Gannett forces staff to take unpaid leave

NEW YORK - In another bad week for the US newspaper industry, USA Today owner Gannett is forcing thousands of its staff to take unpaid leave as another newspaper, The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Read Gordon's Republic blog post - Crunch week for US newspapers

Gannett, which owns UK regional newspaper firm Newsquest, said it would require most of its 31,000 staff to take a week's unpaid leave in a bid to stave off jobs cuts. The unpaid leave will affect all levels of staff from reporters to the chairman.

Gannett has cut around 6,000 jobs in the last two years and is likely to cut more in 2009.

Gannett owns 85 daily newspapers across the US including The Arizona Republic, The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Indianapolis Star, and also announced that it was implementing a one-year pay freeze for all staff at the USA Today.

Craig Dubow, the chairman, president and chief executive, of Gannett, said: "Most of our US employees -- including myself and all other top executives -- will be furloughed for the equivalent of one week in the first quarter. We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward."

Gannett is in negotiations with unions about the move as it cannot simply impose the plan on unionised staff -- although this only relates to around 12% of staff.

The move comes after reports of layoffs across the US newspaper industry.

On Thursday the Star Tribune of Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy protection after the paper's owners failed to win a series of concessions on wages with unions.

The publisher, Chris Harte, said in a statement, "We intend to use the Chapter 11 process to make this great Twin Cities institution stronger, leaner and more efficient so that it is better positioned for the future."

The Star Tribune has the additional problem of large debts incurred when it was taken over two years ago by private equity group Avista Capital.

The shaky future of the Star is mirrored by that of the EW Scripps-owned Denver-based Rocky Mountain News, which could also face closure.

The paper was put on the block since early December and it was offered for bids. The deadline for bids closed yesterday.

Scripps has not said what will happen if a buyer is not found, but the title is likely to close or opt for an online only future like the Hearst Corporation-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. Hearst said earlier this week that it might shut the title and go online if it could not find a buyer in 60 days.

The Rocky Mountain News currently has about 230 employees.

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