NORFOLK -- The financially troubled Journal and Guide, the nation's third-oldest black-oriented newspaper, has laid off most of its employes and is operating with a skeleton staff, company officials say.

Publisher Brenda Andrews declined to disclose last week how many employes have been laid off or how many were still working at the 87-year-old weekly newspaper. But she said the newspaper would be published as scheduled on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.

"For the next two weeks, we will be making sure that the paper will be getting out and that those who are helping us are getting paid," she said.

Whether the newspaper survives probably will be determined Oct. 29, when it goes before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Hal Bonney Jr. to explain its delinquency on a back-tax payment to the Internal Revenue Service.

In 1985, the newspaper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors, and Bonney approved a plan that included back-tax payments of $78,000 to the IRS. The payment due in January 1987 has not been made, and the other is due in January 1988.

The IRS has asked Bonney to dismiss the Guide's Chapter 11 status or change it to a Chapter 7, which would allow the liquidation of the paper's assets to pay its creditors.

While Andrews acknowledges that the newspaper's future appears bleak, she said she hoped someone would help save the newspaper.

"I feel certain that by the 29th that there's going to be a very positive breakthrough," Andrews said. "I do believe that things are going to work through."

Andrews said the Rev. Milton Reid, the president of Guide Publishing Co., was working to find a buyer for the newspaper and that Carlton Goodlett, chairman of the Guide board, was attempting to get a loan.