Tribune Co.'s top executives said yesterday that the company's newspapers, including The Sun, will be reduced in size and redesigned by the end of September as part of further cost cutting amid continued declines in advertising revenue.
Randy Michaels, the Chicago company's chief operating officer, disclosed Tribune's plans in a conference call with the company's creditors.
Among other things, he said the company intends to move its newspapers to a 50-50 mix of news content and advertising. At that ratio, "you could take 500 editorial pages a week out of our newspapers," Michaels said.
The Los Angeles Times, for example, would eliminate 82 pages a week - which would still leave it "substantially larger" than The Wall Street Journal, he said.
"We don't think that's a bad value to consumers," he said. "We could save a lot of money by producing the right-size newspaper."
Judy Berman, senior vice president of marketing at the Baltimore Sun Media Group, confirmed yesterday that The Sun will be "enhancing its design by the end of September."
"The new customer-centric design will focus on relevant content in a more graphical format," she said, noting details of the plan are developing. The Sun last redesigned its print edition in 2005.
Michaels disclosed that Tribune officials have been examining the story production of its reporters across its newspapers. Productivity at The Hartford Courant and The Sun is much higher than at the Times, the company's largest newspaper, he said.
"You find out that you could eliminate a fair number of people, while not eliminating much copy," he said, without offering other specifics. He acknowledged that investigative projects take more time to report and write than ordinary articles.
"All I'm saying is if you're working hard and producing a lot of output for us, everything's great," he added.
When asked whether corporate headquarters or managers at the newspapers would hold reporters accountable for productivity, Michaels said "decisions about individuals are not going to be made by Chicago, but we think it's helpful data for each of our publishers and every one of our managers to have as we make decisions on how to right-size the paper."
When asked whether Michaels was hinting at more staff reductions, Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said, "I'll let the call speak for itself."
Tribune Chief Executive Officer Sam Zell acquired control of the company in December in an $8.2 billion buyout, through an employee stock ownership plan, in a deal that added billions of dollars in debt to the company's balance sheet.
In recent months, Zell has abandoned his plan to keep the company intact in light of increasing weaknesses in advertising revenue. A local group interested in buying The Sun said it has seen no evidence the paper is for sale.
Zell told creditors yesterday that print advertising revenue in the first quarter continued to slide because of the slumping economy.
Michaels said the Orlando Sentinel will unveil its new look June 22, followed by other newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. The new looks will emphasize what readers want, such as charts, graphs, maps and lists, Michaels said.
"Each of our newspapers is engaged in a process designed to make the paper better, reader friendly and economically viable," Weitman said.