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Bad News

The Commercial Appeal to lay off 55 employees.



"I have some difficult news to share."

That's never an encouraging opening to any communication. And there wasn't anything encouraging about Commercial Appeal publisher Joe Pepe's May 28th e-mail to employees at the Memphis Publishing Company.

"Readership in print and online versions of the newspaper continues to be outstanding," Pepe wrote. "But slippage in major account, recruitment and automotive advertising over the last 12 months will result in the loss of about 55 jobs at the newspaper."

That's an 8 percent reduction of the company's total staff (about 700) and an unprecedented number of cuts for a newspaper that has experienced its share of hard times in recent years.

"Last year we had layoffs and buyouts," says Dakarai Aarons, Commercial Appeal reporter and vice president of the Memphis Newspaper Guild.

Pepe has not responded to requests for comment. Details regarding the cuts will be worked out over the next two weeks and completed by July 1st.

Aarons says the cuts will affect both union and non-union employees.

"We've met with the human-resources department to find out the depth of the cuts. They've indicated that they will mostly affect advertising, circulation, and customer service. We'll be losing telemarketers," he says.

In November 2007, as the newspaper guild marked its fourth year without a contract or a raise, Pepe announced that a significant portion of the advertising design department would be outsourced to India. Earlier that year, 15 truck drivers were laid off when their jobs were outsourced to an Indiana-based delivery company.

"We want to do what we can to ensure that this is as painless as possible for the folks who are transitioning out," Aarons says. "And we want to make sure that we have decent working conditions for those who remain."

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