Paper Cuts: Belo Lays Off 500, 'LA Times' Axes 300

Late Friday saw more grim news for big newspaper publishers, with dual announcements of more staff cuts from A.H. Belo and the Los Angeles Times. The news came not long after allegations of misused funds at the Rocky Mountain News-Denver Post joint operating agreement (JOA).

A.H. Belo said it will lay off 500 employees at four of its daily newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News, or about 14% of the company's total workforce of 3,550. Following 500 cuts in summer 2008, altogether the company has slimmed its workforce by about 25% in less than a year.

In a memo to employees, CEO Robert Decherd said the company had considered holding off on cuts in favor of forcing employees to take unpaid furloughs, but ultimately decided against this strategy. Recently, a number of big newspaper publishers have resorted to unpaid furloughs as temporary cost-cutting measures, including Gannett and the Seattle Times.

Also on Friday, the Los Angeles Times said it will lay off 300 employees, including 70 newsroom staffers, or 11% of the editorial staff. The rest of the cuts will fall on the paper's production and distribution operations.



Publisher Eddy Hartenstein also announced that the newspaper will be reorganized into four new sections: the main section, including California, national and international news as well as opinion; Business, including a revived "Company Town" feature; Sports, which will also include all print classified ads; and finally, "Calendar," including reviews.

This is the latest in a series of layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, which suffered a number of deep cuts as owner Tribune Co. tried--unsuccessfully--to achieve financial stability over the course of 2008. Last February, the newspaper cut 150 positions, including 50 in the newsroom. July saw another 250 positions cut, including 150 in the newsroom, and another 75 positions were cut from the newsroom in October.

Separately, the joint operating agreement (JOA) that publishes the imperiled Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post was torn by accusations that JOA funds were improperly used by one of the partners for payroll. E.W. Scripps, which publishes the Rocky Mountain News, is accusing its JOA partner, MediaNews Group, of borrowing $13 million from the Denver Newspaper Agency, the company set up by the JOA to manage the production and distribution of both newspapers to cover its payroll. This practice is allowed by the terms of the JOA, but Scripps said MediaNews abused it, as the JOA is no longer able to borrow from banks to make up any shortfalls.

In December, Scripps said it would close The Rocky Mountain News if it couldn't find a buyer by the end of this month. The newspaper's fate remains unclear.

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