Friday, August 26, 2011

A new round of buyouts at The Times-Picayune

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 3:27 PM

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Sources inside The Times-Picayune tell Gambit the paper will soon be announcing yet another round of staff buyouts. Employees who wish to be considered for a buyout will have until mid-October to apply, and the payout offered will be based on an employee’s tenure with Advance Publications, owners of The Times-Picayune.

Gambit could not confirm details of the buyout with T-P management. Managing editor Peter Kovacs declined all comment, referring the call to editor Jim Amoss. Amoss did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Gambit was unable to reach anyone at Advance Publications’ corporate offices in New York and New Jersey.

In 2009, during its last major round of buyouts, the paper saw the departure of some of its most highly regarded reporters, including columnists Chris Rose and Lolis Eric Elie (Elie is now a staff writer on HBO’s Treme, and Rose delivers video essays on WVUE Fox 8). Others who have left the paper in recent years by taking buyouts or early retirements include familiar New Orleans journalists including David Cuthbert, Angus Lind, Susan Finch, Walt Philbin, James Gill (who continues to write a column for the op-ed page), Susan Larson, Millie Ball, Lynne Jensen, Brian Allee-Walsh, Valerie Faciane and Chris Bynum. In all, the T-P lost 28 employees in 2009 and its editorial staff shrank to fewer than 170 from 265 prior to Hurricane Katrina, according to a 2010 report in the Columbia Journalism Review.

As staff numbers have decreased, so have the paper’s circulation numbers, likely a major cause behind this upcoming staff cut. Understandably, the T-P lost more than 60,000 daily readers in the first year after Hurricane Katrina — from about 260,000 to 200,000 — but circulation has continued to drop even as the city’s population has bounced back. The most recent figures, from March 2011, show average Monday to Friday sales at about 141,000 — a 10 percent drop from about 157,000 during the same time frame in 2010.

For decades, the Newhouse chain of newspapers (Newhouse owns Advance Publications) had its famous “pledge,” as it was known to employees. The pledge stated, “No full-time, non-represented, regular employee will ever be laid off because of economic conditions or because of the introduction of new technology.” The pledge was rescinded in February 2010.

• Kevin Allman contributed to this report.

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