Associated Press to cut 10 pct jobs in '09: sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Associated Press plans to cut up to 10 percent of its workforce in 2009, according to sources at the news service, as it copes with tough financial times and ailing member newspapers.

The AP has one of the world’s largest news-gathering teams, employing about 3,000 journalists, and a total of about 4,100 people worldwide. The cuts could amount to about 400 employees.

AP Chief Executive Tom Curley delivered the news as part of a “town hall” meeting with employees.

“All areas and ways of doing business are being reviewed,” said an AP statement provided to Reuters. “The AP, which recently instituted a strategic hiring freeze, may need to reduce staff over the next year. If so, it hopes to achieve much of the reduction through attrition.”

The job cuts come as the AP restructures its operations in the United States in a bid to provide what it said would be deeper, more relevant coverage for its member newspapers.

It is unclear how the cuts would affect the AP’s news flow. Many U.S. residents cannot read a day’s helping of news in print or on the Internet without encountering an AP story. The group has 240 bureaus worldwide, numerous local U.S. bureaus and 1,500 U.S. daily paper members.

The AP, which started 162 years ago as a newsgathering cooperative for U.S. papers, earlier this year revised its rate structure for member papers to help lower the fees that they pay as advertising revenue declines imperil publishers.

This comes after publishers objected to the terms of a previous rate structure plan the AP had planned to introduce.

One big publisher, Tribune Co, gave notice that it might drop the AP stories over the next two years as a result.

Some papers, like The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, have started exploring running editions without AP stories, which often fills many pages of papers that have been slashing staff, leaving few people and few ads to fill the space.

The Star-Ledger and many other papers, as well as big publishers from USA Today’s Gannett Co Inc to McClatchy Co and the New York Times Co have collectively cut thousands of jobs this year. Investors in turn have abandoned these companies as stock market prospects as their chances for recovery fail to materialize.

In addition to wires such as Bloomberg, Dow Jones Newswires and Agence France-Presse, the AP competes with Reuters News, a division of Thomson Reuters Corp.

Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Dave Zimmerman