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Philadelphia Inquirer offers buyouts to employees citing declining revenues

Philadelphia Media Network management told employees that it needed to cut expenses because of falling revenue.

The Inquirer, Daily News and newsroom at Eighth and Market Streets in 2017
The Inquirer, Daily News and newsroom at Eighth and Market Streets in 2017Read moreBob Fernandez

Citing declining revenues, Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes The Inquirer, the Daily News, and, on Thursday announced buyouts aimed at eliminating 30 union jobs in the newsroom and other departments, plus an unspecified number of nonunion jobs.

The buyout will be offered to about 140 employees, including 117 members of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents journalists, plus those who work in advertising sales, finance, and other departments, the company said. The union said the company’s target is 10 percent of its 302 full-time members.

“We wish we didn’t have to make these tough choices, but these are the economic realities of journalism in 2019,” Terrance C.Z. Egger, Philadelphia Media Network’s publisher and chief executive, said in a statement.

The news organization is a for-profit enterprise owned by a nonprofit, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The announcement came a day after a federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the Reading Eagle to MediaNews Group, which is known for eviscerating the staffs and liquidating the property of acquired newspapers. Local news organizations nationwide are hemorrhaging advertising revenue as they struggle to persuade readers to pay for digital subscriptions.

Despite its ownership by a nonprofit, Philadelphia’s largest newsroom has been unable to escape the turmoil.

“A unique ownership structure means that we are not saddled with profit goals set by corporate owners or shareholders,” Egger told employees in an email, referring to the company’s status as a public benefit corporation, which means it does not have to maximize profits for shareholders.

“However, that does not make us immune to the dramatic economic challenges that weigh heavily on the news industry. Declines in revenue that have affected media companies of all sizes, including ours, require that we constantly adapt and adjust our expenses while also making strategic investments necessary for our future,” Egger said.

The company, which did not provide details on its revenue decline, said it has a financial savings target not tied to a specific number of buyouts. If it does not get the savings through voluntary buyouts, it will consider layoffs, the company said.

“Today, Philadelphia Media Network disappoints us all with the announcement that buyouts are again being offered — with the threat of layoffs if the company doesn’t get enough volunteers,” Diane Mastrull, president of NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents employees in the newsroom, advertising, finance and information technology, told union members in an email.

Less than two years ago, PMN had a round of buyouts that eliminated 50 employees from the newsroom. Since then, the company has hired 45 as part of a newsroom restructuring designed to emphasize digital skills. Likewise, the company plans to continue hiring now.

David Boardman, chairman of the Lenfest Institute, noted in an email that the institute is not involved in operating The Inquirer, but rather in helping the news organization change in ways that will allow it to survive for decades.

“Given that, the decision to make some reductions in staff in order to continue transforming into a healthy, digitally focused company makes sense, as painful as it undoubtedly will be,” said Boardman, who is dean of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication.