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Post-Gazette offers voluntary buyouts in bid to avoid layoffs

| Wednesday, July 29, 2015, 6:15 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered voluntary buyouts to 120 employees, underscoring the newspaper's struggles in the midst of “weak” revenue.

Eligible members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh were notified Tuesday that formal offers would be arriving in the next few days, part of a labor union deal with the parent company, Block Communications Inc. As many as 21 employees will be able to take the buyouts.

“Despite the best cost-cutting efforts of the Post-Gazette's unions during the last round of contract negotiations, BCI once again believes that weak revenue and a difficult advertising climate have created economic conditions dire enough to require thinning the newsroom,” said a letter the guild sent to its members. The letter was obtained by the Tribune-Review.

The guild represents newsroom reporters, photographers, copy editors and artists at the Post-Gazette. The goal of buyouts is to avoid layoffs, according to the guild's letter.

Executive Editor David Shribman referred questions to a newspaper spokeswoman, who declined to comment. Calls to Block Communications were not returned. Guild President Mike Fuoco declined to comment.

The newspaper industry is struggling to adjust to declining advertising revenue and competition from Internet-based media. Block Communications announced last year that it was laying off hundreds of production workers at the Post-Gazette and its sister paper, the Toledo Blade.

The latest cuts target the newsroom.

“We wish that buyouts were unnecessary,” guild leaders said in the letter. “We were distraught to learn that the newsroom would not be spared cuts after all.”

Newspaper newsrooms lost 3,800 journalists last year and have declined 40 percent since 2007, according to new figures from the American Society of News Editors.

Buyouts can be damaging to the long-term quality of a newspaper, said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The people who take buyouts tend to be the people with the most experience, because for them buyouts make the most sense,” Tompkins said.

To be eligible for the buyout, employees must have worked at the Post-Gazette for at least three years and their age and years of service must total 42. It includes 1.5 weeks of pay for every year they worked there, up to 39 weeks of pay, and the people who take it will not have health insurance.

“Decisions to reduce staff are entirely up to the company. All we can do is try to negotiate the best buyout package possible,” the letter said. “We believe we have done that.”

The buyouts at the Post-Gazette followed a challenging year and a half in which Block was locked in negotiations with the guild. Trib Total Media Inc. ended a contract with the Post-Gazette last year for delivery of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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