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O.C. Register to Cut Workforce

The newspaper, citing a drop in advertising, will offer buyouts but says layoffs are possible.

September 30, 2006|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Citing a shortfall of more than $20 million in advertising revenue, the Orange County Register said Friday that it would offer voluntary buyouts to employees to help reduce its workforce.

If enough people do not accept buyouts, layoffs will be likely, said N. Christian Anderson III, publisher and chief executive of the Santa Ana-based newspaper. He declined to specify the target savings and denied staff members' reports of $5 million to $8 million.

"Along with almost every other metropolitan newspaper, the Orange County Register has suffered declines in advertising in recent months," Anderson said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we don't see a quick turnaround in the loss of this advertising in key categories."

The paper remains profitable but not at the level that shareholders and investors expect, according to information provided to employees. Investment firms Blackstone Group and Providence Equity Partners Inc. in 2003 acquired a 40% stake in Register parent Irvine-based Freedom Communications Inc.

The advertising decline has become more pronounced in the last three months, Anderson said in an interview, and it has affected every segment except new-home ads.

Anderson said the cuts were not the result of Freedom Communications' launch in August of OC Post, an abbreviated, quick-read newspaper. As expected, the new publication will operate at a loss for 2006.

The voluntary severance package is being offered to about a third of the newspaper's full-time staff of 1,600. Sales, print operations and OC Post employees are not eligible.

The Register last offered buyouts in 1993. In 2001, the paper laid off 85 people and cut 20 more positions through attrition.

Register reporters said they were not surprised, given the state of the industry. A newsroom hiring freeze has been in effect for several months. Reporters also had been asked recently to take on more responsibilities -- including writing their own headlines -- after several copy editors were shifted to OC Post.

"You know how it is in newsrooms," said one longtime staffer who requested anonymity. "You could just sense that the belts have been tightening for a long time.... I don't feel safe. I don't think anybody feels safe."

Several news staffers said Editor Ken Brusic told his deputies that the newsroom staff could be cut by 10 to 40 positions, depending on the salaries of the employees involved. The highest-paid and lowest-performing workers will be among those first considered for buyouts, Anderson said.

The Register's announcement comes as newspapers across the country are cutting costs. Buyouts were offered last year at the Los Angeles Times, where in recent weeks the editor and publisher have gone on record opposing further cuts.

Anderson said he agreed with Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson, who said newspapers could not survive by cutting staff.

"We have to figure out ways to grow revenue," Anderson said. "All problems go away when you grow revenue."

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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