Owner: Lee Enterprises
Date: Sept. 9, 2008
By The Gazette Staff
Citing high fuel and newsprint prices and a softening in national advertising, The Billings Gazette announced Wednesday that it has laid off seven full-time and two part-time employees.
“Dreadful increases in fuel and newsprint costs, coupled with a slowdown in national and employment advertising, has caused us to be faced with the difficult decision to make staff reductions,” said Mike Gulledge, publisher of The Billings Gazette and a vice president for publishing for Lee Enterprises, the Gazette’s parent company.
The full-time positions included two from the newsroom, two in advertising, two in production and one in circulation. The part-time jobs eliminated were in production areas. Last month, The Gazette employed 190 full-time and 59 part-time staffers.
Gulledge also said that Lee was adopting a regional approach to providing financial services to The Gazette and three other Lee newspapers.
“In Billings, we will be providing financial services support for our enterprises in Butte, Helena and Casper (Wyo.),” Gulledge said. “We will be adding three positions in Billings to facilitate the strategy.” Recruiting efforts to fill those jobs are under way.
Lee newspapers in Butte, Helena and Casper also announced cutbacks on Wednesday. At the Montana Standard in Butte, seven positions were eliminated; in Helena, five positions were trimmed; and in Casper, four positions were cut.
Two other Lee papers recently announced reorganizations. Last week, the Ravalli Republic added a senior reporter and laid off six employees. Last month, the Missoulian laid off seven employees.
In July, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle said it was laying off nine employees. The Chronicle’s parent company, Big Sky Publishing, also owns the Belgrade News and other publications.
The Gazette is the region’s largest newspaper with an average daily circulation of 45,673 and Sunday circulation of 52,325, according to latest Audit Bureau of Circulation numbers for 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2007.
By Robert Struckman, 9-09-08
Luella Brien, a reporter at the Billings Gazette with nearly two years experience at the paper, was the latest journalist laid off in the state, thanks to cutbacks at Lee Enterprises, which owns four daily newspapers in Montana. The Gazette laid off another employee last week.
Managers asked Brien not to say anything to her coworkers that she was leaving, she said. The paper has also ceased publishing its Heights edition, geared toward the sprawling neighborhoods along Billings’ north and east borders.
“I posted it on Facebook,” Brien said with her characteristic vigor. “I’m not surprised, but I am surprised that it came this late,” she said, referring both to the cutting of her position and of the section.
Layoffs at the Missoulian two weeks ago and at the five-day-a-week Ravalli Republic last week have cut back reporting positions at Lee newspapers in the state by as much as 10 percent, depending on whether you’re talking about all newsroom personnel or just bylines.
Lee Enterprises, whose stock has plummeted from more than $40 a share about three years ago to less than $4 a share lately, has been struggling under a $1.3 billion debt load from the highly leveraged purchase of the Pulitzer chain of newspapers, even as revenues have plummeted and operating costs have jumped. Paper costs, driven up in part by high fuel prices, have gone through the roof.
High-level Lee sources in Montana differ on whether the layoffs reflect a sea-change in the industry or are a temporary dip which will reverse when the regional and national economies pull out of the present downturn.
Those watching the newspaper industry nationally have no such qualms about the changes happening in newspapers. Almost every day newspapers across the country announce layoffs and other cost-cutting measures as the industry reels from high costs, low ad revenues and increased competition from low-cost, Internet-based news outlets (such as NewWest.Net).
If you’re interested in more news on the subject, try this blog: papercuts.
As for Brien, she hopes to remain in Billings, one way or another.
“My dad’s voice kept ringing in my head: ‘You can’t leave your job unless you have another,’” Brien said. “I feel bad because I don’t have a job lined up, but they’re the ones who got their budget out of wack,” she added.