- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

NEW YORK | USA Today publisher Gannett Co. imposed one-week unpaid furloughs for most of its U.S. employees Wednesday, saying the move could help minimize the need for further layoffs amid a severe advertising downturn.

USA Today also declared a one-year freeze on wages effective Feb. 1.

Although Gannett is regarded by many analysts as one of the nation’s most financially sound newspaper publishers, the economic recession and the ongoing migration of advertising to the Internet have dimmed its revenue prospects.

Gannett used several rounds of layoffs last year to reduce the work force at most of its U.S. newspapers by 10 percent; a round in November cut newsroom jobs at USA Today by about 5 percent.

The Seattle Times asked 500 managers and nonunion workers last month to take a week off without pay by February, while the Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones & Co. properties announced a one-year wage freeze for nonunion employees last week. Most newspapers also have been hit with various layoffs, buyouts and job reductions.

At Gannett, employees must take the furloughs during the first quarter. Union-covered employees will be asked to participate, and layoffs are possible if they refuse.

“After much consideration, we decided a furlough program would be the fairest and least intrusive way to meet these fiscal challenges in the first quarter, which is traditionally the lightest time of the year,” Gannett Chief Executive Officer Craig Dubow said in a staff memo. “We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward.”

Gannett owns 85 U.S. daily newspapers and 23 TV stations in the U.S. It has more than 40,000 employees.

USA Today Publisher Craig Moon told employees in a separate memo that their sacrifices will keep the newspaper healthy.

“We find ourselves in an incredibly tough media and economic climate,” Mr. Moon said. “Our advertising revenues continue to slump as we enter 2009. With little visibility of future ad schedules, we, like others at Gannett, have had to make some very difficult decisions.”

Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell said alternatives such as pay cuts, reduced hours and broader wage freezes beyond USA Today were considered and remain on the table.

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