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Gannett sets 1st-quarter furloughs; Staff at 81 papers must take a week

The country's biggest newspaper publisher, Gannett Co., told workers of its largest division Tuesday that they will have to take a week off without pay to avoid more layoffs as revenue continues to fall.

The furloughs during the first quarter will affect workers at the 81 newspapers that make up Gannett's U.S. Community Publishing Division. They will not apply to Gannett's flagship newspaper, USA Today, or to the Detroit Free Press.

These furloughs will apply to only non-union workers, but Gannett says that it is contacting union representatives to discuss furloughs for the rest. Overall, there are 17,000 workers in community publishing.

The company has already been through years of painful cost-cutting, including previous rounds of furloughs in 2009 and 2010, as well as outright layoffs. It has about 35,000 employees, down from more than 46,000 at the end of 2007.

"The staff reductions we have taken over the past few years have been very hard and further reductions are not our first preference," Bob Dickey, who heads the Community Publishing Division, said in a memo to employees.

The grim tone at Gannett underscores the challenges facing the broader industry.

Most other types of media -- television, the Web, even magazines -- have seen advertisers return as the economy picks up. Newspapers, which face competition from free and cheaper options online, have seen advertising continue to wither, albeit more slowly.

In a Tuesday report, the research firm Kantar Media said overall ad spending in the United States climbed by 8.7 percent in the third quarter of 2010 compared with a year earlier, marking the third straight quarter of growth. Newspapers, meanwhile, saw another 3 percent decline, Kantar said.

While the latest furloughs will not affect USA Today, Gannett's biggest daily is also under strain. USA Today has cut 35 newsroom jobs and is undergoing an overhaul of its newsroom to emphasize the website over the print newspaper.

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