Will other Advance newspapers face cuts like Times-Picayune, Alabama papers?

Cleveland Scene | New York Post

Advance Publications' decision to cut staff and reduce printing to three days a week at its papers in New Orleans and Alabama has worried journalists at its other newspapers. Cleveland Scene's Kyle Swenson reported that The Plain Dealer Managing Editor Thom Fladung tried to "ease anxiety" last week:

The message from the top is that the paper will not be cutting its days and that business would continue as usual. The PD business model is different from the Times-Picayune, the line went. Our sources says everyone assumes there's a unsaid ellipses hanging off the assurances: for now.

The New York Post's Keith J. Kelly reported on similar fears at Advance's newspapers in New York and New Jersey.

So are these fears justified? On the one hand, it took the company more than two years to expand the limited printing, Web-first approach from Ann Arbor to other papers in Michigan. However, those cutbacks at the Michigan papers went into effect just a few months before last week's news in New Orleans and Alabama. Perhaps the company is speeding up the transformation.

Geography is another factor. The Times-Picayune and the Alabama papers are all close to each other (relatively speaking; it's a seven-hour drive from Huntsville to New Orleans). Behind the group of papers in Michigan, the next-largest cluster of Advance papers is in New Jersey, where it has 12 papers.

Like at other Advance properties, the New Jersey papers' online presence is bundled on one site, NJ.com, which has not yet been redesigned to look like al.com, NOLA.com and MLive.com. Advance is the last major newspaper company in the U.S. to keep its online business separate from its newspapers, according to Ken Doctor, but as part of the changes in New Orleans, Alabama and Michigan, the company is placing the newspapers and their corresponding websites under the same roof.

David Carr pointed out in a video on nytimes.com that the shifts away from daily printing and delivery have occurred in places that have fallen on hard times: Gannett and MediaNews' two newspapers in Detroit, Advance's Michigan papers and The Times-Picayune.

The unemployment rate in Cleveland is much lower than in Detroit, but still higher than the national average. Unemployment rates in Newark (The Star-Ledger), Trenton, (The Times) and Jersey City (The Jersey Journal) are all significantly higher than the national average — Newark's unemployment rate was 14.5 percent in March.

So if geography and the local economy are factors, perhaps New Jersey will face similar cutbacks. But other factors may be in play, such as the seniority of leadership at those papers and their proximity to headquarters. Another factor that could slow the rate of change: The Star-Ledger and The Jersey Journal are unionized, as is The Plain Dealer.

That may protect the journalists in Cleveland, at least for now. The company has a no-layoff pledge that goes through January 2013, said Harlan Spector, chairman of the newspaper's unit of the Newspaper Guild. That agreement was struck in 2009, in exchange for a 12 percent pay cut, after about 50 newsroom positions were eliminated through buyouts and layoffs in 2008.

If the company doesn't renew the agreement past 2013 and starts layoffs, Spector said, the pay for remaining employees will return to their previous level.

The union also has an agreement with the company that says “members of the Newspaper Guild are the primary content providers for Cleveland.com,” Spector said.

“These are difficult circumstances for everyone, certainly the people in New Orleans and Alabama – we feel for them,” he said. “We are thankful to have some contractual protections. But no one's naïve enough to think that we're going to be spared for eternity the ravages, the things that have happened to other people. We all see what's going on.”

Related: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson asks Advance to reconsider the decision to curtail printing (WWLTV.com) | Times-Picayune employees could learn next week if they’ll be part of NOLA Media Group (Poynter) | NOLA.com drops yellow background on site after users complain: "My insurance allows only four migraine pills per month, and I can't afford to continue to look at this page." (NOLA.com)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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