In a cost-cutting move, the parent company of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com said it will reduce the number of newsroom positions by 37 — through buyouts, it hopes — by the end of March.
On Wednesday afternoon, management of Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN) informed Newspaper Guild Local 10, which represents editorial, advertising and circulation employees, that it needed to cut costs because of challenging industry conditions.
The move was not unexpected since PMN had announced plans last fall to create one newsroom for all its media properties as part of the relocation of its offices this summer. Chief executive officer Gregory J. Osberg has talked about the need to reduce duplication across print and digital publications.
PMN spokesman Mark Block said two things are driving the workforce cuts: First, conditions remain challenging in the news business. Also, the privately held company wants "to combine newsroom functions for more efficiency wherever possible," he said.
PMN's top editors met with Guild leadership Wednesday to discuss plans for combining the functions of the copy desks, metro desks, and sports and features departments of The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. Editors intend to hold staffwide meetings about the changes on Thursday.
Inquirer Editor Stan Wischnowski noted that financial pressures have spurred similar restructurings recently at newspapers in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other markets.
"This is a difficult situation for our newsroom, but our work continues. I can assure you that we'll continue to become more efficient, more innovative, and more competitive through this process," Wischnowski said. "As the state's largest newsroom, we can't and won't let up on our commitment to quality journalism. Our readers deserve and expect that."
PMN will offer voluntary buyout packages only to full-time reporters, editors, artists, photographers, and other employees, who will have until Feb. 29 to decide. Based on response to the voluntary program, the company might then resort to layoffs of Guild members to reach its goal of eliminating 37 positions by March 31.
Because the layoffs could fall on full-time or part-time employees, the number of people affected by the workforce reduction could be more than 37.
Not all newsroom employees are unionized. The company said it is still determining how many independent, management employees could lose their jobs.
In a statement, union officials criticized the "devastating reduction in force."
"The company's decision to decimate our already-shrunken ranks is hard to comprehend given the ever-competitive 24/7 nature of today's media landscape," the leadership of Newspaper Guild Local 10 said.
The planned job cuts come as the current owners of PMN are engaged in a process that could lead to a sale of the two daily newspapers and the Philly.com website. If a sale were to occur, it would be the fourth time the media company has changed ownership since 2006.
Block said the current workforce reduction would take place whether PMN has a new owner or not. "This is part of an overall assessment of our budget for 2012," he said.
The latest cutback follows a smaller workforce reduction that occurred in 2011, when eight newsroom employees accepted voluntary buyouts and there were 14 layoffs of computer operators, library staff, and salespeople, according to Guild statistics.
PMN announced plans in November to move from its iconic office tower at 400 N. Broad St. to one floor in the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store at Eighth and Market Streets. The move in July is being partly subsidized by a $2.9 million low-interest, city-backed loan.
As of November, about 740 PMN employees were working at the Broad Street location. About 600 are expected to work from the new offices.
The Inquirer newsroom currently has about 240 employees, down from more than 600 in the late 1990s.
The current Guild contract covering not only the newsroom, but also advertising and circulation departments, expires Aug. 31, 2013. Contracts covering delivery-truck drivers, mailers and other unionized employees expire later this year.
The Inquirer and Daily News have experienced several significant cuts to their workforces under multiple ownerships. In late 2005, as Knight Ridder properties, the newspapers announced plans to cut through buyouts about 100 positions, or 16 percent of their separate newsroom staffs.
In January 2007, Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., a group of local owners that had bought the papers from McClatchy Co. for $515 million the previous year, said it would lay off 68 newsroom employees, or 17 percent of the editorial staff.
Contact staff writer Mike Armstrong