Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Post-Dispatch retirees protest Lee's insurance decision

About 75 St. Louis Post-Dispatch retirees and union reps picketed this morning in front of the newspaper's office. Last week, Lee told many Post-Dispatch retirees that their health insurance would be eliminated. One of the retirees at the protest sent in these great photos:

KMOX also has several photos.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lee: Ad sales up, cost-cutting to continue

Lee filed its 10-K annual report Friday. This year, the report didn't include notes from the auditor about going concerns. It does say the company will continue to cut costs and that ad sales are up for the third consecutive month. Read the report here and Lee's statement about the report here.

Protest planned at Post-Dispatch

St. Louis Post-Dispatch union retirees who recently received notice that their health insurance would be eliminated plan to protest outside the newspaper's offices Tuesday morning. About 100 union members who retired from 1994 to 2004 are affected by the insurance announcement.

(If you're there, send updates and/or photos to lee.ent.watch@gmail.com)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2 Lee papers available on Kindle

The Quad-City Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch are both available for Amazon's Kindle.

The Quad-City Times is $5.99 per month. It is No. 9 (out of nine) on the midwest best-seller list. The Post-Dispatch is $6.99 per month. It is No. 6 on the same best-seller list.

The Chicago Tribune at $9.99 a month is the most popular.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Insurance canceled for some Post-Dispatch retirees

Many St. Louis Post-Dispatch retirees were notified Monday that, starting Jan. 1, health insurance will be eliminated. Those younger than 65 would have to pay 100 percent of their premiums. Retirees 65 and older -- those with Medicare-- will be dropped from Lee plans. This comes a few weeks after a notice that premiums would be slightly higher in the new year.

St. Louis Newspaper Guild president Jeff Gordon says the union will fight the decision. "These people were assured when they retired that they would get the insurance for life," Gordon told KMOX in St. Louis. "For many, that was an inducement to take an early buyout or retire ahead of time."

I admit, I don't know much about health insurance for retirees at Lee papers. Retirement is far away; it's a case of young and clueless. A reader has asked about insurance for retirees at other papers -- anyone have an answer?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Post-Dispatch editor tells on commenter, commenter loses job

Have you heard about this bizarre comment quandary at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch?

Last week, social media editor Kurt Greenbaum created a post on the paper's "Talk of the Day" blog about the strangest thing readers had eaten. Someone commented with a word for a part of a woman's anatomy. The comment was deleted by a Post-Dispatch employee.

A few minutes later, the same commenter posted the same comment on the blog post. Greenbaum deleted it, then used information from an e-mail notification about the comment to contact the school from which the comment was posted. Greenbaum forwarded the notification e-mail to the school, the school tracked down exactly who had posted the comment on the Post-Dispatch site, and the employee quit.

Then Greenbaum blogged about it, on his personal blog and for the paper.

The Post-Dispatch's privacy policy, which is posted on every page of the paper's website, says:
We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information. In some cases, however, we may provide information to legal officials as described in “Compliance with Legal Process” below.
The paper's terms of service, also on every page of its website:
We have the right to disclose any information that we believe necessary to comply with any law, regulation or governmental request or that information that could prevent or assist in the resolution of any criminal, illegal, or inappropriate activity.

While the comment that started it all was not particularly nice, neither was it illegal. Now all sorts of people seem to be calling for Greenbaum to quit or be fired.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

6 Lee execs cash in shares

On Nov. 16, six Lee execs sold 24,415 shares of Lee stock for $94,730.20 (or $3.88 per share).

NameTitleShares soldWalked away with
Mary Junckchairman, president, ceo15,123$58,677.24
Greg Veonvice president - publishing2,856$11,081.28
Kevin Mowbrayvice president - publishing1,980$7,682.40
Greg Schermervice president - interactive media1,652$6,409.76
Mike Gulledgevice president - publishing1,431$5,552.28
Vito Kuraitisvice president - human resources1,373$5,327.24

See the SEC filings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lee shares close at $4.25

Lee stock hit a new high, closing at $4.25 today -- up 9.54 percent from Monday. Editor & Publisher reports that's a 152 percent increase in the past year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

4th quarter earnings out; expect more cuts

Lee reported a profit in its fourth quarter of about 4 cents per share, or $1.8 million. Operating cash flow grew 10.5 percent and operating expenses were cut 25.5 percent. Furloughs and layoffs cut compensation by 23.5 percent, and the number of full-time employees by 15.1 percent.

Lee will cut costs even more: 15 percent to 16 percent in the current quarter, and 6 percent to 7 percent overall in fiscal year 2010, according to the earnings report.

"While we can't predict the timing of the economic recovery, we believe our streamlining of costs, aggressive sales programs and unmatched delivery of local news, information and advertising have positioned Lee to emerge strong," CEO Mary Junck said in a statement. “In 2009, we increased local market share by taking millions of advertising dollars from competitors, and in 2010 we expect to gain further share through our rollout of online behavioral targeting advertising and other intensive sales programs.”

Junck said September and October were the best months for advertising revenue in fiscal year 2009, but there has been a 19.7 percent drop in retail ad revenue, a 24.7 percent drop in online ad revenue and a 31.8 percent drop in classified advertising. Circulation revenue fell 6.3 percent.

Lee did reduce its debt ... to $1.1 billion.

See the full fourth quarter report.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Helena's Adit to close; Mini Nickel expands

The Adit, a free weekly paper in Helena, Mont., will close and the Bozeman-based Mini Nickel will move in.

The Adit's last day will be Nov. 25; the Mini Nickel will be available starting Dec. 3. The announcement did not mention if there would be layoffs or how many employees Adit has.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Quad-City Times columnist shares battle with cancer

Quad-City Times columnist Bill Wundram tells his readers he is about to undergo treatment for a "very aggressive type of cancer."

Wundram says he plans to keep writing. Find his columns here.

Haunted newspaper? $48,000 bathroom?

Here's a quick look at a couple of Lee-related news from the blogosphere. (Does anyone still say blogosphere?)

The Enterprise may be haunted. Employees of the weekly Fallbrook, Calif., paper have reported strange goings-on for some time.

The publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reportedly spent more than $160,000 to design his office, including $48,500 for his private bathroom and $2,000 for light switches. The Post-Dispatch has had several rounds of layoffs in the past year. A new cost-cutting measure may include removing water coolers from the building.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch rival to return

After 23 years, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat may be back. A free web-only paper will launch Dec. 8 at globe-democrat.com.

The Globe-Democrat, owned by Newhouse, was half of a JOA with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, owned by Pulitzer. The Globe-Democrat changed ownership in 1984 (and closed two years later), but Newhouse continued to make money from the JOA. Lee bought the Post-Dispatch in 2005, and bought out most of the remaining Newhouse interest. Earlier this year, Lee bought the last 5 percent.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New publisher at The Garden Island

Randy Kozerski has been named editor and publisher at The Garden Island in Lihue, Hawaii.

