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Ripple Effects Felt in Detroit

As Chrysler and now GM filed for bankruptcy protection, the ripple effects are being felt at Detroit's newspapers. Under reorganization, both automakers will be forced to slash their advertising budgets, and that hurts the Detroit Free Press and News, who are already in a world of hurt.

Merely two months after introducing an innovative program to drastically reduce printing and delivering of the papers, both publications are forced to cut more cost in the face of dwindling advertising revenue. Last week, the Free Press announced that it's reducing 10 percent of its newsroom staff, eliminating 20 jobs. This week, a furlough program is introduced, with more layoffs expected in the next two quarters.

Here's the memo obtained by Media Watch:

From: Anders, Jeanette
Sent: Monday, June 01, 2009 3:33 PM
To: Detroit Newspaper Partnership
Subject: Furlough Implementation

As you are aware, staff reductions were implemented throughout Detroit Media Partnership and the Detroit Free Press on Friday and negotiations are ongoing with several unions. Eliminating those positions was an extremely difficult step toward addressing the continuing declines we are seeing in advertising revenue due to economic conditions.

However, in an effort to help minimize this most recent round of staff reductions, it is necessary to implement other cost cutting measures.

As a result, we are implementing one-week furloughs for non-bargaining unit employees in the Partnership and the Free Press, as has been the case at most other Gannett properties.

Each affected employee will need to schedule these furloughs during June, July, August or September.

Attached are FAQ's about the program. Managers will share more detailed communication this week, including procedures on how to schedule.

Although this is a difficult decision, we believe it is one of the necessary measures to help meet targeted expense reductions. I appreciate all you are doing every day to contribute to our transformation and our business success.

More News from Detroit

The automakers aren't the only ones from Detroit making the news.

While GM and Chrysler wrestle with their own survival, the two newspapers in Detroit began their own struggle to stay afloat. On Monday, the Free Press and News became the first major U.S. metro dailies to cease daily delivery to subscribers.

This move was planned and announced in December last year. The papers now will be delivered to homes on only Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The rest of the week, a condensed 32-page printed paper is available only at newsstands.

Or off a subscriber's own computer. The papers now may be downloaded and printed, in its entirety, along with click-screen capabilities, from a specially-designed web site. Yes, instead of having your dog fetch the paper off the driveway, he may now go get the e-edition - a stack of letter-size paper - off your printer.

The frenzied first day crashed the paper's server for the digital edition, forcing long delays and complaints. Management dashed off a quick memo to the papers' staffs to deal with irate callers. The short memo, obtained by Media Watch:


DETROIT, Mich., March 30 - Users of the electronic editions, exact copies of today's printed Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are temporarily experiencing longer wait times for information to load. This delay is being caused by higher than anticipated demand during this peak time. The Detroit Media Partnership is working with its vendor, Tecnavia, to rectify this situation and broaden digital capacity.

More than 500,000 print copies of both newspapers are available for free at more than 18,000 retail locations where the newspapers are usually sold.

The timing of the new initiative, while it was pre-determined well in advance, also worked out to the papers' detriment. Besides the ongoing battles of GM and Chrysler in Washington, Michigan State's basketball team won on Sunday to advance to the Final Four - to be hosted next weekend at Ford Field in Detroit. The event is anticipated to be the biggest in Motown since the Super Bowl in January 2006, as crowds of 72,000 are expected at each of the three games.

The papers put on a full-court press of its own Monday, sending out scores of people to hand out free papers all over Detroit. But some of their older readers weren't quite prepared for the revolution:

To Carol Banas, a retired city planner and longtime Free Press reader, the idea of not having a printed paper is unimaginable. "I'm at the age where I like my newspapers in hand," said Ms. Banas, 56, who read a hard copy of Monday's abbreviated Free Press in an Einstein Brothers Bagels shop in Royal Oak. "I know that's English online, but it's not the same."

Ready or not, the Detroit papers are pressing on with their new digital initiative, one that will be observed closely by everyone in the industry from coast-to-coast. David Hunke, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership, said during Monday's luncheon at the Detroit Economic Club that the e-edition is merely the first stop on the digital super highway for newspapers. The next is e-Reader, a Kindle-like device the papers plan to push out by 2010.