The tough times that have battered newspapers across the country have hit home in Bend: Staffers at The Bulletin and its parent company, Western Communications Inc., were told yesterday that they'll be taking pay cuts of up to 10%.
Gordon Black, publisher of The Bulletin and president of Western Communications, told employees about the cuts in a memo yesterday. Black said in the memo (a copy of which was obtained by The Eye) that the company "must continue to downsize ... to match the level of revenue we are currently generating."
"In spite of all our creative selling efforts," Black wrote, "the company's first quarter revenue is tracking with what we generated back in 2003. Solid performances in circulation, commercial printing and special projects continue to be swamped by awful numbers in the key classified categories of real estate and automotive. Not to mention that some of our major retail advertisers have been going out of business."
Black announced that all employees making more than $12.25 per hour will have their pay reduced by 10% and those earning between $11 and $12.25 an hour will have their pay cut back to $11 per hour. Those making less than $11 an hour will receive no pay cut.
According to well-informed sources, The Bulletin for the past year has been making all full-time employees take a mandatory two days off per month without pay.
"I'm sure you're all too aware of the many expense-saving measures we've already taken and I sincerely thank you for assistance and understanding in these important efforts," Black's memo said. "Unfortunately, we must do more."
Western Communications is a privately held corporation owned by the Chandler family of Bend. In addition to The Bulletin - the state's fourth-largest daily newspaper - the company owns papers in Redmond, La Grande, Baker City and Brookings in Oregon and in two cities in Northern California.
According to one source, Western Communications also is cutting back publication of the La Grande Observer to five days a week instead of six, and cutting the Baker City Herald to three days per week from five. Ted Kramer, editor and publisher of the La Grande paper, confirmed that the reduction would go into effect June 1. The publisher of the Baker City Herald declined to discuss the subject.
When asked by The Eye whether reports of the pay cuts and other cost-saving measures were true, Black replied: "I'm not really sure that it's much of a concern to you, to be honest with you."
Asked again whether the reports were true, he said: "We have a little bit of a problem with the way you report stuff, so I don't think we've got a whole lot to talk about, to tell you the truth." Then he hung up.
The Bulletin isn't the only Oregon newspaper where staffers have had to take pay cuts. On March 23 The Oregonian announced an austerity package including pay reductions of 5% to 10% depending on pay level, mandatory unpaid four-day furloughs for all full-time employees and layoffs of some part-timers.
Bulletin employees are luckier than their colleagues at many other newspapers in that there's been no word of layoffs at the paper yet. In his memo, Black said Western Communications was cutting pay and hours rather than laying off staff because "when the economy rebounds, as it most surely will, we want as many of you around as possible in order to pick up where we left off. In the meantime, we're all still working and holding onto our benefits."