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L.A. Times to lay off 300, consolidate sections

As ad revenue drops, stand-alone California pages will merge into main news, meaning one daily press run can be eliminated. Changes will begin the week of March 2.

January 31, 2009|Martin Zimmerman

The Los Angeles Times announced plans Friday to lay off 300 people -- including 70 newsroom workers -- and fold its California section into the main news pages.

The moves are the latest efforts by the West's largest paper to cope with the steep loss of advertising revenue caused by the recession and the flight of advertisers to online media outlets.

"We're trying to get ahead of what we see as a very tough year ahead of us," Publisher Eddy Hartenstein said. "We're no different from any other company in any other sector that I know of."

Beginning the week of March 2, The Times will publish four daily sections, Hartenstein said in a memo to staffers.

The main news section will carry state and local news as well as national and international coverage. The opinion pages will remain in main news.

The consolidation, Hartenstein said, "will combine the stories and reporting of our two most widely read print sections into one cohesive section."

The move also will allow the paper to make the Calendar section "more news-driven," Hartenstein said, giving it later deadlines and allowing the publication of overnight reviews of concerts, plays and other events.

The Business section, meanwhile, will revive its Company Town feature to strengthen coverage of the economic side of Hollywood. Obituaries and the daily weather report, now found in the California section, will move to Business.

Classified advertising, formerly a stand-alone section, will move to the back of Sports.

The feature section lineup will remain the same, with Health on Monday, Food on Wednesday, Home on Saturday and Image, Travel and Arts & Books on Sunday. The Sunday lineup will also be unchanged, except for the consolidation of California into main news.

The action will streamline The Times' daily printing operation and save money by eliminating one press run a day, Hartenstein said.

Combining sections has become an increasingly common tactic for newspapers looking to cut costs, but it can be unpopular with readers.

The San Jose Mercury News combined its local and national sections in 2005, but reversed course two months later because of negative reaction, said Bert Robinson, the paper's assistant managing editor for news. Among other things, he said, couples complained it was harder to share the paper.

More recently, the Chicago Tribune and Orange County Register decided to restore their stand-alone business sections in response to reader complaints, although the Register will still fold business into another section three days a week.

The layoffs announced Friday at The Times are the fourth round of staff cutbacks at the paper in the last 12 months and represent an 11% reduction in its current newsroom staff of around 650. At its peak in 2001, The Times newsroom had 1,200 employees.

In remarks to the staff, Editor Russ Stanton said it was not clear yet when the layoffs would occur. One hold-up: The Times' parent company, Tribune Co., is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and the proposed severance plan for laid-off workers still needs to be approved by the bankruptcy court.

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martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

Staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.

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