Saturday, March 1, 2008



By Keith J. Kelly

February 29, 2008 -- NEW Tribune Co.owner Sam Zell yesterday struck Newsday with a vengeance, whacking 120 jobs, including 25 unionized editorial people in the newsroom and about 10 top editors, including the paper's entire national desk.

The cost-cutting moves are at least the sixth major downsizing at the paper since it closed its New York Newsday edition in 1995.

The four-person national desk was brought into the office of Managing Editor Debbie Henley on Tuesday was told that the desk was being abolished and that they had until noon on Wednesday to a accept a "voluntary" buyout or be faced with a potential axing.

Carol Conyne, a 32-year veteran, Mark Toor a 28-year veteran, and Stacie Walker, a 15-year veteran - and all deputy national editors - decided to accept the buyout.

Not yet determined is the role of Sarah Crichton, the assistant national/foreign editor who is still covered by the union contract.

Insiders said they expect the national desk to be replaced with a new "political desk" that will cover everything out of the local town boards in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The two-person Albany bureau and the three-person Washington bureau weren't affected by the cuts.

However, Zell has said that the current set up in Washington for all the Tribune-owned papers is "unsustainable," so no one there is resting easy, either - even if they did escape yesterday's axing.

National Editor Calvin Lawrence left several weeks ago for, and his position was not filled.

Also believed to be among the high-level departees was Genetta Adams, an assistant managing editor, who was in charge of Part II, the paper's feature section which had borne the brunt of a downsizing two years ago.

Adrian Peracchio, a member of the editorial board and a 30-year veteran, was also among those being shown the door.

On top of the upper-echelon editors, 25 unionized editorial workers are going out the door. That includes six special writers - generally those with five or more years of experience and salaries of more than $87,000 - and four reporters.

Newsday Publisher Tim Knight said in his memo announcing the cuts that some people were being fired on the spot yesterday, but most of those people were outside of the newsroom.

"About 120 employees are affected," said Knight's memo. "Some individuals will leave today, while others will stay through the end of March. These difficult actions are based on our urgent need to focus on the things that drive audience and revenue growth, while we manage through a soft advertising revenue environment that requires us to significantly reduce costs."

There may also be some significant realignments on the business news desk that have not yet been revealed.

John Mancini, Newsday's editor-in-chief, did not return a call for comment.

Dennis Grabhorn, president of Graphic Communications AFL-CIO Local 406, was surprised that the total cutbacks reached 120 people, since management had only told him that about 55 unionized workers were to be let go.

"This is just devastating," said Grabhorn, who was enroute to a meeting with the workers who run the creaking presses.

He said the company is looking to offer buyouts to 23 journeymen pressmen, one machinist and five drivers as part of the voluntary reduction.

The cutbacks had been somewhat expected, but the extent of them rattled many insiders.

"I'd say people are shocked and demoralized," said one insider. "This billionaire [Zell] comes in and says he is going to save us and then he screws us."

He said that under Tribune, the company had already frozen its pension. The company had instead been making contributions to the 401(k), but when Zell took over the battered Tribune Co. with an Employee Stock Ownership plan, it stopped making any matching contributions to the 401(k) retirement funds.

"The whole history of this being a great national paper, this is definitely the death knell," said one shell-shocked insider.

Workers who are mulling voluntary buyouts have until March 13 to decide. If the company doesn't get enough volunteers, it will make mandatory cuts.

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