Decimated: Strib to cut newsroom budget 10 percent

The Star Tribune’s newsroom budget will be cut 10 percent, with a plan in place by June 1, according to a knowledgeable source. The reduction amounts to $2.5 million — part of $20 million in cuts Strib management wants to deliver to lenders by June 30.

Management has just entered formal contract negotiations with the Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom employees. According to the source, if the $2.5 million can’t be cut cooperatively, layoffs are an obvious option.

Management does not need the Guild’s permission to cut jobs. If layoffs occur, newest hires lose their positions first. Last year, the paper offered buyouts so more experienced, higher-paid newsroom staff would quit; no word if that approach will be tried this time.

The newsroom’s whacking is substantial, but the $2.5 million hit equals just one-eighth of management’s total proposed cuts. Another $12.5 million will be sought from non-newsroom unions — primarily Teamster locals representing printing plant workers, plate-making/graphics staff and mailers.

Management will find the final $5 million in cuts from non-union sources, the source says.

In recent weeks, Strib owner Avista Capital Partners has denied bankruptcy rumors, but acknowledged hiring New York’s Blackstone Group for a financial restructuring. The $20 million of cost-chopping would provide lenders an incentive to rework $436 million that Avista borrowed in 2006 for its $530 million Strib purchase.

The paper’s revenue declined from $378 million in 2005 to $303 million in 2007, and revenues have undoubtedly slumped further this year. The paper posted 6-7 percent circulation declines between September ’07 and March ’08.

In the past week, two well-regarded newsroom vets have announced their departures: books editor Sarah T. Williams will become a Planned Parenthood publicity public relations director, and Vikings beat reporter Kevin Seifert is leaving for ESPN.com.

Editor Nancy Barnes plans to communicate some version of the cost-cutting to the newsroom at 11 a.m. today. Publisher, CEO and part-owner Chris Harte — who mandated the overall cuts — will talk to other Strib workers later.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 05/15/2008 - 12:14 pm.

    The Star-Tribune is dying a slow death. Regardless of what any of us think of the Editorial Board (I’m not a huge fan), the demise of the Strib would be a loss to the region–not just Minnesota or the metro area.

    Would a Pioneer Press-Tribune even be thinkable?

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/15/2008 - 12:39 pm.

    Does Avista expect to see profits rise after they make yet more cuts? Did they see profits rise after the last cuts? What was that definition of insanity again — the one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

  3. Submitted by Pat Sirek on 05/15/2008 - 11:18 am.

    There is one silver lining here: MinnPost may enjoy an ever-expanding cadre of excellent reporters to tap for serious journalism in this community.

  4. Submitted by Richard Parker on 05/15/2008 - 03:01 pm.

    Time to ask the question again: How can the Star Tribune’s leadership expect to turn things around by reducing the quality of the product, giving the customers less for their money?

    Incidentally — Why the edit-check (as we used to call it) on Sally Williams’ new job description? [“books editor Sarah T. Williams will become a Planned Parenthood < > public relations director…”] ?

    DAVID BRAUER REPLIES: Dick, apparently there IS a publicity director at Planned Parenthood; Sally’s position is different. I wanted readers to see that I’d made an error, and corrected it.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/16/2008 - 10:11 am.

    The Strib is suffering the same fate as all the other liberal newspapers in the country. I expect a change in editorial direction would do more good than another cut in newsroom staff.

  6. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/15/2008 - 07:39 pm.

    If Katherine Kersten survives this round of cuts, I’m done with the Strib.

  7. Submitted by Rod Loper on 05/16/2008 - 08:51 am.

    This will never happen. She is the corner stone of
    management’s plan to keep the wingnut readership
    purchasing what they call the Red Star…

  8. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 05/16/2008 - 03:00 pm.

    Why do some people insist on viewing every issue and event through the liberal vs. conservative lens?

    The Star Tribune is sharing the woes of all print media as more and more people get their news from free online sources and other so-called “new media.” This is a national trend that affects liberal, conservative and middle-of-the-road print newspapers alike. It’s brought about by a sea change in the way people get information, not a sudden massive revolt against the Strib’s so-called liberal bias.

    If the politics of the Strib’s editorial board is the source of its problems, why did its serious troubles begin only in the last several years and why has its revenue decline been so precipitous at the very time when the Republican Party is more unpopular than it has been in a long time? If anything, the paper’s editorial stance has moved somewhat to the right recently.

    P.S. I call myself a “flaming moderate”, so please don’t scream at me as just another clueless liberal. I am simply weary of the reflexive “ah, ha, it’s the liberals’ fault” reaction—and the converse, as well. It’s such an impediment to intelligent discussion of issues.

  9. Submitted by Richard Parker on 05/16/2008 - 03:33 pm.

    Thanks for the reply, David, and thanks for being conscientious.

  10. Submitted by Steve Brandt on 05/27/2008 - 05:24 pm.

    Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Hintz. Ironically, Ms. Kersten is protected by a union contract, and management can’t get rid of her unless everyone below her in her pay scale is laid off first. It CAN take away her column, a precedent set with Joe Soucheray back in the last century, but it can’t lay her off before less senior people.

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