March 16, 2010

Newspaper cuts jobs, changes sections

NOEL K

— By . GALLAGHER

Staff Writer

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram announced Wednesday that several employees have been laid off and that there will be changes to the layout of the paper in an effort to cut costs.

Out of about 400 employees, two union employees lost their jobs, as did an undisclosed number of managers, company officials said.

The number of layoffs was far less than initially expected because of employees who volunteered to take time off without pay.

''We were able to save a number of positions,'' said Charles Cochrane, president of Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc., which publishes the Press Herald/Telegram and two newspapers in central Maine.

Several of the changes affect the Sunday paper. Starting this weekend, the Telegram's Maine/New England section will be part of the front, ''A-section'' and the TV listings will be reduced. The Outdoors section has been moved from Sunday to Thursday's Sports section, effective today.

The paper is also eliminating its weekly Your Neighbors section in York County, reducing the opinion content and folding Friday's Local & State section into the A-section, just as it does on Saturdays and Mondays.

''We regret having to make any changes, but we think these by and large will have minimal reader impact,'' Cochrane said. ''But when revenues are decreasing, we have to find ways to respond to that. We've tried to be as thoughtful and careful as possible.''

The company is in exclusive negotiations to sell its three daily newspapers to Maine Media Investments. The group consists of William S. Cohen, a former U.S. senator and secretary of defense; his son, new media executive Kevin Cohen; businessman Robert Baldacci, brother of Maine Gov. John Baldacci; developer Michael Liberty; and Richard L. Connor, a Bangor native who is a newspaper publisher in Pennsylvania.

The Seattle Times Co., parent company of the Press Herald/Telegram, announced in March that it was putting Blethen Maine Newspapers up for sale.

Editor Jeannine Guttman said there will be more local coverage and a reduction in wire stories as a result of the changes. To compensate for the elimination of the York Neighbors section, for example, there will be more stories in the Wednesday Close to Home section.

''Our franchise is local news,'' Guttman said. ''That mission hasn't changed. We're committed to giving readers the best reported newspaper in the state.''

Cochrane and Guttman both said there are no future changes planned.

''We're hopeful that this is our new foundation and we build from here,'' Guttman said, noting that the entire newspaper industry is going through an ''amazing transformation.''

Last month, the newspaper announced the need for another round of layoffs to compensate for a projected $1.2 million shortfall in advertising revenue for the second half of the year. It is the fourth round of layoffs in the past 12 months and the third round this year. In the last round, which took effect July 1, the company cut 36 jobs.

Management and union representatives agreed that the voluntary time-off program was a key factor to reducing layoffs. Employees gave up more than 400 shifts, said Tom Bell, president of the newspaper's largest union, the Portland Newspaper Guild, which represents about 300 employees in Portland.

''Going into this, there were 20 Guild positions (that could be cut). Now there are two,'' Bell said.

Cochrane said he understands that the changes will not be welcomed by all readers.

''Clearly, if one of those things that has been changed is one of the most important things to you as a reader, we understand that may be impactful, but we've done our best for our overall readership with these changes,'' he said.

The company also has closed bureaus in Washington, D.C., Augusta, Biddeford and Bath; eliminated the Lakes Neighbors section and folded local news into the front section on Monday and Saturday.

''I really do appreciate our readers staying with us,'' Guttman said. ''We're really going through a wicked bad storm right now.''

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.comManagement and union representatives agreed that the voluntary time-off program was a key factor to reducing layoffs.

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