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KTVX Ch. 4 cuts back its work force by 15%

Published: Thursday, June 19 2008 12:01 a.m. MDT

The local ABC affiliate slashed almost 15 percent of its work force Wednesday, shortly after the close of the television ratings period and the purchase of the station by new owners.

A person close to the situation told the Deseret News that the approximately 30 laid-off KTVX ABC 4 employees ran the teleprompters and in-studio cameras. The positions cut included two assignment editors, the special-projects producer and an employee who coordinated cooking segments. A handful of other employees worked in promotions, sales and marketing and accounting.

No on-air workers or news photographers were let go. Most of the on-air workers negotiate contracts that provide them with income if they are laid off, the source said. For severance, the employees will get one to nine months pay, depending on their position and how long they had been with the company. No health-insurance benefits will be offered beyond the federally mandated COBRA.

Mat Jaquint, the station's general manager, said he could not comment and referred questions to a San Francisco public relations firm. The firm did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

ABC 4 formerly was owned by Clear Channel but was sold in April to private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, along with Clear Channel's other television stations, for $1.2 billion.

For weeks, rumors had been circulating that layoffs were coming, according to the source.

"Actually, if you go to TVSpy.com, there's blogs on there," the source said. "They were saying 25 percent were going to get cut (company-wide). They were rumors, (and after weeks of no layoffs) we were back into a spot where we were like, 'Oh, we're not going to get laid off."'

The laid-off employees were told Wednesday that they had to leave the building and that their personal belongings would be sent to them. One employee was escorted from the building by security, the source said.

The layoffs occurred before a 2 p.m. staff meeting in which the approximately 150 remaining staffers were told advertising revenue was down because many companies are advertising on the Internet.

For the past few years, Ch. 4's news programs have struggled in television ratings against channels 2 and 5. During the May "sweeps," in which ratings are tabulated by Nielsen Media Research, the television station didn't fare better than in the past, the source said.

In the Salt Lake City market, local news jobs are scare, and the laid off employees may have to leave the state to find work. And they may not find work in television at all.

"Across the board, I'd say television jobs are down quite a bit," the source said.

The Deseret News, too, is in the process of laying off up to 35 employees — or 17 1/2 percent — of its workforce by mid-July.

The public may ultimately suffer from the lack of competition in the news business, said University of Utah communication professor Robert Avery.

"Whenever you've got competition, organizations do better work, and that's true of news organizations," he said. "It also has to do with the diversity of the product. (Layoffs) not only affect the quality but the number of voices in the marketplace."

The changes in quality may be subtle and people may not at first notice, said Weber State University communication professor Terri Reddout.

"If their favorite anchor is still there, putting out the news, they don't know how hard it is behind the scenes," she said.


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

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