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Layoffs hit Pioneer Press newsroom

Four newsroom workers bring the month’s layoff total to eight in St. Paul.
By David Brauer

Friday, the Pioneer Press laid off four newsroom employees. Positions included a picture editor, clerk, web producer and sports copy editor.

Pioneer Press workers had enjoyed 14 months of contractual layoff protection that expired Dec. 31. This month, eight people have been let go, including three circulation district supervisors and an ad production worker, says Newspaper Guild executive officer Mike Bucsko.

A memo from Pioneer Press editor Thom Fladung (below) emphasizes the need to “protect our reporting power. Our ability to continue to produce distinctive journalism that can’t be found anywhere else is more important now than it has ever been.”

The Guild now represents about 300 workers in the PiPress editorial, advertising, circulation, business and maintainence offices. The laid-off employees will get two weeks pay for every year’s continuous service up to 38 weeks. Unlike recent buyouts at the Star Tribune, there’s no short-term health insurance payment.

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The PiPress’ owner, the Denver-based MediaNews Group, has been beset by financial problems caused by high debt and the nationwide advertising meltdown. This week, MediaNews dropped out of the industry’s Newspaper Association of America trade group.

Also this week, the Pioneer Press merged its news and sports copy desks and eliminated “on-call” positions.

Says Bucsko, “We hope this is it for a while, but the way the business is going at other MediaNews properties, we’re not real optimistic this is the end.”

Here’s Fladung’s memo:

Fellow staffers:

We’ve taken steps this week in reaction to the severe economic downturn and in anticipation of a very challenging 2009 — including Friday’s layoff of four newsroom colleagues.

The layoffs included:

— Picture editor Randy Johnson

— Clerk Tom Morley

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— Web producer John Vincent

— Sports copy editor Tim Whitecotton

Additionally, Cindy Larson, one of our newsroom clerks, and Dick Klitsch, who worked on our sports copy desk, will be moving to the ad production department.

We also eliminated the budget for on-call help on the sports copy desk, most directly affecting five regular on-call contributors: Kyle Anway, Brad Perlich, Travis Petschl, Alexandra Pluym and Val Reichel.

I thank them all. We will miss them and their daily contributions to the work we all do.

I made these moves reluctantly — but also knowing that I had to, given the immediate and near-future outlook for the economy. My overriding goal was to protect our reporting power. Our ability to continue to produce distinctive journalism that can’t be found anywhere else is more important now than it has ever been. And we must produce that work for our online operations, daily newspaper and niche publications.

Towards that end, we’re making some other changes. We’ll be merging the operations of the news and sports copy desks, to more widely share the load and increase how efficiently we move copy. To help do so, we’ll be rearranging desks and asking lots of people to move, including photo and the hub and sports desk staffers on the 6th floor. We’ll be moving desks on Monday morning.

What can we all be doing, right here and right now, to help? Journalism. Break exclusive news online and in print. Tell stories that can’t be found anywhere else. Find photos that jump off the page and videos that must be watched. Design dynamic illustrations and pages. Write headlines that demand to be read.

Thanks. As always, I’m here for questions. Thom