June 25, 2008

Massive cuts coming at Hartford Courant

From poynter.org:

6/25/2008 3:08:29 PM

Memo to Hartford Courant staff

From: [Editor] Teutsch, Clifford
Sent: Wed 6/25/2008 3:01 PM
To: Courant News Staff
Subject: Reductions

To: The Staff
Fr: Cliff

We told you earlier this month that we would be making significant reductions in staff and newshole to meet economic realities. I'm writing now to give you the numbers and tell you how we will proceed.

Our news pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. Positions will go from 232 to about 175. Four of those 232 positions are now vacant.

Perhaps these are the numbers you were expecting. Perhaps they are a shock. I have had a little time to wrap my head around them; many of you will need to do that too. They will be life-changing for some, and they add a sober reality for all as we continue to remake the paper for a September launch.

The staff reductions will be handled as follows:

We are offering voluntary buyouts to everyone in News except the web staff. We will accept or reject applications based on the anticipated needs of the new paper. We will not use seniority as a criterion as we have in the past. People seeking a buyout will have until July 9 to apply to Human Resources, as explained in packets being distributed today.

In addition to buyouts, we expect that layoffs will be necessary to meet our reduction target, and they too will be based on the needs we foresee for our redesigned paper.

Most people will leave by the end of July. There may be a few exceptions for production-critical jobs. The page reductions will come in September.

The packages will be the same as last time, including an enhanced pension benefit paid in the form of a contribution to your cash balance account. The payment will be based on one week of pay for every six months of service, capped at 52 weeks of pay, plus 3%. Health benefits will be continued, and the company will pay for career planning services. HR staff members are available to talk with you about your specific situation. The package is the same for buyout and layoff.

The Courant, Tribune and newspapers across the country are responding to fundamental changes in our business, especially a significant decline in advertising revenue. The cuts we're talking about today are among a number of moves we are making in the face of those changes. Multiple initiatives are underway to bring in more print revenue and maximize the potential of online. For example, about two hundred potential online advertisers attended an information session yesterday. These moves
are all necessary for this paper to sustain itself, pay down debt and invest in the future.

For some, the decision about whether to seek a buyout will depend on knowing how The Courant will change. Our vision for the new paper will be clearer, but not fully formed by July 9. We will let you know as much as possible before then. Bobbie's note on Monday was the first step in that communication.

In general, we plan to build a more compact paper for weekdays, when readers are pressed for time. We will present information in short form whenever feasible and go in-depth for the most important, relevant stories. On Sunday, when many people spend more time reading, the paper will stay about the same size it is today. Daily and Sunday, we will add new content and new approaches. There will also be takeaways, and we will be as smart as we can about making them. The paper will be completely redesigned. We will fully integrate print and online, and increase interactivity with readers.

Re-inventing a newspaper is a huge undertaking under the best of circumstances. Doing it with significantly reduced resources in a tight timeframe is even more challenging. Now, we must forge ahead with that work while we make the tough decisions about who will go and who will stay.

Those who remain will still be by far the largest news staff in Connecticut, and comparable in size to many papers of our circulation volume across the country. We will continue to be - we must continue to be -- a journalistic force. Our readers deserve that. That has been true for 243 years, and never more so than now.

There's also this one:

6/23/2008 4:29:44 PM

Memo from Hartford Courant's managing editor

From: Roessner, Barbara
Sent: Monday, June 23, 2008 4:14 PM
To: Courant News Staff
Subject: first draft of "new" weekday courant sections...

Thanks for your smart, suprising, funny, imaginative ideas for the "new" weekday paper, pending a substantial cut in space and staff. As we deadline types well know, there's nothing like extreme pressure to clarify the mind -- hence the deluge of good, even great, ideas. I have yet to settle on content specifics, but your input has helped inform my first run at how the paper will be sectioned. I presented this to advertising, production and circulation veeps this morning. I'll be hearing back from them later in the week, as I'm sure I'll be hearing from you.

The basic weekday architecture consists of three broadsheet sections (exceptions on Monday, when comics/puzzles roll into Sports; and Saturday, when features and Sports merge into an outdoors-themed hybrid). The three basic sections are:

Frontload the A section with Connecticut news, including facing pages on A2 and A3 to showcase what distinguishes the Courant from all other media outlets -- the scope, breadth and depth of our state and local coverage. (Eliminate freestanding Connecticut section.)

Include strategically chosen, consumer-focused economic and business news in the A section, boldly labeled. (Eliminate freestanding Biz section. Stock tables to web.)

Include nation/world pages, In Brief and In Depth, in back of section.

Editorial page(s).

Theme features sections on Tuesday (music/youth culture), Wednesday (health/aging), Thursday (food/consumer), Friday (home/family), Saturday (outdoors/things to do), with obits moving to back of sections.

Eliminate Monday Life (puzzles, etc., fold into back of sports), eliminate Thursday and Friday Life (Flavor, At Home morph into main features sections), Saturday Life merges with outdoors-themed Sports section.

Keep Cal.

Maintain weekday Sports section, showcasing Connecticut-centric enterprise and reducing newshole by moving much of the agate and national coverage online, with bold web refers in print. Eliminate most, or all, special sections; roll them into daily sections.

Monday Sports section absorbs comics/puzzles. Saturday sports section merges with features, showcasing outdoors or "Get Out" theme.

Okay, that's the gist. I await the fallout, as I press forward with more specifics on page counts, color positions and specific content that will make this smaller, smarter paper an interesting weekday read. I'll keep you posted as a final draft takes shape and we move on to a page-by-page redesign.

Thanks again,

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

"Our news pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. "

Am I correct when I read this as the number of pages they print total for all 7 newspapers a week?

Anonymous said...

Steve, can you please explain the term "newshole." Thanks.

Don Soucy

Steve Collins said...

Newshole is the space between the ads - the part of the paper that the owner doesn't make any money from.
And, yes, when the memo says the Courant will go from 273 to 206 pages a week, it's counting all the papers for the week.
It's a drastic cut.

Anonymous said...

Time to cancel my subscription. Why buy the paper if it isn't going to have any content?

I'm already frustrated that the Saturday Courant cutback the editorials, commentary, and letters to the editor from 2 pages to 1 even though the paper gets hundreds of letters and commentaries submitted each week but doesn't have enough "space" to print them.

Anonymous said...

This is just sick. They're doing what is likely to be irreparable harm to this Connecticut institution. They've cut back so much already -- lost so many good people, and haven't added any stars in much more than a decade -- that town news is nothing anymore. At least you could count on the Courant for decent state coverage. Will they whack that, too? Shame on Zell.

Anonymous said...

Kurt Barwis of Bristol Hospital should go into newspapers and save them. His "aggressively grow your way out of fiscal distress" appears to be working at the hospital. He's offering more, not less, and adding people and services.