Kozerski has been the interim publisher since September when Mark Lewis left to become publisher of The Journal Times in Racine, Wis.

Lee circulation declines

Circulation numbers for the past six months are out. Here's what I've seen so far:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Mo.
Weekday circulation fell 11 percent to 213,472, and Sunday circulation fell 5 percent to 401,427.

Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Ariz.
Weekday circulation remained the same, but Saturday circulation increased by nearly 6 percent to 102,058. Sunday circulation fell about 8 percent to 135,238.

North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
Weekday circulation fell 18 percent to 68,940.

The Journal Times, Racine, Wis.
Monday through Saturday circulation fell to 27,134 from 27,627 six months ago. Sunday circulation fell to 29,424 from 29,430 six months ago.

Have you seen circulation numbers for other Lee papers? Share them here, or send me an e-mail: lee.ent.watch@gmail.com

Lee stock below $3 again

After a couple of weeks in the $3-range (and even a $4 day), Lee stock closed at $2.96 on Wednesday.

A year ago, Lee's stock was in this same range, then fell in November. Lee will release its fourth-quarter earnings on Nov. 12; we'll see how that affects stock prices.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shot, laid-off Lee reporter starts new job

Remember the Suburban Journals reporter who was shot while covering a city council meeting, then laid off a few months later?

Good news: Todd Smith has a new job. He is working for The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., as an editor and writer for the paper's medical site. The Journal-Register is owned by GateHouse Media.

Smith also recently got married.

(Via e-mail)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lee's death rattle?

The Motley Fool has included Lee Enterprises in its list of five deathbed stocks -- "stocks that look like they might be headed six feet under, based on their one-star ratings."

Buyouts offered at Arizona Daily Star

Buyouts are being offered at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. Reporters are exempt. A memo from publisher John Humenik says "only a limited number" of buyouts will be accepted from each department, but if that unmentioned target number is not met, layoffs will follow.

Humenik's memo:
Dear Arizona Daily Star colleague,

We are announcing a voluntary workforce reduction program for Star employees who meet certain eligibility criteria. This voluntary program is available to all positions in our newsroom, with the exception of reporters. Only a limited number of volunteers will be accepted from each department.

Eligible employees will meet the following criteria:
  • Regular full-time or part-time employment status, working 20+ hours each week;
  • Completed 5+ full years of service for Star pension vesting;
  • Qualify for the Star pension benefit plan as of Oct 31, 2009 (55+ years of age).
Eligible employees approved for the program will receive:
  • A severance package that includes two weeks of pay for each completed year of service (maximum of 26 weeks) in exchange for signing a severance agreement;
  • Severance paid bi-weekly for the duration of the period, less any applicable taxes or withholdings;
  • Participation in the 65% government subsidy program toward the cost of COBRA for up 9 months to subsidize medical coverage, based on the elected medical plan and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) eligibility guidelines.
If we receive more than an acceptable number of volunteers in a department, we will select employees based on length of service. While we prefer to avoid reductions, it may become necessary to consider an involuntary workforce reduction if we do not receive a sufficient number of volunteers.

If any employee wishes to inquire about the program details, please contact Kelly Acevedo, VP Human Resources, at 573-4252. The deadline to submit a written application to Kelly is 5 PM on Wednesday, October 28, 2009. We will review the applications and meet with the approved employees on November 5th and 6th, with that Friday as the last day of work.

John M. Humenik
Publisher & Editor

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lee announces President's Awards

Lee's President Award winners have been announced. Congratulations to the 31 winners.

The Billings Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Times of Northwest Indiana received an award for "Exceptional Achievement, recognizing leadership, collaboration and execution by enterprise management teams benefiting all of Lee." An interesting note included in that announcement:
Because of the initiative and unqualified success, more regional call centers are being added to cover all of Lee.

When the Post-Dispatch outsourced its call center to Indiana, there were layoffs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stock closes above $4

Lee stock closed at $4.01 today. The last time it closed above $4? June 27, 2008.

Lee stock soaring

Lee stock is soaring the past few days -- it closed at $3.47 on Tuesday and at times on Monday and Tuesday was above $4. Back in August, CEO Mary Junck bought 20,000 shares for about $2.22. That means she's made $25,000 since then.

A year ago, Lee's stock was in this same range, then fell in November. Lee will release its fourth-quarter earnings on Nov. 12; we'll see how that affects stock prices.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Junck recalls 'all we've accomplished' in FY09

On Wednesday, CEO Mary Junck sent an e-mail to publishers and directors that includes her list of 10 accomplishment from the last fiscal year.

The e-mail follows, but let's start with that top 10 list. (The capitalization and punctuation is hers.)
1. EXCEPTIONAL FORTITUDE, perseverance and teamwork have shined throughout the company, reinforcing our ability to emerge strong when the recession ends.
2. DEBT REFINANCING – We executed a complete refinancing of $1.3 billion of bank and Pulitzer Notes debt in the worst financing environment since the Great Depression.
3. HUGE COST SAVINGS – We reduced cash costs by roughly $145 million, or 18%, with savings across all enterprises and in virtually all cost categories.
4. STREAMLINED OPERATIONS – We re-engineered traditional ways of doing business, including outsourcing and insourcing of printing, production and distribution; creation of regional call centers; and regionalization of human resources.
5. INCREASED MARKET SHARE – Through an intense focus on High-Velocity Steal Share programs including Brand Expand, we generated approximately $35 million of stolen share advertising revenue.
6. CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM – We created and deployed a powerful content management system that has provided dynamic new online tools and a platform for a significant new advertising capability, Behavioral Targeting.
7. MASSIVE BT LAUNCH – Our mid-summer kickoff of Behavioral Targeting has generated more than $4 million of new online advertising sales in the last two months of FY2009, and set the stage for a goal of $20 million in FY2010.
8. NEW PAGE WIDTH – We redesigned our pages to a reduced width of 11 inches, cutting newsprint expense 8.3%, and gaining approval from readers and advertisers.
9. AUDIENCE GROWTH – We grew or maintained our print and online audiences by emphasizing vital, compelling and unmatched local journalism.
10. INDUSTRY LEADER IN REVENUE – With an intense sales culture and unending stream of initiatives, we again led the industry in advertising revenue by nearly 5 percentage points.

Junck's e-mail is big on behavioral targeting, or BT. That e-mail in its entirety:
From: Mary Junck
Sent: Wednesday, October 07, 2009 2:54 PM
To: #Publishers_Corporate Directors_and_CEO Team
Cc: Kelly Peterson
Subject: Top Accomplishments in 2009 and BT update

While none of us would want to do FY2009 over again, we should take well-earned satisfaction in all we accomplished.

As the attached Top 10 list shows, there’s quite a lot to cheer us.

Thanks to you and so many others across Lee, our hard and innovative work this past year has set the stage for success in 2010 and beyond. Please feel free to share this list as you tally up your own.

