hiller wrote.

The news added to a feeling of gloom that has gripped the paper for months, Times media critic Tim Rutten said.

“At this point we don’t have a morale problem ... because we don’t have anything that looks like morale,” he said.

The Chicago Tribune plans to cut up to 100 jobs, or about 3 percent of its staff, through buyouts and layoffs, a company spokeswoman said.

The Times said it may lay off an unspecified number of workers and leave some jobs open. Some employees would get the option of working a four-day week at 80 percent of their pay.

Hiller in an interview declined to say whether the latest round would be the last in the near future.

“I’ve been in this business long enough not to overpromise in terms of what the future will bring,” he said.

The paper could cut up to 70 jobs from its news operation, which would bring its newsroom staff to roughly 850, the Times reported on its Web site. Hiller said newsroom cuts likely would be “north of 50.”

The news operation employed about 1,200 when Tribune bought the paper in 2000.

Many employees are angry about making more sacrifices when the paper is making money, and when top Tribune executives stand to reap millions of dollars in bonuses and stock grants once Tribune goes private, Rutten said.

“For executives who are not simply collecting a check but distributing profits to their stockholders and collecting huge bonuses for themselves ... putting people out of work is simply immoral,” Rutten said.

Tribune is going private in a deal led by Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell against the backdrop of declining profits and a shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet.

The company will be employee-owned while Zell will get an option to take 40 percent of the company. Investors stand to get $34 a share.

Times editor James O’Shea in another memo said he would not defend the bonuses. “Frankly, I understand why you are angry about these plans,” he wrote.

The Times’s former editor, Dean Baquet, and former publisher Jeffrey Johnson, resigned from the paper last year after they resisted Tribune’s call to cut more jobs.

Last week, Tribune reported a first-quarter loss and a 6 percent drop in advertising revenue. Classified ad sales fell 14 percent. U.S. newspapers have been particularly hard hit by the shift of classified advertising to the Internet.

“We still make lots of money. But a negative cloud hangs over our projected future revenues,” O’Shea wrote. “Advertisers simply doubt we can continue to attract readers as we have in the past.”

Tribune is working with Gannett Co. Inc. on an online advertising network that they hope will increase their ability to sell ads online as the print side falls. Several other publishers are working on similar networks.

The Baltimore Sun plans to announce reductions of some kind in the near future, a spokeswoman confirmed after reports appeared in the paper.

Tribune shares closed up 24 cents at $32.49 on the New York Stock Exchange.