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SoCal Newspaper Chain Furloughs Dozens Of Workers — And Broader Layoffs Could Be Coming

This Dec. 27, 2012 file photo shows the newsroom of the Orange County Register in Santa Ana. Jae C. Hong/AP
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Citing plummeting advertising revenue as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the Southern California News Group (SCNG), which operates 11 local newspapers in the region, has furloughed roughly 50 employees across its newsrooms and laid off several others, according to sources familiar with the decision.

The furloughed workers include the organization’s sports and features staff, according to four current SCNG employees, who spoke with me on the condition that their names not be used. At least three of the people laid off were from the editorial team, and freelancers have also been cut, the sources said.

Additional furloughs and job losses took place in the company's other departments, including about 20 layoffs in advertising, according to one source.

The announcement was made by SCNG executive editor Frank Pine last Thursday on an all-staff conference call. According to employees who were on that call, Pine told his staff that while the company’s digital subscriptions have surged in recent weeks, it wasn't enough to cover the cost to operate the regional newsroom amid falling ad sales.

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The dozens of reporters, editors and designers are required to take a total of ten unpaid days off in April, starting this week. Pine told staff they could not rule out additional cuts to the company’s newsrooms, which could be enacted in May, sources said.

Pine also said the furloughed employees would get to keep their health insurance and are eligible for unemployment, sources said.

The features and sports desks faced the furloughs, Pine reportedly told staff, because those beats experienced the greatest advertising losses and because so many of the events they'd typically cover have been canceled or postponed.

The news group’s 11 newspapers are a primary source for local news for many Southern California communities and include the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, San Bernardino Sun and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside. The news group is part of Digital First Media, which is owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

One SCNG employee summed up the situation this way:

“Everyone is livid. Some of our entertainment staff feel discarded. They did as much work, if not more, than the rest of the newsroom over the last month. They had to cover the total collapse of the entertainment industry — event cancellations, theme parks closing, casinos shuttering, all of that stuff. And then management turns around and does this to them. It sucks.”

SCNG president and publisher Ron Hasse wrote an open letter to readers Sunday, thanking them for continuing to support local journalism.

“The demand for our local news coverage, and people’s appreciation for it, have never been greater,” Hasse says in the letter. “Our journalists provide essential newsgathering services that must continue to operate — today and every day — because people need to stay informed in order to keep our communities functioning, connected and strong. We are doing our jobs, and we are counting on you to help us press on.”

The letter does not mention the staff furloughs and layoffs.

Neither Hasse nor Pine have responded to requests for comment. It’s unclear what changes local readers will see in their newspapers in the coming weeks.

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SCNG is far from the only news company reeling from the economic effects of coronavirus. Newspaper chain Gannet also announced pay cuts and employee furloughs last week. And earlier today the Bay Area News Group, another Digital First Media newspaper network, also announced a series of furloughs and layoffs, according to several of its reporters.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the roughly 50 employees placed on unpaid leave worked in the company's newsrooms. Additional furloughs and cuts were made to other SCNG departments.