You’ll note that #7 on the list is our massive BT launch in Tier 1 at the end of July. This week, Tier 2 launched in enthusiastic rallies Monday in Billings and today in Davenport, and it’s safe to predict that BT is a lock for next year’s Top 10. We’re already nearing our sales goal of $5 million by October 31 and well on our way to reaching $20 million in 2010.

This terrific success shows Lee at its best. It reflects our outstanding sales culture, an excellent sales template, very strong execution and a high level of online sales training throughout Lee. It demonstrates that we are ready for full integration of online sales.

To advance the course we’re on, Greg Schermer, Paul Farrell and I have determined that the corporate sales resources should be fully integrated, as well. The corporate online sales team is joining Paul and his Sales & Marketing group. Mike Buchler and Michelle Carr moved over this week, and we are working out remaining details of the transition.

Greg and I have also concluded that to build our digital future fully, we need to focus even more on the development of new digital products and solutions for our readers and advertisers. High-priority projects for Greg and his team include paid content and mobile, along with overall digital strategy, product development and support, and industry alliances.

Greg, Paul and I think these are very good organizational moves, and we think you’ll agree.

With appreciation and very best wishes,

Mary Junck

Take a look at my previous "look back at FY09" post -- it centered more on the layoffs, the furloughs, the poor stock performance.

What is your prediction for fiscal year 2010? Vote now in the poll to the right.

(Via e-mail)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the lighter side

I'm taking the next few days off (unless something really big happens), so let me leave you with something a little more light-hearted than the usual doom and gloom around here.

First, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Adam Jadhav quit his job to become an international reporter/blogger. Before leaving, he teamed up with a former co-worker to create a hip-hop video. (Fair warning: There's a bit of cursing.)

You can follow Jadhav's international adventures on his blog.

For this one, there's no explanation. I have no idea what it means, but it makes me chuckle anyway.

Both of these gems were sent via e-mails. Odd (and serious) Lee-related news and information is always welcome at lee.ent.watch@gmail.com.

FY10 off to rough start

The new fiscal year just started, and is already off to a rocky start.

Stock raters at thestreet.com picked their three best and worst newspaper stocks. At the top of the "worst" list? Lee.
With an amazingly bad ROE (rate on equity) of -- 142.67% and mountains of debt, Lee is slowly drowning. It has a debt to equity ratio of 20.34. Yikes.

Lee stock closed at $2.39 -- down 13 percent from the previous day.

How do you think the new year will compare to the previous one? A new poll is open in the sidebar -- it will remain open for a month.

(Via e-mail)

Looking back on FY09

On the first day of the new fiscal year, let's take a look back at the previous one.

The stock price on Oct. 1, 2008, was $3.36. After hitting a new low of 28 cents on Feb. 10 and 17 and March 11, 13 and 31, shares closed Wednesday at $3.03.

At least 515 employees were laid off at Lee papers. Layoffs seemed most common at the end of each quarter. The Times in Munster, Ind., has already said three employees will take buyouts in the new fiscal year, and The Sentinel in Hanford, Calif., said employees will be laid off.

At least nine Lee papers required employees to take unpaid time off. Furloughs have already been announced for the first quarter of the new fiscal year at The Times in Munster, Ind.

Good luck in the new year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wisconsin State Journal publisher: 'We're first, best'

Wisconsin State Journal Publisher Bill Johnston listed the great thing about his paper on Sunday. (It's nothing you haven't heard before.)

With the new fiscal year just two days away, Johnston doesn't five any clues about any possible changes coming. The paper laid off employees twice in 2009.

(Via e-mail)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Junck joins Davenport development board

Lee CEO Mary Junck has joined the board of directors of a Davenport, Iowa, development group. Quad-Cities First oversees economic development sales and marketing for the bi-state area. Junck and 16 others will serve two- to four-year terms on the board.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Furloughs coming to Times of Northwest Indiana

Employees at The Times of Northwest Indiana in Munster, Ind., will be taking a five-day unpaid furlough in the first quarter of the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

"Unlike others, there are no layoffs planned at The Times,” publisher Bill Masterson Jr. said of the paper's 2010 fiscal budget plan. However, three employees have accepted buyouts.

What is planned for the new fiscal year at your paper? Send tips to lee.ent.watch@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lee shuffles publishers between Washington, Wisconsin, Hawaii papers

Rick Parrish, publisher at The Journal Times in Racine, Wis., will be the new publisher at The Daily News in Longview, Wash. Parrish has been the publisher of The Journal Times since 2007. Parrish replaces Linda Lindus, who resigned in August; she is now publisher of two Media News papers in California.

Mark Lewis, publisher at The Garden Island in Lihue, Hawii, will be the new publisher at The Journal Times, replacing Parrish. Lewis has been the publisher of The Garden Island since 2006.

Randy Kozerski, controller at The Garden Island, has been appointed interim publisher at Hawaii paper.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Layoffs coming to The Sentinel

In the 2010 strategic plan for The Sentinel in Hanford, Calif., publisher Manuel Collazo says positions will be cut and the Saturday and Sunday editions will be combined. Production will be moved to Selma, Calif., and newsroom and advertising resources will be "realigned" and reorganized.

The bullet points from the plan, which was released Aug. 5, include:
  • Moving the Hanford production department to the Selma plant; creating a unified production facility and enabling the expansion of our commercial print business
  • Aligning our home delivery and single copy resources to support a more efficient distribution system
  • Reorganizing our newsroom resources for the quick development and deployment of a 24/7 newsroom positioned to drive critical content for our online audiences
  • Product changes that drive target print audiences and support a more profitable advertising business model
    • Elimination of the Lemoore Advance and creation of a twice a week "Lemoore Edition" of the Sentinel
    • Development of an Entertainment product, in print and online
    • Consolidation of our Saturday & Sunday Sentinel editions and development of a new Saturday weekend edition
  • Realigning advertising sales resource to better focus on key areas of growth: local retail, secondary markets and online advertising
  • Unifying the Sentinel and Weeklies' advertising departments under central advertising leadership
  • Reinvesting in marketing -- focusing on key initiatives to drive advertising revenues, audience promotion and deepen our connection with the communities we serve

Read Callazo's memo. (PDF)

If layoffs are already planned at one paper, I have to wonder if similar announcements will soon be made at other Lee papers.

(Via e-mail)

Ex-Post-Dispatch features editor takes job in governor's office

Christy Bertleson, who resigned from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week, has accepted a position as deputy director of the Transform Missouri Project, a state project to oversee the use and spending of federal stimulus funds. The new job comes with a $100,000 salary.

Lee back on the big board

Lee's share prices have stayed above $1 long enough to meet listing requirements on the New York Stock Exchange. CEO Mary Junck has often said that Wall Street is undervaluing Lee, and repeated that claim Tuesday.
"As we have noted previously, we believe the long-term prospects for our company remain strong and will become increasingly apparent to investors as the recession begins to recede. Our newspapers and online sites continue to reach the vast majority of adults in our markets, far more than any competitor, and we continue to stand out as the leading provider of local news, information and advertising in our markets."

