If Southern California newspapers have had a success story over the last few years, it’s been the North County Times. While The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s circulation has plummeted, the Times has occasionally posted increases.

Since March 2004, the Times’ daily circulation has dropped 8 percent. The Union-Tribune‘s dropped that much between March and November 2007.

But the Times is now offering buyouts to 20 newsroom employees — trying to entice 15 percent of its editorial staff (which totals 130) to accept a package that gives a week’s pay for every year of service. That’s less than the Union-Tribune offered in late 2007, when it bought out 29 newsroom employees with an offer of 2.5 weeks of pay for each year of service.

The paper is owned by Lee Enterprises, a publicly held Iowa-based company that recently posted a 17 percent loss in its quarterly profits. The Times explained the losses this way:

The “real estate industry and allied industries like floor covering, home furnishings and landscaping are some of what drives the economy in this region,” [Publisher Peter York] said, and the downturn has left the newspaper with declining revenues.

The media company, which owns 50 newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star, offers some insight into the newspaper industry’s financial struggles in its most recent quarterly reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (Such reports are not available for the Union-Tribune because it is privately held.)

Lee’s advertising revenue across all of its newspapers dropped 6.5 percent. Real estate classified advertising dropped 22 percent. Advertising on the Internet jumped 24 percent. But as is true throughout the industry, online advertising represented just a fraction — 6 percent — of total ad revenue.

ROB DAVIS

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