What the Sun-Times Media Group is doing to itself makes me think of a fox chewing off its paw to escape from a trap. At the end of last week the group, which consists of about 100 titles, laid off dozens of employees — a source tells me she’s heard estimates ranging from 90 to 130 — in editorial, advertising, IT, and other departments. According to the Chicago Newspaper Guild none were guild members.
The Tribune quoted STMG chairman Jeremy Halbreich as saying in an internal memo, “I will not mince words or sugarcoat decisions. . . . We are in a difficult fight for the future of our company and our newspaper publications are clearly at stake.” The Tribune pointed out that earlier in the week the company reported a net loss for 2008 of over $350 million.
The Tribune noted that the editorial losses included Dennis Robaugh, managing editor, and Bob Bong, business editor of the Southtown Star, which also lost at least four other staffers. I hear roughly a dozen people at Pioneer Press lost their jobs, including a sports editor, a senior editor, and, most notably, Dorothy Andries, the chain’s classical music critic and arts and entertainment editor, who’d been at Pioneer since the early 80s. At the Naperville Sun, which is union-free, I was told three or more reporters were laid off.
“This really goes into bone,” said a veteran reporter at a STMG paper. “These are real people doing real work. When they go away there is nobody to pick up the slack.” Redundancy disappeared from the STMG papers long ago.