Lee stockholders voted on and approved a reverse stock split in March when the stock was hovering around the 30-cent mark. The reverse stock split was never put into effect.

Stock closed Tuesday at $1.83.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Helena ad manager promoted to regional post

Helena Independent-Record advertising manager Jim Rickman has been promoted to regional advertising director for three Montana papers: The Independent Record in Helana, The Montana Standard in Butte and the Mini Nickel in Bozeman.

Rickman has worked for Lee since 1977.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Post-Dispatch art critic quits

St. Louis Post-Dispatch art critic David Bonetti is taking a "voluntary layoff." The paper laid off four newsroom employees two weeks ago. Bonetti's departure should allow one of those employees to return to work. Deputy managing editor for features Christy Bertelson announced her retirement on Aug. 19. Bonetti's last day will be Friday; he will not be replaced.

Speaking of the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Magazine editor Stephen Schenkenberg sent me a copy of the story his magazine did in June on the future of the St. Louis newspaper. It's an interesting read if you have few minutes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How's your 401(k)?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch blogger David Nicklaus says Lee's 401(k) plan ranks below average.

BrightScope, which provides ratings on 401(k) plans, gives it a 46 out of 100. Cox, McClatchy, Gannett and Belo rank higher; Freedom Communications is lower.

20 more laid off from Suburban Journals of St. Louis

At least 20 newsroom employees were laid off Wednesday at the Suburban Journals of St. Louis. That's in addition to the 28 employees who were laid off last week. The 16-edition paper has also eliminated six editions.

(Via e-mails)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

46 laid off in St. Louis

Eighteen employees were laid off at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 28 were laid off at the Suburban Journals of St. Louis on Friday.

The Post-Dispatch laid off 14 full-time and four part-time employees. The memo from publisher Kevin Mowbray follows:
“While we remain hopeful that the worst of this economic recession is behind us, we found it necessary to reduce our work force today,” said St. Louis Post-Dispatch Publisher Kevin Mowbray. “However, even with these reductions we continue to be the largest news gathering operation in the St. Louis metropolitan area with over 1.3 million St. Louis adults reading the Post-Dispatch or visiting STLtoday.com each week.”

The work force reduction included 14 full time positions and 4 part time positions: 2 from Operations, 12 from Advertising, and 4 from newsroom (news researchers and a photo assistant).

The managing editor and deputy managing editor for features recently announced their resignations from the Post-Dispatch.

Mowbray also is trying to sell his house, but said he is staying at the Post-Dispatch.

The Suburban Journals laid two off sales directors, outbound recruitment and its Jefferson County, Mo., staff.

(Via e-mails)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

New editor at Quad-City Times

The Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, has promoted Jan Touney from managing editor to executive editor. The Times story gives no indication of what happened to editor Steve Thomas.

Touney has been managing editor since 2003, and has worked for Lee for 29 years.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fremont publisher adds Columbus Telegram to roster

Fremont (Neb.) Tribune publisher Bill Vobejda has been named named a regional publisher, replacing Bob Blackman at the Columbus (Neb.) Telegraph. Blackman announced his resignation last week.

Vobejda has been publisher the Tribune's publisher for the past four years; before that, he was the marketing director at the Lincoln Journal Star.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Columbus Telegraph publisher resigns

Columbus (Neb.) Telegram publisher Bob Blackman announced his resignation Monday. Blackman, 61, has been at the paper for five years; he previously was the publisher of the Beatrice (Neb.) Daily Sun. Blackman said he will take some time to "decompress" before deciding what he will do next.

Blackman's replacement is expected to be announced tomorrow. Longview (Wash.) Daily News publisher Linda Lindus announced last week that she was leaving that paper; a replacement has not yet been announced.

Madison papers announce buyouts, merge departments

The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times are cutting 15 positions. Buyouts have been offered; if there are not enough takers, layoffs will follow.

The papers operate under a joint operating agreement: Lee owns the State Journal, and Capital Newspapers owns the Times. Their JOA is getting very close. The papers will now merge several newsroom departments: Features, sports, photography, multimedia, design and production. Only news and opinion remain separate, although breaking news coverage is already a joint operation.

(Via e-mail)

Who's buying Lee stock? Mary Junck

91 percent of you say now is not the time to buy Lee stock. CEO Mary Junck wasn't paying attention -- she bought 20,000 shares this week for about $2.22. Stock closed at $2.40 today, so that's already a $3,600 profit. Junck now owns 346,457 shares.

I extended the deadline on the "would you buy Lee stock" poll in the right column -- vote now.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Will you buy Lee stock?

Social Picks rates Lee stock a "buy." The stock closed at $1.65 on Friday; the current stock price is in the sidebar to the right.

So would you buy Lee stock now? Vote now in the poll to the right.

Post-Dispatch managing editor resigns

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced that managing editor Pam Maples has resigned; her last day will be Aug. 18. Editor Arnie Robbins said she will not be replaced. Maples has been at the paper for nearly three years.

In a note to the staff, Maples said she did not know what she would be doing, but she will be working on projects for the newspaper for the next few months. Robbins said one of those projects will be researching paid online models, which prompted some Post-Dispatch commenters to ask if the paper will be switching to a paid model. Although there is been a moderator's note on another comment, there has not yet been an answer to that question.

(Via e-mail)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Post-Dispatch reporter arrested at rally

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman was arrested Thursday night while covering a town hall meeting at a middle school in Mehlville, Mo. Five others also were arrested during a demonstration outside the school. Wagman was shooting video at the time, and recorded his arrest. (The video is not embeddable.) He was released a few hours later; the county counselor will decide on charges for all six who were arrested.

Post-Dispatch editor Arnie Robbins issued a statement Friday:
"In arresting our reporter, we think the police overreacted and were over-zealous. While we understand that police have difficult jobs and were in a volatile situation, we hope they understand that reporters, too, have difficult jobs and were in a volatile situation."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lee, St. Louis Newspaper Guild continue negotiations

The St. Louis Newspaper Guild has posted an update on contract negotiations between Lee and guild members at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The union says tentative agreements have been reached on grievance time limits and intern use.

The current contract expired in June. When negotiations started, Lee was asking for a 23 percent wage cut from union members.

Daily News publisher takes job in California

Former Longview Daily News publisher Linda Lindus has been named publisher two MediaNews Group newspapers in California, the Daily Breeze in Torrence and the Long Beach Press-Telegram in Long Beach. Her last day at the Daily News is Aug. 14.

Lindus joined Lee in 2000 as publisher of the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale, Ill.

Montana papers refuse to run union ad

Five Lee papers in Montana refused to run an ad from the United Food and Commercial Workers. Ten other Montana papers ran the ad, which asked readers to call for insurance information. UFCW doesn't sell insurance; it does offer coverage to union members. (Lee has made its anti-union stance pretty well known. Last year it launched Lee Union Free.)

Billings Blog has more on the article that the Butte Weekly (which does not have a website) wrote about the incident, including a very short interview with the publisher of the Helena Independent-Record and Montana Standard.

