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Papers reduce staff, consolidate operations

Publication schedules changing for Cortez Journal, Dolores Star

Durango Herald publisher Richard Ballantine on Thursday announced the largest round of layoffs in the company’s history. Eleven employees were laid off from the Herald and its affiliated papers, The Cortez Journal, The Mancos Times and The Dolores Star.

Three staff members were laid off from the Herald and eight were laid off from the Journal’s office. Two Journal employees were moved to different positions within Ballantine Communications, which owns the four papers.

The newspapers will consolidate layout, news-page design and advertising design operations, all of which will be done by Herald staff. The Journal publication schedule will be cut from three days a week to two, coming out on Tuesday and Friday.

The Dolores Star will publish on Thursday instead of Friday and The Mancos Times will continue to come out on Wednesday.

The layoffs will be effective March 29, and the other changes will go into effect April 1.

The cuts were a result of the economic recession and challenges confronting the entire newspaper industry, Ballantine said.

“Newspapers until the last few years have really been unchanged for 70 years, but because of the economy and the changing way news is delivered and obtained, we need to rethink how we do what we do,” Ballantine said.

Ballantine Communications, which also owns Directory Plus and Buzztown.com, made the layoffs and consolidations with an eye toward a changing revenue landscape, said Ken Amundson, general manager of newspaper operations.

“The Ballantine family has always been generous in terms of how they structure their newspapers in terms of news and advertising content. In order to do that, they were willing to operate their papers at a lower revenue level than what other newspaper companies are usually willing to do,” Amundson said.

The company has long supplemented its newspaper operations with revenue from Directory Plus, but the growth in digital communications soon will overtake directories, he said.

“We need to bridge the gap to where we need to be in the future,” Amundson said.

The reductions will save the company close to $1 million annually, Ballantine said.

The company also will be pursuing other ways to generate revenue, such as increasing the portion of each newspaper page dedicated to advertisements. Currently, news content occupies about 65 percent of each page, with advertising taking up the rest. The goal is to make the ratio closer to 60 percent news and 40 percent advertisements, Ballantine said.

The daily schedule of television programming no longer will be published in the paper.

Ballantine Digital Media, a subsidiary of Ballantine Communications, is developing a digital marketing agency and expanding Buzztown.com into larger markets including Albuquerque; Tucson, Ariz.; and El Paso, Texas. The newspaper staff reductions are meant to be the first and the last the company will have to make, Amundson said.

“Richard’s intent is to be able to do this and be done,” Amundson said. “We don’t know what the future is going to hold, but I think this will be the end of it.”

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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