More Layoffs Loom at ProJo Following Latest Buyout Offer

Sep 20, 2013

In the latest in a series of buy-out offers in recent years, Providence Journal management says it will eliminate about 30 jobs unless enough employees decide to make an early departure.

Reporter John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, says the news was conveyed to the union earlier today. "It's going to hurt," Hill says. "There's not a lot left to cut. Morale is terrible."

The Journal has steadily reduced its workforce through a series of buyouts and layoffs. Twenty-three jobs were cut last year, including those of ace photographers Connie Grosch, John Friedah, and Ruben Perez.

In another blow, the ProJo's Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter, Mike Stanton, left this summer for a teaching job at the University of Connecticut.

Hill says there have been multiple sequences of buyouts, followed by layoffs, since 2008. He says declining revenue was cited as the impetus for the latest cuts. The ProJo's revenue was nearly steady in 2012, but ad sales were down by more than 60 percent.

Like all newspapers, the ProJo has struggled with a loss of ad revenue and print circulation that has intensified in the last dozen years. A big part of the problem is how online advertising for newspaper Web sites brings in only a small fraction of print advertising.

Hill says management didn't provided a breakdown of how many jobs it hopes to eliminate in different aspects of the Journal. He expects it to take a bigger bite of the newsroom than from advertising.

Some background:

-- Newspaper staffing was slimmed before the Dallas-based Belo Corporation (now A.H. Belo) bought the Journal Company in 1997.

-- In 2001, more than 90 ProJo employees took a buyout.

-- In 2008, 22 employees took a buyout, including political columnist M. Charles Bakst, reporter Mark Arsenault (now of the Boston Globe) and reporter Scott MacKay (now of RIPR).

The latest buyout offer consists of 1.25 weeks' pay, up to 10 weeks, for every year of continuous experience at the ProJo; no medical coverage; and the signing of a release form. Hill says the offer amounts to an incentive for more experienced reporters to leave the Journal. He was unable to provide a number for the current number of newsroom employees. The Guild has about 150 members, encompassing reporters, photographers, and other job functions at the Journal.

The deadline for accepting the offer is on October 7. The last day of work for those taking the buyout is slated to be October 12.

Hill says management will then make a call on layoffs based on how many staffers take the buyout.