(Via e-mail)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2 Lee papers 'do it right'

The Sioux City Journal in Sioux City, Iowa, and The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., are on Editor and Publisher's annual list of "10 That Do it Right."

The Sioux City Journal was included for giving readers something to talk about.

"When Editor Mitch Pugh arrived at the Lee Enterprises-owned Journal in 2007, he focused the 32-person newsroom on giving readers 'something to talk about' in the paper and online," the magazine reported.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lee campaign to reverse 'irrational negativity' about newspapers

You've seen the "First. Best. Today. Tomorrow." logo, right? It's been around for awhile. There's a version on this year's "prayer card."

One of the things I ignored in CEO Mary Junck's letter to stockholders was her mention of the "First. Best. Today. Tomorrow." campaign. Junck said there is a "continuing, irrational negativity about the future of newspapers," and Lee is fighting back with the "First. Best. Today. Tomorrow." Junck said the company-wide campaign will be locally tailored.

There are actually stories out there about this:

Monday, August 3, 2009

A closer look at Form 8-K

Want a closer look at Lee's earnings report? Here's Form 8-K, which is required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It includes a letter from CEO Mary Junck, who says the company's "streamlining of costs" is on track.

"Thanks in part to 22 percent reductions in the third quarter, we expect to reduce full-year 2009 cash costs, excluding unusual items, about 17 percent below 2008, a decrease of nearly $140 million. Among our many cost actions, we have completed page width reduction across the company, realigned staffing and consolidated or outsourced printing and distribution in several more locations."

Money spent on newsprint and ink has dropped -- 41.4 percent in the last fiscal quarter. Compensation is down 22.4 percent in the last quarter, and 18.3 percent from a year ago. Circulation is down 6.3 percent in the last quarter, and 4.9 percent from a year ago.

The letter also points out that the previously voted on and approved reverse stock split will not take place. (Which is one of those things that happened while this blog was on hiatus.)

You can also see Lee's other SEC filings.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lee loses $24.5M in third quarter

Lee Enterprises reported a $24.5 million quarterly loss today.

Revenue fell 20.5 percent to $203.8 million. CEO Mary Junck said the company is cutting operating expenses by 22 percent and paying off $18 million in debt. So far, stock prices are down more than 15 percent today.

Post your thoughts on what this means in the comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stockholder expecting good news in earnings report

Ariel Investments LLC, Lee's largest stockholder, believes newspapers will beat analyst estimates for the next year and a half as the advertising decline levels off and moves to cut expenses pay off.

“With all the cost cutting, you just have to have some reasonable growth in revenue and you’ll have spectacular earnings growth,” said John Rogers Jr., chief executive officer of Chicago-based Ariel Investments LLC, which is also McClatchy Co.’s second-biggest holder. “This economy is going to recover and people are going to advertise again.”

Of course, some of that cost cutting has been layoffs.

As of June 30, Ariel had 4.44 million shares of Lee stock, or 11 percent. Ariel is also Gannett's largest stockholder (28.5 million shares, or 12 percent).

Lee will release its third quarter earnings on Thursday.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New publisher at Montana Standard, Independent Record

Randy Rickman was appointed regional publisher for two Montana papers, The Montana Standard in Butte and the Helena Independent Record, on May 13. Rickman had been the publisher of Lee's central California newspapers since 2003.

(Via e-mail)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch outsources circulation, lays off 39

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch laid off 36 circulation and 3 classified employees on May 22. Circulation jobs were outsourced to The Times of Northwest Indiana.

On July 8, members of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild rejected a second furlough request. In a previous vote, the union agreed to a furlough in exchange for a no-layoff guarantee from Lee. Lee countered, offering a guarantee of no layoffs through September in exchange for the weeklong furlough. That is the request the union rejected on July 8.

Lee and the union are working on a new contract. Lee started negotiations by asking for a 23 percent wage cut -- 15 percent in the first year and 5 percent each in the second and third years of the contract. Other proposals include:
  • The ability to lay off employees for any reason and suspend employees for up to three days without "just cause."
  • Eliminating of paid maternity leave, retiree medical and life insurance, 401(k) match and a guaranteed base for commission sales reps.
  • Increasing the employee share of medical premiums to 30 percent from 25 percent.

(Via e-mails)

Popular Daily News writer laid off

Features writer/editor/columnist Cathy Zimmerman was laid off from The Daily News in Longview, Wash., on May 18. Zimmerman had been at the paper for 25 years.

(Via e-mail)

Lee earnings out Thursday

Lee's earnings report is due Thursday. Gannett and McClatchy have reported higher than expected earnings lately, which has helped Lee's stock. Gannett and McClatchy were expected to post losses; so is Lee.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2 Lee papers outsource printing

The Chippewa Herald in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont., are outsourcing printing to other Lee papers.

The Montana Standard moved press operations to Helena on July 13. The Standard's six pressmen were offered jobs in Helena; most of them declined.

The Chippewa Herald will outsource its press and insertion operations to the LaCrosse Tribune in LaCrosse, Wis., on Aug. 11.

(Via e-mails)

Lee Lodge price cut again

Need a getaway? The price for Lee Lodge has been dropped to $3.45 million.

Last year it started at $4.5 million. In January, that price was cut to $3.83 million.

Re-launching Lee Watch

My, how time flies.

After a three month hiatus, it is time to start this blog again. The lapse was unintentional at first; I apologize.

Double identities can be tricky. I am a Lee Enterprises employee, and have been for several years. I started this blog a year ago to keep track of and find out what is happening at Lee newspapers. It is a mission that others have started an abandoned for various reasons. In this case, it can be attributed to a bit of burnout, but also job security.

Well, to hell with that. Let's get started again, shall we?

Thanks to everyone who continued to send tips and e-mails; I'll be posting that information soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lee nominated 'Ass Clown of the Week'

Lee Enterprises is on the Riverfront Times's nominees for "Ass Clown of the Week." Lee, owner of the Suburban Journals of St. Louis, laid off reporter-turned-Web editor Todd Smith last week. In February 2008, Smith was covering a story at the Kirkwood, Mo., City Hall when a gunman shot and killed several officials. Smith was shot in the hand -- he's the only person who was shot to survive the attack.

Other nominees: Hoodlums at Imagine College Preparatory High School, Meramec-Arnold Elks and U.S. Fidelis. Voting is open through Sunday.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pulitzer's rigged? Argument seems very thin

It seems to be quite a stretch, but the North County Gazette says the Pulitzer Prizes must be rigged -- how else would The Post-Star win?

The Gazette points out that Joyce Dehli, Lee's vice president for news, sits on the Pulitzer Prize board and that Ken Tingley, editor of The Post-Star, was a Pulitzer prize judge. Neither were involved in judging categories in which Lee newspapers were finalists. Another part of the Gazette's argument revolves around Lee's financially unstable status -- which is true of nearly any newspaper chain right now.

