Not so happy new year at Daily Advertiser

by Leslie Turk

Happy New Year? Not at The Daily Advertiser, where employees will again be forced to take a week off without pay in the first quarter of 2011.

Happy New Year? Not at The Daily Advertiser. An independent Gannett-watching blog broke the story early Tuesday that media giant Gannett Co., which owns the Lafayette daily, Daily World in Opelousas and Quik Quarter, had mandated yet another unpaid furlough for its non-union employees the first quarter of 2011.

Gannett Blog, which is not affiliated Virginia-based Gannett, quickly got its hands on a "confidential memo" by U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey, dated Jan. 4 and addressed to all U.S. Community Publishing employees. Making clear that economic challenges remain for the nation's largest newspaper publisher, the memo reads: As we start the new year, we continue to see some improvement in revenue trends and reduced year-over-year revenue declines in US Community Publishing. This is no small accomplishment and I think you should take great pride in what you have achieved. Our top line revenues, however, while improving, remain short of where they were a year ago. This is compounded by a still challenging and uncertain economy, as well as increasing expenses. To help us manage through these challenges, we have made the difficult decision to implement a furlough across USCP during the first quarter. This was, quite frankly, an option I had hoped we could avoid. Furloughs, while difficult, do allow us to protect jobs. The staff reductions we have taken over the past few years have been very hard and further reductions are not our first preference. During the first quarter, non-union USCP employees will be furloughed for five business days. Exempt, salaried employees must take one full payroll week within the pay period, to be completed by Sunday, March 27. Outside sales people will take five days that can be completed at any pre-approved time before the last weekend in March. Non-exempt, hourly employees will also take five days at any pre-approved time, before the last weekend in March. If you are not sure which category you are in, you should check with your Human Resources representative or supervisor.

Read more from Gannett Blog here.

By Tuesday afternoon, The Wall Street Journal had confirmed the mandatory furlough with a Gannett spokeswoman, reporting:

Like many other newspaper publishers, Gannett has slashed jobs and made many other cuts, including furloughs, in response to steep declines in advertising revenue over the past couple years. The company had about 35,000 employees at the end of 2009, down from nearly 50,000 three years earlier.

In the third quarter of last year, Gannett posted a 38% increase in profit helped by lower operating expenses. However, its newspaper business continued to drag down results. Publishing ad revenue fell 5.1% from a year earlier, a slight improvement over the 5.7% decline in the second quarter. Publishing ad revenue declined 28% in 2009.

Gannett Co. announced three rounds of furloughs in 2009 (the third was effective in the first quarter of 2010), the March furlough coming just five days after the corporate giant disclosed $2 million in bonuses to CEO Craig Dubow and the other four highest-paid execs. "Even after his 2008 bonus was whacked in half, Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow still got $875,000, according to the new proxy report to shareholders. And that was on top of his $1.2 million salary, plus all the other millions the 54-year-old has made since 1981, when he began climbing Corporate's ladder," Gannett Blog reported at the time.

On average, the one-week furlough represents about a 2 percent pay cut.