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Execs at E.W. Scripps want to shrink the newsroom at the Rocky Mountain News, the firm's flagship paper -- and they've taken a major step toward doing so. Today, staffers at the tab received an e-mail from editor/publisher/president John Temple (pictured) announcing a "voluntary separation plan" that targets fifty Rocky employees over age 55. Here's the entire memo:

Folks:

The Rocky has weathered challenging economic times both before the JOA and in the past few years, and has continued to publish an outstanding newspaper that serves its readers in award-winning ways. Today we face another difficult period.

Consequently, the Rocky Mountain News is offering voluntary separation packages to all 50 Rocky employees who have completed at least 10 years of service with The E.W. Scripps Company and will be at least 55 years of age as of April 2, 2007. The plan will provide a combination of attractive benefits, including voluntary separation pay and a health care subsidy. We will meet with or contact the eligible employees today to explain the offer in detail.

Importantly, this is not a layoff. It is a voluntary separation plan. The option to accept or decline the offer is up to each eligible employee. We will accept 20 voluntary separations under this plan, based on Rocky Mountain News seniority.

We were already planning to restructure our newsroom with the introduction of a new content management system for our Web site. This voluntary reduction in force makes that effort even more pressing. I have always believed the online project, scheduled to be completed by Sept. 1, would require us to rethink how we do our work. I firmly believe that it's not the number of people you have in a newsroom that determines the quality of a newspaper or Web site, it's the attitude and ability of those people. I believe we can continue to put out a strong newspaper and Web site with our new staff size. But we'll have to do it differently. And we'll have to make those changes quickly. I thank you in advance for your willingness to work with me on this effort.

We'll have a meeting in the newsroom today at 4:30 where I'll be happy to try to answer any questions you might have. And of course I'll also be available to speak with you privately in the coming days.

John

In the last week or so, four feature writers at the Rocky were asked to move to positions in the news department in order to fill in gaps that have developed as a result of the paper's long-running hiring freeze. (By one estimate, as many as a dozen newsroom positions have gone unfilled over the past year-plus.) Among those queried on this topic was Brian Crecente, the paper's nationally known video-game writer, who chose to leave the paper rather than accept the transfer -- a move that has yet to be formally announced to his fellow scribes. However, Crecente posted an explanation of his decision on Kotaku.com, a video-game site to which he's a longtime contributor.

The voluntary separation plan approach is also getting a test drive at another major Scripps property, the Memphis Commercial Appeal; a memo penned by Joe Pepe, the Commercial Appeal's president and publisher, can be read here. Moreover, there's plenty of buzz about something similar coming down the line at another area Scripps paper, the Boulder Daily Camera.

The times, they are a-changin'... for the worse. -- Michael Roberts

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