The Gazette doesn't look into the history of Lee and the Pulitzer Prizes: I looked through the winners from 1985 to 2009, and The Post-Star is the only Lee paper that I saw. Is this the first paper to win a Pulitzer Prize under Lee's ownership?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Suburban Journals reporter shot while covering meeting laid off

The Riverfront Times in St. Louis has an interview with Todd Smith -- the editor laid off from the Suburban Journals of St. Louis a few months after he was shot reporting on a city council meeting.

Casper Star-Tribune wins public records case

A judge has ruled that the Natrona County, Wyo., Circuit Court's policy of denying public access to files in child endangerment cases is a violation of the state's public-records law.

The Casper Star-Tribune filed suit against the circuit court in December, seeking information on the boating death of an 11-year-old boy. The court can withhold the names of sex crime victims, but the current practice of automatically closing case files involving child endangerment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Post-Star's editorial page editor wins Pulitzer

Post-Star editorial page editor Mark Mahoney won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. It's the first Pulitzer for The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., and faced competition from The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post in this category. The Post-Star is the smallest paper among this year's winners.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Columnist out at St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch fired columnist Sylvester Brown, or he quit -- it depends on who you ask.

Brown said he was put on paid administrative leave March 27 after a trip to Washington, D.C. The paper says the trip was paid for by an East St. Louis group Brown was writing about; Brown says he happened to be in D.C. at the same time as the East St. Louis group because he was working on a book deal.

Brown has set up a blog.

The paper published a note, but has otherwise been pretty quiet about the whole thing.

Unreleated: Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader's News Bites says the Post-Dispatch's Bill McClellan could be the best local newspaper columnist anywhere.

Illinois investment firm doubles its stake in Lee

From Editor & Publisher's Fitz & Jen:
Fitz: First Trust Portfolios, a Wheaton, Ill.-based investment firm, has nearly doubled its stake in Lee Enterprises, according to an SEC filing Thursday. First Trust, which on Dec. 31 said it held 1.43 million shares, or 3.67%, of the troubled community publisher, now holds 2.72 million shares, or 7.0%, according to the filing.

At about noon, Lee stock (NYSE: LEE) was trading at 43 cents, up 5 cents, or 13%, from the open. LEE’s share price is down 96% from the $10.44-a-share close exactly one year ago.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo sparks race debate

The April 10 cover of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entertainment tab Go! featured an interracial couple kissing. It caused an uproar; the paper's "Conversation About Race" blog got more than 350 comments on the story. And Gawker referred to commenters as Missouri rednecks.

The Post-Dispatch published a follow-up story on the debate today.

Suburban Journals lays off 15

The Suburban Journals of St. Louis laid off 15 employees on April 15, including reporter Todd Smith. Smith was shot in the hand last year while covering a meeting at the Kirkwood City Hall in Kirkwood, Mo. Six people were killed: Two police officers, three city officials and the shooter. The Kirkwood mayor was injured, and died a few months later.

(Via e-mail, blog comment)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Newspaper stocks up, except Lee

Gannett shares were up 39 percent Thursday. E.W. Scripps shares were up 31 percent. A.H. Belo shares were up 23 percent. Journal Communications shares were up 18 percent. Lee shares were down 5.3 percent.

Gannett and Scripps are the only ones above $2; Gannett is worth the most. Lee is currently hovering around 36 cents.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Montana Standard names interim publisher

Controller Lynn Lloyd has been named The Montana Standard's interim publisher. Lee is expected to name a permanent publisher in May.

Publisher Janet Taylor's last day is April 10.

Court: MySpace posts aren't private

Here's an interesting tale:

A college student posted an "ode" on her MySpace page, blasting her hometown of Coalinga, Calif. The local high school principal found it and sent a copy of it to the editor of the Coalinga Record where it was published as a letter to the editor. (The post was online for six days; by the time it was published in the paper, it had been removed.) The author's family said they were forced to move out of town, and sued the editor, the paper and the paper's parent company, Lee Enterprises. Lee was dismissed from the suit; last week the court ruled publishing the "letter" was not an invasion of privacy. The family's emotional distress complaints will go before jurors.

It should also raise a question: Why was a MySpace blog post submitted by a third party ever published in the paper as a letter?

Here's the ruling on Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel Inc.

(Via e-mail)

2008: Layoffs vs.CEO's earnings

Lee's 2008 layoffs: 433
Lee's 2009 layoffs: Already 272
CEO Mary Junck's 2008 total compensation: $1,089,506

PDN Pulse has a list of how much media CEOs earned last year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Montana Standard publisher quits

Montana Standard publisher Janet Taylor will leave in April. Taylor will become publisher at a "northwest publishing group" -- it must be a competitor since it wasn't named. An interim publisher will be appointed.

(Via e-mail)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

St. Louis Post-Dispatch increasing price to $1?

At the end of this story about the Post-Dispatch's smaller web width, the anchor says the daily newsstand price of the paper soon will increase from 75 cents to $1. I'm told that newsroom employees and editors don't know about a price increase. Can anyone confirm or deny?

(Via e-mail)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post-Star lays off 11

The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., laid off 10 full-time and one part-time employee Tuesday. The layoffs account for 7.5 percent of the paper's work force. The Post-Star laid off four employees in December.

We're nearing the end of Lee's second quarter. In the past, Lee papers have announced layoffs at the end of the quarter. Send layoff news and tips to lee.ent.watch@gmail.com.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch cuts metro and business, adds moxie

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch joins the ranks of Lee papers now using a 44-inch web width. The paper also cut its standalone business and metro sections.

The Post-Dispatch has also kicked off a new advertising campaign, "Turn up the moxie," complete with scary paint colors throughout the paper's building (left).

I'm not sure everyone's on board with the moxie campaign: It looks like some employees took to Twitter to mock it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tucson Citizen may not close after all

The Tucson Citizen was slated to close March 21; now it might not. Gannett says there are two buyers for the afternoon paper, and it will stay open "day to day." The Citizen and Lee's Arizona Daily Star operate under a JOA.

Carriers laid off at Post-Dispatch?

McClatchy's Gannett's Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat will lay off 27 employees and cut three open positions by next week. At the bottom of the News-Democrat's story about its layoffs is a paragraph that says the paper recently started delivering the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in southern Illinois:
(President and Publisher Jay) Tebbe said the job reductions might have been higher if not for other cost-cutting measures, consolidating some of the company's offices to its main headquarters building in Belleville, and signing a contract to deliver the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to P-D customers in parts of Southwestern Illinois.

I assume Post-Dispatch carriers were laid off when this work was outsourced. I know this blog has several Missouri readers -- has anyone heard anything about that?

(Via e-mail)

E&P on Lee Lodge, plane

Fitz & Jen of Editor & Publisher share the info you helped unearth on the Lee Lodge and sale of the corporate jet. Read it here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tucson Citizen to close

Gannett's Tucson Citizen will close March 21, which could help Lee's Arizona Daily Star. The two papers have been in a joint operating agreement since 1940, and have split costs and profits 50-50. (The Star is the bigger of the two papers.) That JOA continues through 2015, meaning Gannett will share the costs and profits until then.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently got out of its JOA with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which closed in 1986.

