Lean Times Lead to Unpaid Leave

It was the worst of times, and then it got worse.

Both Wehco Media, owner of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other newspapers, and Gannett Co. Inc., which owns two Arkansas media properties, are trying to cut costs by reducing the number of hours staff members work.

Wehco is looking for employees who will voluntarily reduce weekly hours, while Gannett is mandating that all staffers – including those at KTHV-TV, Channel 11, in Little Rock and The Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home – take one week unpaid time off during the first quarter. KTHV's contract employees – mainly on-air talent and newscast producers – and certain sales representatives will not take the week off. Larry Audas, the station's president and general manager, will take off one week of unpaid time, he said, as will Gannett's CEO, chairman and president, Craig Dubow.

Paul Smith, the D-G's general manager, couldn't be reached for comment.

With two companies hit locally, your "Outtakes" writer decided to call several of the local media moguls to ask whether their companies planned similar measures.

• Stephens Media Group of Las Vegas, which is owned by the Stephens family of Little Rock and owns several newspapers in Arkansas, does not plan to ask employees to make concessions, President Sherman Frederick said. Everything is up in the air, though, he added. After the first quarter, the company will re-evaluate, he said. Several of the company's Arkansas newspapers laid off employees in 2008.

• Newport Television LLC has no plans to request concessions from its employees, said Chuck Spohn, the vice president and general manager of KLRT-TV, Channel 16, and KASN-TV, Channel 38. The Little Rock stations did cut staff in 2008, though

• Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. experienced no change in headcount during 2008, Gayle Kiger, general manager at KARK-TV, Channel 4, said. The company even purchased a new Little Rock station, agreeing to pay $4 million to Equity Media Holdings Corp. of Little Rock for KWBF-TV, Channel 42. Kiger has not heard of plans to ask employees for concessions, he said.

• Paxton Media Group also does not foresee asking employees at its four Arkansas newspapers to cut time in order to save money. The company did reduce costs in 2008 through attrition and some restructuring, David Mossesso, the Jonesboro Sun's publisher, said.

• GateHouse Media's four Arkansas properties also do not expect to take such actions at this point, though Clark Smith, publisher of the Stuttgart Daily Leader, said he understood why media companies are making such requests. Smith said his papers did not cut staff in 2008. GateHouse did announce it would suspend 401(k) matches effective Jan. 1.

Arkansas Business' parent company managed to add 10 positions in 2008, Jeff Hankins, president and publisher, said. The company budgeted to add two positions in 2009 but has delayed the hires for now, he said. He also reported that the company gave bonuses and 401(k) matches in 2008 and has budgeted raises for 2009. The company's diversity of publications and businesses, including a Web development division and Capsearch.com, a new legislative research company, has helped it weather the storm.

Mark Rose, general manager of KATV-TV, Channel 7, said it is company policy not to comment.

(Got a media tip? Contact Mark Hengel at (501) 372-1443 or at mhengel@abpg.com.)