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Layoffs Leading to Digital Future For Baltimore Sun

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This week the Baltimore Sun laid off 61 newsroom staffers. The cuts represent nearly a third of the paper’s newsroom, which previously had 205 employees. Staff were notified of the layoffs Wednesday and, in some cases, on Tuesday evening. Three reporters and a photographer got the news that they were losing their jobs by phone in the press box during last night’s game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels. In the past few weeks, the Baltimore Sun Media Group has also made cuts at its Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland.

The Sun is owned by Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December. Last year, revenues and circulation were both down at the paper.

Since 2006, Ted Venetoulis, a local Baltimore businessman who owns a chain of community newspapers, has led a group of other area investors who have been seeking to buy the Sun from Tribune. Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, who spoke with Venetoulis yesterday, said Venetoulis thinks the cuts indicate that Tribune’s desire to “continue running the operation itself rather than selling it.” Venetoulis also told Edmonds that his group was close to reaching a deal to buy the Sun from Tribune just a few weeks ago, but that negotiations were postponed due to the bankruptcy proceedings.

If Tribune does decide to hold on to the paper, there are many signs that they’re considering making it a Web-only news operation. In an article about the layoffs, Baltimore Sun Media Group spokeswoman Renee Mutchnick told Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella that the cuts were part of a restructuring plan for the newsroom aimed at turning the paper into “a 24-hour, local news-gathering media company so we can more effectively gather content and distribute it among our different platforms: print, online and mobile.” Two weeks ago, in a seminar at Johns Hopkins University, Sun editor Monty Cook told the audience: “We have to stop being a newspaper company. Right now. We are a digital media company.” FishbowlNY reached out to Mutchnick and Cook to ask about their plans for the Sun, but as of this writing, they have not responded to our request for comment on this story.

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