Lee papers taking holidays off?

Are Lee papers cutting the number of days they publish? A notice in the Globe Gazette says they no longer publish New Years Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas. No paper on Christmas isn't new, but the others are, right? Any other papers have similar notices or policies?

(Via e-mail)

Pantagraph cuts web width

The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill., was 1.5 inches smaller Monday, adopting the Lee-favored 44-inch web. They wrote a story and have a video about it too touting their redesigned features.

(Via e-mail)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

TownNews launches new CMS

TownNews has launched its new content management system, BLOX. Lee, of course, is the majority owner in TownNews, and many of Lee's websites will be switching to BLOX. (The "Move over Gutenberg" line in the press release is a bit much.) Has anyone switched over to BLOX yet? Any reviews?

Globe Gazette switches to tab on Mondays

A month ago, The Globe Gazette in Mason City, Iowa, cut its web width by 1 inch. Now the Monday paper, starting March 16, will be a tabloid format. A note to carriers says "The news inside is different with more good news feature stories."

(Via e-mail)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lee will cut $100 million more

Sorry for the disappearing act, and thanks to everyone who kept the conversation going the past couple of weeks. Let's catch up on the latest Lee hijinks, shall we?

At the annual stockholder meeting on March 10, shareholders approved the reverse stock split. The stock price has hovered around 30 cents since (and the weeks before); the 52-week high was $12.50 and the low was 24 cents. Bigger than that, though, CFO Carl Schmidt said the company will reduce costs by more than $100 million. (Via e-mail tip)

The St. Louis Newspaper Guild reports that Lee's operating profit is 20 percent. Remember that when you have to take your unpaid time off. Capital Times Co. also is pretty profitable. (Via e-mail tip)

The New York Times is selling its jet. It's generating a lot more press than Lee's jet did. They're asking $9.5 million for the 1997 Dassault Falcon. Lee had a 13-seat 2006 Cessna 560XL Citation Excel. (The Swiss Air Force has a few of them too.) Lee's plane is now registered to Blackwell Aviation in Davenport. Lee's plane should have been worth more than $6 million.

What else did I miss?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mid-Valley Group lays off receptionists

The Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times, Lee's Mid-Valley Group in Oregon, are laying off receptionists. The news was delivered the same day as the "good news" on Lee's debt renegotiation.

Uninformed speculation? 'Letter to readers' all very similar

From the Independent Record:
Just in case you’ve heard some of the uninformed speculation in a few circles, I’d like to give you an update on the financial health of our parent company.

On Thursday, Lee Enterprises announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help our parent company weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty among some observers that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee’s ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our company.

This development also quashes ill-considered speculation that Lee’s debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of The Independent Record to continue serving readers and advertisers. Of course, that was never true.

From the Glens Falls Post Star:
Just in case you've heard some of the uninformed speculation in a few circles, I'd like to give you an update on the financial health of our parent company.

On Thursday, Lee Enterprises announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The restructuring of our overall financial picture will help our parent company ride out the current recessionary climate. The news should remove any uncertainty on the issue of Lee's ability to weather the "storm."

This development also quashes ill-considered speculation that Lee's debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of The Post-Star to continue serving readers and advertisers.

Of course, that was never true.

From the Casper Star Tribune:
Just in case you've heard some of the uninformed speculation in a few circles, I'd like to give you an update on the financial health of our parent company.

Yesterday, Lee Enterprises announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help our parent company weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty among some observers that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee's ability to do so underscores our long-term strength.

This development also quashes all speculation that Lee's debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of the Casper Star-Tribune, Casper Journal and trib.com to continue serving readers and advertisers. Of course, that was never true.

From the Billings Gazette:
Just in case you heard speculation about the financial health of our parent company, I'd like to provide you with a timely update.

Yesterday, Lee Enterprises announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help our company weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty among some observers that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee's ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our parent company.

This development also should end speculation that Lee's debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of The Billings Gazette to continue serving readers and advertisers. Of course, that was never true.

From the Montana Standard:
Dear Readers: Just in case you've heard some of the uninformed speculation in a few circles, I'd like to give you an update on the financial health of our parent company, Lee Enterprises.

Last Thursday, Lee Enterprises announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help our parent company weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty among some observers that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee's ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our parent company.

This development also quashes ill- considered speculation that Lee's debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of The Montana Standard to continue serving readers and advertisers. Of course, that was never true.

From the Fremont Tribune:
In tough economic times it is easy to find yourself surrounded by negative and often unfounded views about your business or industry. We know full well about what that’s like.

In an effort to clear up some misconceptions, I’d like to give you an update on the financial health of our parent company and the Tribune as well.

On Thursday, Lee Enterprises announced it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help our parent company weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty among some observers that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe national economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee’s ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our parent company.

This development also quashes ill-considered speculation that Lee’s debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of the Fremont Tribune to continue serving readers and advertisers. Of course, that was never true.

From the Journal Times, a slightly different version:
In today’s business climate it isn’t often we get a chance to share some positive news.

On Thursday, the parent company of The Journal Times, Lee Enterprises, announced that it has completed comprehensive changes to all of its debt obligations.

The changes will help us weather the recession. The announcement also removes uncertainty that Lee would not be able to handle its debt during this time of severe economic downturn in an extremely tight credit market. Lee’s ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our company.

Another version from the Albany Democrat Herald:
Everywhere you look these days there are articles about the economy and the destiny of some industries including newspapers — mostly grim tales.

So it was great to be able to share the news last Thursday that our parent company, Lee Enterprises, had successfully negotiated comprehensive changes to its debt obligations. These changes will help Lee weather the recession.

The Albany Democrat-Herald and our sister publications in Corvallis and Lebanon have fared as well as one could hope during these times.

Arguably we are one of the oldest continuous businesses in the mid-valley, and we plan to continue serving readers and advertisers in the future.

Thanks to Billings Blog and Intelligent Discontent (and an e-mail tip) who picked up on this trend before I did.

(It looks like the Quad City Times had the same "letter," but I haven't been able to find it.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lee refinances debt; what does it really mean?

Lee Enterprises has refinance its $1.1 billion bank credit agreement; the final payment is due in April 2012. Lee repaid $120 million of the $306 million that was due next month; the rest of that bill was refinanced.

Is this good news? Bad news? What does it really mean? No idea. Editor & Publisher's Fitz & Jen have the best explanation I've seen so far. Please, help shed light on what this may mean for the rest of us.

One interesting piece to come of this: Lee was still dealing with a joint operating agreement between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the now defunct St. Louis Globe-Democrat, owned by Newhouse. Newhouse and Pulitzer shared the profits and expenses from the Post-Dispatch. Before Lee bought the Post-Dispatch in 2005, Pulitzer bought out 95 percent of Newhouse's interest. Lee finally got rid of that last 5 percent in this deal.

