Times of Trenton, Star-Ledger in trouble

The Times of Trenton could be shut down should unions at the paper and other employees not accept buyouts and other concessions being leveled at them by management, according to the New York Times.

Management has apparently sent letters to employees of the paper seeking 25 buyouts from its non-union employees, after the same thing happened at the much larger Star-Ledger, whose parent company, Advance Publications, also owns the Times of Trenton.

If those buyouts and other specified proposals go unaccepted by employees at the newspaper the entire operation could be shut down, according to the New York Times.

Another possibility is for both the Star-Ledger and the smaller Times of Trenton to go up for sale, with the parent company already having retained the assistance of a financial firm to help out with the plan.

Star-Ledger Publisher George Arwady told the New York Times that the staff at both papers face wage freezes, benefit cuts, and other privations with the sale of the newspapers to another company.

But even a sale to another company seems unlikely, considering that both papers have been operating in the red for years, according to the report.

Text of Star-Ledger Publisher George Arwady’s letter to employees:

July 31, 2008

To: Full-time, non-represented employees:

I have communicated with you several times about the heavy financial losses our Newspaper has been suffering. Although we have implemented a variety of plans to reduce expenses and create new sources of revenue, our financial picture continues to deteriorate. We simply have been unable to offset the unprecedented and continuing steep decline in advertising revenue. Therefore, we now have a genuine crisis. The situation is critical – we are currently on life support.

We have one last chance at survival. Two goals must be achieved. Getting one only will not be enough – we must have success with both of these objectives:

1. New agreements must be reached with the unions representing the Mailers and the Drivers for the economic and operational relief we have requested; and

2. A minimum of 200 employees must accept the buyout offer summarized below.

It has been decided that if agreement with the two unions and the necessary number of acceptances to our buyout offer are not achieved by October 1st, The Star-Ledger and The Times of Trenton will be put up for sale.

In fact, we have already retained J.P. Morgan Chase to help us plan a sale as well as to evaluate other strategic alternatives.

If a sale occurs, the buyer will likely consider cutting costs sharply by, among other things, laying off employees, reducing pay and eliminating expensive employee benefits. It is also likely, if our Newspaper is sold, that the buyer would not be obligated to adopt the pay, benefit and work rule terms in the current collective bargaining agreements. I strongly urge you to carefully consider the current situation we are in as you review the terms of the voluntary buyout offer.

Our buyout offer is explained in detail in the papers that are being delivered to you this week. In summary, its generous terms include:

1. The amount of your 2007 income as reported on your 2007 W-2; and,

2. Continuation of medical benefits for one year.

After the time for accepting this offer has expired, and if we satisfy the goals outlined above, we will carefully compare our staffing needs with those employees who have not accepted the offer. Then we will make appropriate decisions regarding assignments and scheduling. This means that it is possible that employees will be asked to take on additional duties, transfer to another job or location, work in another department, or work different hours. We will not know the details of how the assignments will work and where the employees will be assigned until we know exactly how many employees accept the offer. Once we have that information, we will review staffing and make appropriate decisions.

Your managers will meet with you individually over the next few weeks to discuss your individual situation.

It is not easy to come to grips with such a bleak situation, but I know you want me to be direct and candid with you. In evaluating your response to the buyout offer, you may want to discuss this situation with members of your immediate family, explaining to them that a decision has been made to sell our newspaper if both of the goals explained above are not accomplished by October 1. Remember, if fewer than 200 full-time non-represented employees accept the offer, and we do not receive the concessions from the unions, no buy-outs will be accepted.

In large part, the future of The Star-Ledger is in your hands.
Sincerely,

George Arwady

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Times of Trenton, Star-Ledger in trouble

  1. westwrdguy57

    Times are tough for newspapers in this age of cyber information.

    When The Times of Trenton moved its printing operations to Newark it was not the first indication of ominous times to come. This was really significant..they did leave town. The Star Ledger is not so much a local paper but reports on stories throughout the state. The Times of Trenton is local, though, and contains all the world news. It was a long time leading up to The Times’ leaving this city and teaming up with The Star Ledger to save overhead. The Times could not make it alone here anymore in this newspaper climate as crowded as it is. The Ledger I understand has a much larger circulation base and is distributed throughout most of New Jersey. Also the cheapest paper around for all the content and variety inside, it may be the best bargain going.

    It is not only the higher cost of the printing which lead to this. The greedy unions, along with their very generous benefits package, personal and carry over vacation days, and higher salaries serving to erode the newspaper’s bottom line.

    You cannnot find a better newspaper around here at a lower price than The Times of Trenton or The Ledger for the amount of content they offer. From up to date world, national and local news, sports, editorial pages, classifieds, and the many and varied inserts of special interest, from autos to home and garden, and just about anything else. They can’t be beat.

    Newspapers have it rougher today than ever before. The internet has hurt all media forms as it provides almost any news on the world and national front the moment it breaks. Information is so much easier to access than just a decade ago. Web access it seems is found anywhere. Add to that we our located in an area with so many newspapers that some of them overlap one another with the same local stories. Then we have two, down to one now, major well established papers right here in Trenton.

    Some of those unions took foothold at The Times of Trenton, then The Trenton Times, as far back as the mid 1970’s. The drivers within the circulation department formed a union. The mailroom already had a union in the 70’s. The Teamsters Union placed a financial strain on the paper even back then. Delivery drivers were making close to $25 thousand yearly in 1979. Not bad in those days for just delivering papers. This is around the same time they went from an afternoon to morning paper.

    Newspapapers in this area are more vulnerable to this shaky economy due many factors. Location is a major one. There are established local papers in all the fringe areas just outside of Mercer County and within the county. Our close proximity to Philadelphia and New York to a lesser degree exist a slew of newspapers with editions which also cover some of our local news in Trenton and the nearby townships. This is the overlapping effect. The two major papers in Trenton have always competed, but still never were a serious threat to the other’s survival. There are also bi weekly papers covering about every little town from Ocean to Hunterdon County. And most of their stories make it to our local Trenton papers. They fill a unique niche in an already very competitive and saturated market. For example, their, police blotter, classifieds and food section. Information that can be found online, perhaps, or another paper. But they have a place for those who do not necessarily desire the latest news over say, the Personals section.

    A fine old-line newspaper defines a place’s individuality and lends it a characteristic hometown flavor that which from any other source will never again be the same.

  2. Anonymous

    I loved The Times for the years I worked for it, but they started their road to ruin when they made the same mistakes being made in newspapers across the country – they cut editorial staffs, and seriously restricted local news coverage. People stopped buying the paper, and canceled subscriptions – duh?

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