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Philly Moves Toward One-Paper Town

Scarcely a week after filing for bankruptcy, the Philadelphia newspapers are finding temporary measures to stop the bleeding. On Monday, the newspapers announced that the smaller tabloid Daily News will become "an edition" of the broadsheet Inquirer, effective March 30.

Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, the parent company of both papers, insists that the move is made to boost the circulation numbers of a soon-to-be single entity and to help increase advertising revenue. Currently, the Inquirer has a circulation of 300,000 and the Daily News 97,000. The Sunday Inquirer has a circulation of 556,000, making it the eighth-largest Sunday paper in the U.S.

While the parent company and the editors of both papers maintain that the papers will keep separate staffs and "compete" with each other for stories, it's all but certain that the Daily News will become merely a section of the Inquirer and eventually disappear altogether. There is no economic sense in publishing two papers, with different formats even, when the smaller of the two isn't worth the trouble. The Daily News' circulation is less than that of the papers in Allentown, Pa., or Rockland County, N.Y.

Meanwhile, papers from coast to coast are slashing and cutting. The family-owned Columbus Dispatch announced that it's trimming 45 newsroom jobs. And the Sacramento Bee, owned by financially-distressed McClatchy, is trying to get the union to accept a large-scale pay cut, with those making $50,000 or more losing 6% of their salaries, a significant concession given the increased taxation facing all Californians.

In a memo circulated to members, the guild pleaded for a yes vote in order to save jobs:

The committee tried its hardest to win some concessions in exchange for accepting a difficult package of wage cuts and layoffs. But over and over, the company said it was an all-or-nothing deal necessary to achieve the company's financial goals in the eye of a severe economic downturn.

Opinions varied within the bargaining committee regarding a choice that was unpleasant in every sense of the word. We have all heard of the layoffs elsewhere, and even steeper wage cuts being asked of other newspapers, including 11.7 percent at the Denver Post and 15 percent at the Seattle Times. Every day brings new reports of newspaper bankruptcies and closings, as was the case at The Rocky Mountain News on Friday.

There's no way to sugar coat it. This was crisis bargaining, nothing more. Now members must consider the options and vote. We have been told that a no vote will trigger high number of layoffs among us.

Read the reaction to this memo, though, and you'd be amazed at how some people just don't get it.

Philadelphia Story: Bankruptcy

Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, the JOA that runs the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and the shared online portal philly.com, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday, becoming the fourth newspaper holding company to do so in the last three months.

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The company is seeking to restructure its $390 million in debt, brought upon in part by the downturn in advertising over the last year. The company apparently had been in negotiations with its creditors for 11 months but was unable to reach a settlement.

A day earlier, the Journal Register Company, which owns 20 small dailies in the Philadelphia and Cleveland areas as well as in Michigan, filed for bankruptcy to seek relief from its debt of over $1 billion. That came after the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, also filed for bankruptcy in January and December, respectively.

Two other papers' fates likely will be determined next month: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News were both put up for sale by their respective parent companies as a formality in December. If no buyer is found - and so far there hasn't been any interest - the papers would cease publication before the end of March.

The P-I's staff is meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposal that would allow the employees to buy out the paper and save it from extinction. The P-I's rival Seattle Times, itself in severe financial distress, is lobbying Washington State lawmakers to reduce business tax levied on newspapers.