The memo from CEO Mary Junck:
February 19, 2009

Dear Lee Employee:

There’s good news today about Lee’s financial health. Lee has completed comprehensive changes to all of our debt obligations.

These changes will help us weather the recession. They also alleviate concerns among some investors that Lee would not be able to handle our debt during the combination of a severe economic downturn and an extremely tight credit market. Our ability to do so underscores the long-term strength of our company.

Today, we repaid $120 million of the principal amount of our $306 million Pulitzer Notes debt and refinanced the balance over the next three years. We also have amended the credit terms for our $1.1 billion of bank debt to provide a revised repayment schedule. In addition, we have redeemed the remaining 5 percent share of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from the minority partner. I am attaching a news release with details.

Although significant economic challenges continue, our focus has been riveted on protecting our ability to grow in the long term. Even in this horrible economy, we remain, by far, the leading provider of local news, information and advertising in our markets. Our strength in print continues to be vast and stable, and our online reach continues to grow.

While revenue has decreased because of the recession, Lee continues to be an industry leader in advertising revenue performance. Lee has outperformed the industry average every quarter since 2003, and Lee’s advantage over the last two years has averaged nearly 5 percentage points per quarter. In 2009, we have ramped up our efforts to provide even greater value and effectiveness for advertisers. We believe our vigorous sales programs will help us further increase our lion’s share of local advertising spending, which should pay off even more when the recession ends. Meanwhile, as you well know, we have had to implement many cost reductions, some of which have impacted you directly.

Thank you for your hard work, dedication, determination and good spirits. I appreciate how you are staying the course with continued enthusiasm, creativity and absolute faith in our ability to assure our strong future.

Thank you again for all you’re doing to help our company remain strong during some of the worst economic conditions in our lifetimes.

With appreciation and best regards,

Mary Junck

The official release from Lee

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Garden Island lays off 1 employee *

One employee was laid off Jan. 9 at the Garden Island in Kaua'i, Hawaii. A full-time circulation employee, who has worked at the paper for 14 years, was cut to part-time. Wages also have been frozen at the paper, and 401(k) contributions have been cut.

The Garden Island was a 2008 Enterprise of the Year finalist.

(Via e-mail)
(Updated with date)

Employees paid 2 days early

Lee employees who use direct deposit were paid today, two days ahead of the regularly scheduled pay day. Lee says it was a simple accounting error, and it was easier to pay employees early than to otherwise fix the error. The skeptic in me wonders if it could be something more. Any ideas?

Columbus Telegram outsources printing, lays off 11

The Columbus (Neb.) Telegram will outsource printing and packaging to the Fremont (Neb.) Tribune starting March 16. Eleven full- and part-time employees will be laid off at the Telegram. The Tribune will also start printing two weeklies, the Schuyler Sun and David City Banner Press.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Employee stock purchase plan suspended

Planning to buy Lee stock? Participation in the employee stock purchase plan has been suspended. The announcement from corporate:
To Participants in the Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP):

Effective immediately, participation in the ESPP will be suspended indefinitely. No more contributions will be deducted from your pay, and the amount you have contributed during the current ESPP plan year will be refunded by direct deposit on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. The refund will be placed into the bank account you use for regularly scheduled paychecks. If you do not have direct deposit for your pay, a check will be mailed to your home.

This decision by Lee’s Board of Directors was a result of the continued low share price in combination with the predetermined number of shares allocated for purchase. In other words, at the current price, there aren’t enough shares to go around, and most of your contributions would have been refunded at the end of the period, anyway.

Shares you may have purchased from prior years will remain in your Wells Fargo ESPP account. Please contact Wells Fargo Shareowner Services with specific questions regarding your account at 1-800-468-9716 or online at www.wellsfargo.com/shareownerservices.

For any other questions, please contact the Lee HR Center at 877-434-5465 or hr@lee.net.

With best regards,

Jennifer Kivlin
Director, Human Resources

It's not a very sound investment -- the stock closed Friday at 31 cents a share, and has hovered around 30 cents for most of the week. At the March 10 board meeting, Lee will vote on the proposed reverse stock split. Would you vote for it?

Via email.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fire, furloughs at the Times in Indiana

A fire broke out at The Times of Northwest Indiana on Friday -- the same day employees found out they must take 4-day furloughs by May 9.

Fourteen fire departments responded to the fire; one firefighter was injured.

Via e-mail

Comp time vs. overtime

Some comments on comp time have me worried. In most cases, comp time is not legal, but I worked at a Lee property where they regularly used comp time and awarded it months later.

Here's what you should know:

Under federal law, non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a work week must be paid overtime at time-and-a-half. Employers can give time off during the same pay period if you work extra hours. Comp time cannot be carried to another pay period or month. If comp time is legally allowed by your state, it must be awarded the same as overtime: 1 hour worked = 1.5 hours comp time. If comp time is not awarded in the same pay period as it was earned, you should be paid time-and-a-half for those hours.

Check your state's laws. In California, for example, if you work more than eight hours a day (vs. 40 hours a week under the federal law), you are entitled to overtime.

If you have questions about overtime, the Department of Labor number is (866) 487-9243.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lee sold stake in St. Louis Cardinals

Back in December, I complained that Lee was laying off people, but still owned 4 percent interest in the St. Louis Cardinals. Well, it looks like they did -- in another super-secret deal. A brief on Page 2 of the Jan. 21 Sporting News Today said Lee sold its stake in the team last summer for $14 million to $25 million.

The other super-secret deal: That plane fiasco. I still don't know what Lee sold that plane for, but it should have been millions.

(E-mail tip -- thanks.)

Quad-City Times lays off 10

From the comments:
I was told the Quad-City Times laid off 10 people in January but don't have details. I do know that a 70-or-80+ year old woman features writer was let go

I think that brings this quarter's layoffs up to 231.

No W-2s at Post-Dispatch; got yours? *

None of the employees of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch received W-2s. The tax form is required by law, and must be delivered by Jan. 31 Feb. 2.

Lee sent an e-mail to Post-Dispatch employees saying the W-2s were sent to the post office on Jan. 28, then they ... disappeared. How do you lose 1,000+ tax forms? Sounds fishy. Lee says it is reprinting and re-sending the forms.

Are employees at other papers missing W-2s?

The e-mail sent to Post-Dispatch employees:
From: STL HR Update
Sent: Friday, February 06, 2009 2:08 PM
To: STL All Local Users
Subject: W-2's

We have been informed that the W-2’s for St. Louis employees are being re-printed and will be re-mailed.

Lee Enterprises printed and sent the first W-2’s to the post office on Jan. 28. After that they cannot be tracked down. Lee Enterprises is still contacting post offices to attempt to locate them

The W-2’s are posted on link.lee.net under "payroll". You will be able to use that to begin your tax preparation.

Thanks for the tips on this one. Send e-mails and memos to lee.ent.watch@gmail.com.

* A reader pointed out that Jan. 31 fell on a Saturday this year. The deadline was extended to Monday, Feb. 2.