Even as the Sun-Times is touting "double digit gains" in digital circulation, the newspaper's bosses are gearing up for another round of layoffs early next year, according to insiders.
No specific goals have been set, but sources said staff reductions will target departments throughout Sun-Times Media, including editorial.
A spokeswoman for parent company Wrapports LLC did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Increases in online traffic have not come close to offsetting revenue erosion tied to print declines and overall advertising losses. In the latest six-month period, average print circulation on Sunday fell 11 percent to 165,404 and on Wednesday fell 13 percent to 167,493.
"Although we have much to celebrate in digital during this reporting period, we must continue to aggressively address the erosion of print," Sun-Times publisher and editor in chief Jim Kirk told employees in a memo Thursday. "This reporting period we saw print declines consistent with our local competition. As we build our digital core, in print we continue to focus our marketing resources on attracting and retaining those readers who are consistently engaged with our brands and bring the most value to our advertising partners."
Despite the digital inroads, Sun-Times Media confirmed the resignation of Sarah Wilde after 15 months as vice president digital audience development and marketing. No replacement has been named. On her way out, Wilde was quoted by staffers as warning of layoffs.
"We wish Sarah all the best," the company said in a statement.
Earlier this year, the Sun-Times laid off its entire photography staff in a move Wrapports chairman Michael Ferro said should have come much sooner. “I knew the photographers would be going from the day we took this paper over," Ferro told Bryan Smith in the November issue of Chicago magazine. "We took a year and a half too long to do it. I can tell you 100 percent before we bought this we had that cutlass ready.”
Word of additional layoffs at the Sun-Times follows a report here Sept. 26 that the Chicago Tribune and other Tribune Co. publishing units had been ordered to make $100 million in budget cuts. Tribune publisher Tony Hunter warned employees this week that plans for 2014 “will include cost reductions to offset revenue declines and investments in growth opportunities.”
Here is the full text of Kirk's memo:
From: Jim Kirk
Subject: Chicago Sun-Times Circulation Update
To: Sun-Times Employees
Date: Oct 31, 2013
This morning, the Alliance for Audited Media released circulation numbers for the newspaper industry. I’m pleased to announce that Chicago Sun-Times, including all branded publications, reported double-digit increases in digital circulation, both as a collective and for our Chicago Sun-Times flagship title on a stand-alone basis. This growth reflects the many hours of hard work put in by all of our employees, for which I am grateful.
I am also pleased to share with you that Chicago Sun-Times continues to lead the Chicago market in print readership with 2,850,310 readers (Past 7 Days print readers – DMA), total net combined audience (Past 7 day Print/Past 30 Days online - DMA) with an audience rate of 3,253,238, and is the market leader in total monthly unique visitors with a rate of 5,401,000.
In addition to reporting double-digit digital circulation gains every day of the week across the board, Sun-Times Media has also seen double digit growth in mobile engagement, year over year, as well as triple-digital growth in video in only the last six months. The positive momentum we have been able to demonstrate in these areas can be directly attributed to the alignment of so many departments here at the Sun-Times, from our digital production teams to our writers and editors who are all working together to create engaging and accessible content for our audiences. Your hard work shows, and is really starting to move the dial.
In the last six months, our company has made a number of strategic investments and changes to further deliver on the digital vision. Our community newspapers have focused on rebuilding and enhancing the local websites for many of our suburban publications and have introduced new offerings centered around native advertising and local information and data. We have partnered with Chicago.com and are currently offering unique @chicago.com emails to Sun-Times subscribers. We envision additional opportunities to work with Chicago.com. Last month we launched CSTtv, which now has 20 currently running video series across many of our titles includingChicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Splash, High School Cube News and Grid. At CSTtv you’ll find shows like “Roeper Rundown”, “Hub Arkush: Fantasy Forecast,” “Politics: Off Message,” and “The Minority Report.”
The Chicago Sun-Times has also become the first major metro daily to change its masthead to reflect a digital-first mission, connecting print audiences with the extensive online content available to them atsuntimes.com. We are the only major paper to be listed by the Alliance for Audited Media in this format.
Although we have much to celebrate in digital during this reporting period, we must continue to aggressively address the erosion of print. This reporting period we saw print declines consistent with our local competition. As we build our digital core, in print we continue to focus our marketing resources on attracting and retaining those readers who are consistently engaged with our brands and bring the most value to our advertising partners.
As local audiences continue to shift towards digital products, our positive momentum in digital, namely video and mobile, demonstrates that we are on the right track. Although we are faced with the realities of print, I am very proud of the progress we have made in digital in just a few quarters.
I want to thank all of you for your hard work and dedication to rebuilding the Chicago Sun-Times for the digital age. Your efforts are paying off, and as our digital audience grows, so do the opportunities for the Sun-Times brand to be successful in the future.