Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Newsroom Chooses Furloughs As Wehco Cuts Costs

by Mark Hengel  on Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2009 5:16 pm  

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman stands in the newspaper's newsroom in this undated photo. A mandatory furlough policy has been set for the paper's employees.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newsroom is instituting a mandatory furlough policy for its employees. Newsroom employees will take one day off every four weeks, Deputy Editor Frank Fellone said.

The furlough amounts to a 5 percent wage reduction for newsroom employees. The news comes after last week's announcement that the state's largest daily newspaper would lay off 50 to 60 employees in a cost cutting measure, including seven in the newsroom.

The mandatory furlough also comes after the newspaper asked in January for volunteers to cut their work week to 32 hours from 40. On Tuesday, Fellone would not say how many employees volunteered to do so, only that "some" newsroom employees cut hours. He said any newsroom employees who previously volunteered to cut their hours will not be asked to take additional cuts.

"This keeps as many people on the job as possible," Fellone said.

He said he does not expect the newspaper's news coverage to shrink.

"I'm confident we can cover all the news we need to cover even if we need to throw a rookie like me out there," he said.

All departments at the newspapers were asked to reduce expenses, General Manager Paul Smith said. Each was allowed to choose cost-cutting methods.

"We are leaving it up to individual managers as to how to do it," Smith said. "The newsroom selected the furlough option because they thought it fit their department best."

The newspaper's parent company, Wehco Media of Little Rock, is also asking its other newspapers to cut costs, Smith said. He would not disclose the cost-cutting measures the chain's newspapers were using, saying individual managers are making the decisions.

Wehco Media owns 12 daily newspapers and 12 weekly newspapers in Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

All forms of advertising revenue have dwindled at the newspaper, Smith said. The pain has been felt by most all forms of media, he said.

The cost cutting measures will continue until the economy improves, he said.

"It has impacted everyone's advertising. This is a frustrating time for all of us, because we really don't want to do things like this," Smith said. "We don't want to have to terminate a position or ask people to shorten their time, but it's necessary until the economy improves."

The newsroom layoffs reported last week affected the newspaper's Little Rock and northwest Arkansas operations. In Little Rock, five newsroom employees were let go. Two in northwest Arkansas lost their jobs. reported word of the layoffs on Feb. 23, having learned of the newsroom cuts. The following day, the Democrat-Gazette's business section reported the rest of the 50 to 60 layoffs.

Smith said the newspaper has about 1,000 full-time employees statewide, and a tally of the paper's online newsroom directory showed about 250 employees.



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