The Ledger-Enquirer said Thursday it will eliminate its production department within three months and lay off 56 employees — about a third of its work force.
Valerie Canepa, president and publisher, said printing of the daily newspaper will be outsourced to the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, while commercial work will be done at Gannett Offset in Atlanta.
“It creates operating cost savings and it gives us more flexibility,” Canepa said after informing affected employees Thursday afternoon of the decision to shift the production work elsewhere by Jan. 24.
The printing flexibility includes the ability to have more color pages, additional sections, improved presentation and a variety of page widths, she said.
There also will be what the publisher calls “cost avoidance,” with the large printing press being idled and portions of the Ledger-Enquirer building at the corner of Twelfth Street and Front Avenue being closed off to reduce power bills.
“We save on utility costs because the press uses a lot of power,” she said, noting through September the newspaper’s electricity bill was 13 percent higher than the year before. “We save on property tax. We have all of these benefits.”
Of the 30 daily newspapers owned by Sacramento, Calif.-based The McClatchy Company, eight now outsource their production work. They include papers in Bellingham, Wash.; Boise, Idaho; Bradenton, Fla.; Macon, Ga.; Modesto, Calif.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Olympia, Wash.
The shift in production will come at a steep price, however, with 56 of the 63 employees in the production department losing their jobs. Seven staffers will be retained, Canepa said, with the newspaper needing transportation and circulation personnel to truck the printed products from Montgomery and Atlanta to Columbus.
The company plans to contact the Georgia Department of Labor and other local businesses to help impacted workers with their search for new jobs, said Regina Torbett, the Ledger-Enquirer’s human resources manager.
Those being laid off will be eligible for severance packages, Canepa said in a memo to Ledger-Enquirer staff, while a job bank and outplacement center will be set up at the newspaper. The Montgomery Advertiser also is expected to add workers for the new business, the memo said, with former Ledger-Enquirer employees being given “first consideration” during hiring.
“I’ve been in HR for 23 years and have a lot of contacts,” said Torbett. “We are very dedicated to assisting our employees with their job search.”
Once the production jobs are eliminated, the Ledger-Enquirer will have 109 people on its payroll. That’s down from a work force of 245 in April 2006, before the proliferation of mostly free news on the Internet and a national recession began to cut deeply into the U.S. newspaper industry’s advertising and circulation revenue.
The Ledger-Enquirer, which dates to 1828, has gone through a handful of buyouts, layoffs and operating cost cuts over the last 28 months to manage through the tidal shift in business — remaining profitable the entire time. McClatchy has cut more than 4,000 jobs companywide in that period.
“The Ledger-Enquirer has a long and proud tradition of serving this community, and this move will not affect our mission,” Canepa said in her note to employees Thursday.
“I know that weathering this recession has been exceptionally hard for all of us, but we continue to be successful because of our ability to adapt to a constantly changing economic environment,” she said.
The Ledger-Enquirer is eliminating its production department by Jan. 24. Here are skilled positions being cut and soon to be available to other employers:
-- Press operators
-- Machine operators
-- Forklift operators
-- Pre-press operators
-- Plate makers