Journal Newspapers Inc., which publishes papers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and several Northern Virginia jurisdictions, will close its offices in Rockville and Lanham next month, people at the company said yesterday.

Publisher Ryan Phillips met with the editorial and advertising staffs from both Maryland papers yesterday and informed reporters that they would be working from home or their cars, according to people who were present. The privately owned newspaper chain's Virginia headquarters in Alexandria will remain open, and staff members were told a smaller, more affordable office will be opened in Maryland with a receptionist but no newsroom.

"I guess it's better than the paper shutting down," said one staff member who asked not to be identified. "Everybody knows things aren't going well on the business side."

Journal executives have said they are cutting costs because of the sluggish economy. The newspaper industry, including The Washington Post Co., has suffered from an advertising slowdown that has prompted many organizations to reduce their staffs and make other cutbacks.

Phillips did not return calls yesterday.

The office closings would be the latest in a series of changes at the regional newspaper company. Last year, the Journals -- which have a combined daily circulation of about 150,000 -- stopped publishing on Mondays. The Sunday circulation is about 300,000, according to recent figures.

After that, Phillips laid off some employees, including Executive Editor David Farmer and two senior editors, James Farrell and Jane Touzalin. The Prince George's paper is now down to four reporters and the Montgomery paper has five, according to the company's Web site.

In July, reporters at the Maryland papers sought to unionize. Calvin Zon, a Washington-Baltimore representative of the Newspaper Guild, said yesterday that he thought closing the offices could be in part an attempt to end the organizing effort. "I think it's an attempt to save money and as an added bonus to thwart the union, which also would save money, in their way of thinking," Zon said.

Zon and Journal employees in Maryland are awaiting a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board to determine whether Journal employees in Maryland have the right to unionize separately from employees in Virginia, a right-to-work state where employees are not required to join or pay dues to a union that has won the right to represent them. Phillips has argued that editorial employees in both states should form one union, Zon said.