Some 45 people were fired at Suburban Journals on Friday, the same day that its corporate sibling, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, laid off seventeen newsroom employees.
Those let go from the Journals consisted mainly of advertising sales staff -- except real estate reps -- at the west county, south county and north county bureaus. Ad reps at the Post-Dispatch will take over those sales duties. Editors, reporters, receptionists, designers and typists were also fired.
The Post and Journals are owned by Iowa-based Lee Enterprises. Lee's fiscal year ended Friday; the company next year will face a big debt pay-down, stemming from its $1.46 billion purchase of the Post in June 2005, and wants to cut costs, according to employees and union officials. (On Thursday, the day before the latest lay-offs, Lee boasted of a nice jump in its “readership and online use.")
According to a former ad rep for the Journals, Friday’s 10:30 a.m. firing went down like “a reality TV show."
"They were telling people to go in a certain conference room," says the employee, who asked not to be named in order not to jeopardize a pending severance package. "One room was safe and one room was those let go. Bob Williams [the Journals' publisher] fired us in a group setting. They sat us down and he said we were terminated."
The Journals also cut staff in August. Back in April, the chain shut down a printing operation in Berkeley. In the last year, the Journals have also reduced the number of editions distributed.
"We had thirty-seven," says the former ad rep. "I think we were down to twenty-two. It was like the joke around the office: We never really knew how many Journals we had."
Williams, the publisher, has not returned several phone calls for comment.
Dan Hayes, vice president of corporate communications for parent company Lee Enterprises, on Friday referred all queries to Williams before hanging up on this Riverfront Times reporter. Kind of strange for a flack representing a newspaper empire.
10/1/08 Note: Hayes tells RFT by e-mail that he did not intentionally hang up on this reporter, although admits he had nothing else to say. "Clearly, we had a misunderstanding," Hayes writes.