Star-Ledger Buyouts Not Reaching Goal, But Publisher Optimistic

››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Only about 46 staffers at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. have taken the current buyout offer, well below what the paper needs to cut the $10 million it is hoping to get via the volunteer job reductions.

Sources at the paper, the largest in New Jersey, say Publisher Richard Vezza is meeting with them this week to break the bad news.

He told them that the buyouts so far would only cut about $5 million, well below the $12 million to $14 million they had hoped to reduce and only half of the $10 million minimum needed to avoid layoffs.

Vezza also indicated that the paper's advertising revenue had dropped 25% in 2009 and 14% so far for 2010, with 7% to 10% expected in 2011. It is also expected the paper will lose $10 million this year and $17 million next year.

Unspecified salary reductions are set to take effect Dec. 1, along with a small increase in health insurance costs for employees that begins in 2011.

"If not enough buyouts are taken, first-time ever layoffs will occur at The Star-Ledger during the first quarter of 2011," the source said. "Department heads have been told to meet with employees one-on-one beginning Thursday to discuss employees responsibilities should they stay or whether department heads think employees would be smart to take the buyout. There will be severance packages for those laid off, but it will not come close to current buyout plan money or health insurance." The source also said Vezza told staffers he expects The Star-Ledger to be around in 10 years as a newspaper, mobile app and internet presence.

"I am being straightforward with them letting them know what the story is," Vezza told me.

Employees have already had to take unpaid furloughs at different times during the past two years. The paper lost about one-third of its editorial staff during buyouts in 2008.

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