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January 14, 2009

Media News: Free Press Furloughs — Updated

Just as we had predicted at the end of the year, more cost-cutting measures were announced to staffers at the Burlington Free Press today.

Across Gannett, which owns the state's largest daily, staffers were greeted with an email from the news organization's top dog, CEO Craig Dubow. According to Gannett Blog, Dickey's memo included the following reasoning:

"We are doing this to preserve our operations and continue to deliver for our customers while confronting the issues raised by some of the most difficult economic conditions we have ever experienced.

After much consideration, we decided a furlough program would be the fairest and least intrusive way to meet these fiscal challenges in the first quarter, which is traditionally the lightest time of the year. We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward."

The more than 200 Free Press staffers are being asked to figure out which five days they want to take off between now and the end of March, which is the end of the fiscal quarter. Luckily, they won't have to take the cut in pay all in one week (unless they so choose).

Dubow noted they hope this move "minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward."

If anyone listened to Vermont Edition yesterday, you learned that local employer Gardener's Supply Company offers unpaid leave to employees as one way of minimizing, or eliminating, the need for layoffs.

Dubow told staff this is the "lightest" quarter of the year. He means in terms of ad dollars, of course. On the news front this quarter is anything but slow Vermont, the US or the world.

For example:

• Town Meeting Day (kind of a big deal), including a hotly contested mayor's race right here in the Queen City
• The legislative session (and we all know the Freeps has only two hard-working staffers deployed to cover the shenanigans in Montpelier) 
• The swearing in of the first African American president in US history
• And, the ongoing ground war in Gaza.

Multiple sources report that the Freeps is also trimming down its papers (as has Seven Days). The Freeps nixed classifieds in its Monday through Wednesday editions last year, and will soon start running the Monday paper as one section.

Not sure if this means Business Monday, too. More on that when we get it.

UPDATE: More bad news in Vermont journalism today. The family-run company that owns the Rutland Herald/Times Argus newspapers announced 14 layoffs this afternoon.

In his statement, company president and publisher R. John Mitchell said, “In spite of our best efforts to reduce costs over the past year, they are not nearly enough to offset the loss of advertising revenue. We were doing 'OK' through October; November was not good; and the bottom fell out in December. And we are headed into the most difficult part of our year in the next three months.”

To date, the company has avoided major layoffs.

The statewide media company employs roughly 165 employees, produces two daily newspapers, three regional business journals, online products, and other special publications, including Prime Time and the Rutland area's Her magazine.

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