Post Offers Another Round of Buyouts

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009

The Washington Post offered employees another round of early retirement packages yesterday -- the fourth since 2003 and the second within a year -- as part of its ongoing effort to cut costs to compensate for declining circulation and advertising revenue.

Also yesterday, the New York Times Co. laid off 100 employees and told those remaining that they would have their salaries cut by as much as 5 percent this year and be required to take up to 10 additional paid days off, all of which are designed to save money at the cash-strapped paper.

As with The Post's early retirements, or buyouts, offered last year, eligible employees must be at least 50 years old and have five years of Post service by the end of the year. They will receive a lump-sum payment up to 1 1/2 times their salary, based on years of employment, as well as certain pension enhancements.

Unlike the past three buyouts, however, this round is more selective. "This program will be limited to areas where positions do not need to be replaced or where we can otherwise achieve cost savings," Washington Post Media chief executive and Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth wrote in an e-mail to employees yesterday morning announcing the buyouts.

The targeted departments include The Post's newsroom and the production and circulation departments, and a small number of positions in the advertising and information technology departments. The deal initially has been offered to non-union Post employees and has yet to be worked out with union-covered workers.

Last year, 231 Post employees took buyouts, resulting in a charge of $79.8 million against The Post Co.'s earnings. Though the buyouts are paid from the company's pension fund, they must be recorded as a charge on its balance sheets. Previous buyouts came in 2003 and 2006.

The Post is in the process of combining its newspaper newsroom with its newsroom, which is headquartered in Arlington County, and is trimming jobs in the unification.

"While we expect to be able to achieve meaningful staff reductions through" the buyouts, Weymouth wrote, "I am sorry to say that we cannot rule out layoffs in the future."

The Post reported a $24.9 million operating loss in 2008 as ongoing declines in newspaper advertising combined with the recession to reduce earnings. In a letter to Post Co. shareholders Wednesday, Chairman Donald E. Graham said he expects the newspaper to lose "substantial money" in 2009 and added: "Post management knows that losses must diminish in 2010."

In a follow-up e-mail to employees, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli wrote: "These are difficult and uncertain times in our profession, yet through it all you have collectively demonstrated your dedication and professionalism in producing journalism that is second to none, from the scoop about AIG's bonuses to the series that last week won Debbie Cenziper and Sarah Cohen the Goldsmith Prize. We know that big personnel moves are disruptive, but our goal is to maintain the extraordinary quality, depth and authority of The Post's journalism, on every platform, for every audience."

At the Times Co., nonunion employees of the Times newspaper, the Boston Globe, and corporate headquarters will have their pay cut by 5 percent until 2010, when the company plans "to return salaries to their current levels," Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson and Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote in a memo yesterday. A deal with unionized employees has not been worked out yet.

Employees at the Times Co.'s other properties, including and the smaller papers, will have a 2.5 percent pay cut and must take five extra paid days off this year.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company