N&O eliminates 21 positions, SacBee axes 25

The News & Observer announced the elimination of 21 positions this morning, including 10 from the newsroom. The Sacramento Bee, another McClatchy newspaper, announced the elimination of 25 positions.

The reductions represent “the latest cuts as the media company rides out a sharp decline in revenue,”  The N&O’s report says.

In a memo to the newsroom, Managing Editor John Drescher said five newsroom employees in single-incumbent jobs — meaning they are the only ones who do their jobs — were told today their last day at the newspaper will be January 29. In addition, five employees from  photo, design, copy editing and news research must come forward to have their positions eliminated or staff members will be let go according to seniority.

“We continue to operate in a time of great challenge at The News & Observer, at The McClatchy Company and within the newspaper industry,” N&O Publisher Orage Quarles III said in his announcement to staff. “While we have already implemented a number of cost-control and reorganization measures, revenues continue to show losses, and we must reduce our expenses until we are again showing growth.”

In December, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt said all of the company’s daily papers were making a profit. Pruitt also said at the time that more cost reduction, in the high-20 percent range, would be necessary in 2010.

In addition to the ongoing decline of the newspaper industry, McClatchy has been burdened by about $2 billion in debt acquired mostly in its  2006 acquisition of Knight Ridder. The company has wiped out some $1.4 billion of the debt over the last four years, according to a previous Editor & Publisher report.

The N&O has 524 full-time positions today, down from 704 a year ago, according to the newspaper’s report about today’s layoffs. The newspaper last year also cut wages, suspended contributions to retirement plans and required unpaid furloughs for its staff.

Last year, The N&O had layoffs or buyouts in April and August, after a previous round in October 2008 and various other jobs eliminated earlier.

Quarles told his reporter today that it’s too soon to say whether there could be more cuts this year, a decision that will hinge mostly on how much ad sales rebound.

“I know that these announcements are distracting and disruptive, and I apologize for that,” Quarles’ e-mail said. “We can only ask, with utmost respect and gratitude for all that you do, that everyone stays focused and continues to work hard to help our company continue to make its way through these difficult times.”

“This is another sad day,” Drescher said.

McClatchy restructured a portion of its debt in December and has seen its stock price double since.  It rose 25 cents Monday, topping $5 to settle at $5.14 a share at closing.

“When it announces its latest earnings next week, McClatchy is expected to report that fourth-quarter revenue fell by a percentage in the low-to-mid-20s, compared with a 28 percent drop in the third quarter,” The N&O today.

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