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Decimated: Strib to cut newsroom budget 10 percent

By David Brauer | Thursday, May 15, 2008 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 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.

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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.