Philadelphia's two largest newspapers to cut 37 jobs by March 31 during newsroom consolidations; newspaper owner Philadelphia Media Network to seek voluntary buyouts for 15 days before implementing layoffs

NEW YORK , February 15, 2012 (press release) – The city's two largest newspapers will shed another 37 jobs by next month as they consolidate newsroom functions, the company that operates them announced Wednesday.

Economic conditions continue to force cuts at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and their Philly.com website, Philadelphia Media Network spokesman Mark Block said. The cuts follow weeks of turmoil inside the iconic white skyscraper that houses both newspapers.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell leads a group of powerful newsmakers who want to buy the company and keep Publisher Greg Osberg. The newspaper employees' union complained that current management has censored stories about a potential rival bid.

And the hedge funds that have controlled the company since a 2010 bankruptcy auction won't say if they want out.

The local Newspaper Guild, the journalists' union, said in a statement Wednesday after meeting with company officials about the cuts: "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 company will seek voluntary buyouts for 15 days, then implement layoffs if necessary, Block said.

The 37 jobs will be cut by March 31, the end of the first fiscal quarter. The work contract calls for a 45-day notice of any layoffs.

The broadsheet Inquirer and tabloid Daily News have been fiercely competitive for most of their long histories.

Over the past year, though, management has blurred that line in some departments. Photographers now handle assignments for both newspapers, and the same byline appears occasionally in both. That trend will now spread to the sports department and beyond, Block said.

"It doesn't pay to have three (photographers) at 9, 10 o'clock at night out at Citizens Bank Park when one person can provide enough photos to keep everyone happy," Block said.

Each newsroom will maintain separate editors and audiences, he said.

The company will move this summer to smaller space in a long-vacant department store, with help from several million dollars in redevelopment subsidies. The newspaper building has been sold to developer Bart Blatstein, one of two wealthy Philadelphians who want to challenge Rendell's group. But Blatstein and philanthropist Raymond Perelman say they've been excluded from the private sale.

That leaves Rendell's group the only known bidder. His backers include Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and New Jersey Democratic power broker and Cooper Hospital Chairman George Norcross.

According to Guild grievances, newsroom managers removed all or parts of stories two reporters had done on the rival bids.

The newsrooms have gone through repeated layoffs under a series of owners in the past decade, as have newsrooms across the country. Block said the company was "assessing the economy and the financial climate of the industry, just like every other media company."

The company cut 20 jobs last year, the union said. Block could not rule out more cuts down the line.

In the 1980s, the Inquirer had about 600 union-covered newsroom employees and the Daily News about 200, according to Bill Ross, executive director of the local union.

The numbers today are about 220 for the Inquirer, nearly 100 for the Daily News and about 50 for Philly.com, he said. There are another 40 non-union newsroom jobs at the Inquirer and eight at the Daily News.

Block declined to discuss the company's earnings because it's privately held. He said the cuts have no connection to any potential sale.

"Regardless of any reported sale, or parties that have expressed interest in Philadelphia Media Network, the current ownership group, from Day 1, has always been committed to ... responsible budget management," he said.

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