Tronc has disclosed plans to eliminate one-quarter of the reporting jobs at its Pioneer Press suburban newspaper group through buyouts and layoffs.
The parent company of the Chicago Tribune and 33 Pioneer Press weeklies notified the Chicago News Guild this week that it intends to cut five positions from the 20-person editorial staff represented in the Guild bargaining unit.
If a sufficient number of employees do not accept the company’s buyout offer by October 6, layoffs are expected to follow.
“Clearly this was a huge shock to everyone, especially seeing as how management’s team appeared ready to give a little ground following the July negotiation session,” Guild leadership told members in an email. “The company would not elaborate upon its financial woes, but did say that other cost-cutting strategies are already in motion or being considered.”
The Guild has called an emergency membership meeting Sunday in Morton Grove.
Marisa Kollias, vice president of communications and public relations for tronc, released a statement for the company Thursday.
“In order to overcome industry challenges, we along with most publishers, are working to become more efficient across our newsrooms,” the statement said. “We have had to make a difficult decision at the Pioneer Press where we will initiate a voluntary separation program, within the parameters of the previously negotiated collective bargain agreement, in an effort to streamline editorial functions. Tronc’s top priority continues to be delivering award-winning journalism to the communities we serve.”
The buyout package reportedly includes two weeks of pay for an employee’s first year of service and one week for every following year of service up to 52 total weeks.
No additional layoffs are believed to be imminent at other tronc properties.
Rick Kambic, a Pioneer Press reporter and unit chair of the Chicago News Guild, said the cutbacks would have a serious effect on local news coverage.
"As unsettling as this is for our members and their families, we're equally upset about the blow to community journalism and the stories from across the suburbs of Chicago that won't be told anymore,” he said. “Now would be the time for readers in our communities to contact tronc and the Chicago Tribune and voice their support for transparent government and stories of touching human interest."
Word of the cuts comes one week after tronc announced its acquisition of the New York Daily News in a deal that included the assumption of the newspaper’s operational and pension liabilities.
“We can't know for sure whether it's related,” Kambic said. “What we do know for sure is this company felt it could afford to purchase a major New York newspaper and absorb around $25 million in debt, and we also know for sure the same company a week later is saying it needs to eliminate 25 percent of an already underpaid, decimated, and woefully understaffed organization that has a rich history of covering the suburbs of Chicago."
Pioneer Press weeklies include: Arlington Heights Post, Barrington Courier Review, Buffalo Grove Countryside, Deerfield Review, The Doings Clarendon Hills Edition, The Doings Hinsdale Edition, The Doings La Grange Edition, The Doings Oak Brook Edition, The Doings Weekly Edition, The Doings Western Springs Edition, Elmwood Park Elm Leaves, Evanston Review, River Forest Forest Leaves, Franklin Park Herald-Journal, Glencoe News, Glenview Announcements.
Also Highland Park News, Lake Forester, Lake Zurich Courier, Libertyville Review, Lincolnshire Review, Lincolnwood Review, Morton Grove Champion, Mundelein Review, Niles Herald-Spectator, Norridge-Harwood Heights News, Northbrook Star, Oak Park Oak Leaves, Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, Skokie Review, Vernon Hills Review, Wilmette Life, Winnetka Talk.