By MaryClaire Dale
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The union representing journalists at Philadelphia's two largest newspapers might challenge the latest round of newsroom cuts, which coincide with the company's possible sale.
Philadelphia Media Network plans to cut 45 positions at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com this month. The newsrooms lost 20 jobs last year.
Meanwhile, New York creditors that took over the company in a bankruptcy auction are seeking to sell Philadelphia Media Network after 18 months.
Bill Ross, executive director of the local Newspaper Guild, wants more information on company finances to see if the job cuts are necessary. The union might otherwise challenge the 19 union layoffs, he said.
"They're now saying it's economic, most likely I would request for them to prove it's economic," Ross said Friday.
Company officials over the past month have cited both finances and the consolidation of newsroom functions in discussing the cuts. Some staff work now appears in both newspapers, a trend that will grow as beat reporters and photographers handle assignments for both the broadsheet Inquirer and tabloid Daily News.
Spokesman Mark Block said the company needs to cut costs, regardless of whether it's sold, to address industrywide declines in earnings.
"We have to really protect the longevity of the company," Block said Thursday.
Philadelphia Media Network earned about $4 million last year, but the profit margin has fallen rapidly in recent years, according to two people familiar with the earnings statements, who were not authorized to discuss them. The company sold for $515 million in 2006 and might be worth less than $70 million today.
Officials have pledged that each newspaper will keep its unique voice through columnists and editors, despite the shared staffing. The Inquirer is known for its long-form journalism and suburban audience, while the scrappy, sports-filled Daily News targets city readers.
The cuts would leave the Inquirer with about 200 unionized newsroom employees, the Daily News with 80 and Philly.com with 40, Ross said. There are a few dozen nonunion employees, including top editors. That's about one-third the number the newsrooms enjoyed in their 1980s heyday.
"We believe that one employee receiving a layoff notification is too many," the company said in a statement Thursday.
New York hedge funds paid $139 million for the company in 2010 and are mulling a $40 million to $70 million bid submitted by a local group of powerbrokers and philanthropists, according to two people knowledgeable with the bidding, who are not authorized to discuss it.
The hedge funds took over after local investors led by Brian Tierney bought the company for $515 million in 2006. The Tierney group shed about 300 unionized newsroom jobs, Ross said, before filing for bankruptcy in 2009.
Cable TV mogul and philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest leads the group trying to negotiate a deal with the hedge funds. The investor group includes powerful New Jersey Democrat George E. Norcross III, former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz and 94-year-old business magnate Raymond Perelman.