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Daily Star axes 52 in newsroom, marketing, advertising

Owner Lee faces $1.1 billion debt

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In what one now-former employee called "a major bloodletting," the Arizona Daily Star has let go 52 people, firing nearly its entire marketing department Thursday.

As many as 15 newsroom employees and many employees in the advertising, circulation, finance, and IT departments were also reportedly let go.

Throughout the day, it was unclear how many total employees were let go, but initial reports pointed to about 40 from the newspaper who had to pack their working lives into cardboard boxes.

At 5 p.m., a source said "it's still coming down on 2nd shift" as more employees were apparently being told their services were no longer needed.

Calls to the Star were not returned by the close of business Thursday. As of 5 p.m., the newspaper had yet to mention the layoffs on its website, which reported Thursday on the Tucson Pops Orchestra and a happy hour at a local restaurant.

At midnight, the paper posted a 6-paragraph brief on the layoffs, headlined "Star announces realignment, layoffs." The story included the final total of layoffs: 52. The paper said it also eliminated some open positions and realigned some departments' functions.

"These actions, precipitated by the ongoing weakness in the economy and adjustments to our business model, made for a tough day," Star publisher John Humenik told his paper.

In April, the Star reported that it then had 418 staffers throughout the organization.

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An initial group of employees were told they were laid off Thursday morning. Several comments on Facebook noted that many in the Star newsroom first learned that layoffs were taking place by reading a morning version of this report.*

The layoffs follow a move Tuesday to fire the newspaper's longtime security guards in favor of outsourced security from a private firm.

About 5 marketing employees, 4 from the advertising department, 4 in security and 15 in the newsroom were let go, Star sources said.

Unconfirmed reports Thursday said that two photographers, at least 3 reporters, 2 copy editors and an editor were laid off.

Multiple sources from various departments at the newspaper said these Star employees were among those laid off:

  • Fred Araiza – photographer
  • Scot Skinner- features writer/editor
  • Dan Sorenson – features writer
  • Shelley Shelton – metro reporter
  • Dave Eubank – sports/copy editor
  • Dylan Boswell - graphic designer/marketing
  • Val Vinyard – features writer
  • Greg Bryan - photographer
  • Angela Pittenger – "visual team assistant"
  • Jill Torrance – photographer
  • Dave Skog – copy desk
  • Sarah Trotto – sports reporter
  • John Ames – StarNet/online content producer
  • Polly Higgins - online producer
  • Jeff Jackson - sports/copy desk
  • Natalia Lopera – metro/La Estrella
  • Alex Dalenberg – business writer
  • Joyce Bertschy – metro/news assistant
  • Carl Hinton
  • Andrzej Proczka – online developer/designer
  • Angie Bush
  • Karen Keller
  • Peggy Adams
  • Judy Gudeman
  • Maris Finley - marketing
  • Diana Fennie
  • Clyde Richardson - Security
  • Jim Sabados - IT
  • Joan Walsh - IT
  • Lucy Carathers
  • John McNamara
  • Rance Naffziger
  • Joan Stul
  • Clyde Richardson
  • Mike Carpio
  • John Nicholson
  • Mike Ribbeck
  • Lupita Espiru
  • Maria Cota
  • Richard Tullar - production
  • Martha Nune - production
  • Riki Navarro - production
  • Antonio Howard - production
  • Fabian Ramirez - production

This list of Star layoffs is preliminary. Please provide any additions or corrections to the list either in the comments or by email. We will update it as we get new info.

"The signs were all there," said one employee who was laid off. "All the hushed meetings and closed doors."

"They basically said, 'Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Your jobs have been eliminated. Have a nice day," the employee said.

Those laid off are being paid for one week for each year of service, and their accrued vacation time, sources said.

The newspaper, which took over operations from Tucson Newspapers Inc., the former joint operating agency that ran publishing and advertising for the Star and the Tucson Citizen until the latter ceased publishing in 2009, is published by newspaper chain Lee Enterprises.

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Profits from the South Park operation are shared between Lee and the former publisher of the Citizen, Gannett Inc.

Lee also publishes 40-some other newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Quad-City Times and other Midwestern papers. Gannett publishes, among others, USA Today and the Arizona Republic.

Lee is widely thought to be on the verge of bankruptcy. The decline in newspaper circulation in recent years, and the company's crushing $1.1 billion debt from its purchase of the Pulitzer chain (which brought it the Star), have pushed Lee to cut costs.

In May, the company backed away from a plan to refinance the debt, which comes due in April 2012, after investors failed to bite.

Lee stock has dropped by 70 percent in the last few months, and is now under a dollar.

In 2009, Lee was nearly delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because the stock sold for under a dollar for months. At one point it dropped as low as 28 cents.

If it continues to perform poorly for 6 months, the stock may again face being removed from the trading desk, which would further shake investor confidence in Lee's ability to pay off its debts.

The company received a notice from NYSE on July 8 that it may be delisted if the stock does not climb above the $1 threshold.

Nevertheless, the Star's "leadership team is confident that these steps will enable us to focus our efforts and position us for a bright future," Humenik told his paper.

* Out of respect for our colleagues at the Star, we did not report the names of anyone laid off until nearly 4 p.m.


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Latest comments on this storyRead all 12 »

12
399 comments
Jul 24, 2011, 9:19 pm
-0 +3

@rtullar,

I know it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, but good things can come of leaving a bad situation.

My hat’s off to everyone who poured themselves into their work down on South Park. I had a lot of respect for so many TNI folks when I worked for the Citizen.

It’s terrible that the endless poor choices of a media conglomerate means there are now more people who’ll be filing for unemployment. But people with talent and dedication will surely continue to be valued in this world, just as the foolish and rapacious will earn their reward.

11
3 comments
Jul 24, 2011, 7:00 pm
-0 +5

The people that went to work Saturday night to produce the Sunday Star walked into a morgue. There is no life left in the Production Department. The powers that be, who cut the heart out of production, advertising and marketing have no idea what they have done. The damage is now irreparable. Mr Humenik’s confident leadership team that has positioned themselves for a bright future is totally in the dark. My thoughts remain with the few souls that will try to keep the lights on. It’s so sad to hear my good friends cry.

10
3 comments
Jul 22, 2011, 4:51 pm
-0 +6

The list is probably not finished, but Martha Nunez, Riki Navarro, Antonio Howard and Fabian Ramirez were also termed after years of dedicated service. Losing 10 production employees from an already bare bones workforce, leaves the remaining production workers in an overwhelming situation. God help them if the paper gets out late.

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