The Ogden Standard-Examiner has sent employees on paid vacation and will cut the newspaper's size by 30 percent to help the company pass a Dec. 31 performance test required by lenders.
Publisher Randy Hatch said he had asked many of the company's 292 employees to take paid vacations beginning Thursday through the end of the year. The move will reduce payroll expenses, as money to cover accrued vacations has already been set aside.Hatch also ordered the size of the paper reduced 30 percent to hold down escalating newsprint costs. The 102-year-old paper will continue to publish daily.
"These are last-ditch measures to get us through these unanticipated hard times," Hatch said this week. "The only areas that I can change fast enough to make enough difference are payroll and newsprint, so that's what we've done."
These most recent moves follow a mandatory unpaid five-day leave taken by Standard-Examiner employees in the fall and layoffs last spring. This year's cost-cutting measures are primarily designed to help the company pay a significant amount of debt incurred a year-and-a-half ago.
In April 1989, the Hatch family acquired controlling interest in The Standard Corp., publisher of the Standard Examiner and majority owner of KUTV Channel 2 television. Terms of the transaction were not diclosed.
Adding to the company's burden to pay off debt from the buyout was an off-year in advertising. The paper reported advertising revenues fell 6 to 7 percent this year. "Everything just went flat," Hatch said in a story printed in Thursday's Standard Examiner. "We've been on a long term growth curve and it peaked. The country is in a mild recession and consumer confidence is low."
What if the paper doesn't pass the performance test?
"The decision is up to the lending institution. It can restructure the debt or it can call in the loan," Hatch said.
E.W. Scripps Co. has guaranteed up to $53 million of the Standard's debt, according to Scripps' 1989 annual report. In exchange for the guarantee, Scripps has an option to acquire equity interest in Standard Examiner, if the company fails to pay off the loan.
But Hatch said the company has every intention of passing the performance test. "We have plenty of money to meet our debt obligations. But there were some categories in our financial statements that needed a little bit of oomph."
And Hatch anticipates stronger earnings next year. He cites new retailers moving into the newspaper's circulation area, which should boost advertising, and forecasts of a stronger statewide economy.
"Unless all hell breaks loose, we will be just fine," Hatch said.