The Philadelphia Inquirer is planning to sell its 674,000 square foot printing facility by the end of the year. A sale of the Schuylkill Printing Plant, which was built in 1992, will force the newspaper to eliminate positions for about 500 of the 550 plant workers, representing about half of The Inquirer’s workforce of 1,073 employees. The company, which prints The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, would farm out print production to a Cherry Hill, New Jersey printing plant owned by Gannett Co., Inc. Closure of the plant will save the company an estimated $19.3 million annually in operating expenses.
John Dagle, president of Teamsters Local 628 which represents about 300 of the workers in danger of losing their jobs, said the announcement was unexpected. He was told that The Inquirer would sell the property and lease it, but not close the plant. Job cuts would include a variety of roles including drivers, mailers and security guards.
“It’s a kick in the gut to over 500 loyal employees and their families,” Dagle said.
Employees were notified Friday in a memo from Lisa Hughes, The Inquirer’s publisher and CEO.
“While the sale is not yet final, we recognize how deeply unsettling and distressing this is to employees at the printing plant,” Hughes wrote. “They have served our readers tirelessly, with dedication and devotion to the craft. Many of them have spent decades with the company – and all performed their jobs valiantly when the pandemic arrived.”
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No change to service
In an interview, Hughes said that there are not any plans to make changes to the number of editions of The Philadelphia Inquirer or the Philadelphia Daily News to be printed, and readers will not see any interruption in service or change in delivery times. Hughes joined the organization as publisher in CEO in February, when Terrance C.Z. Egger retired.
“Nothing matters more in our democracy than local journalism,” Hughes said in January, “to speak truth to power, to hold elected officials accountable, to celebrate our sports teams’ wins and losses, and to report on justice reform and the education system and gun violence, all of which has been part of The Inquirer’s beat for 190 years.”
Sale proceeds will “enhance” severance packages
The Inquirer has an interested buyer, but their identity has not been disclosed. Hughes said proceeds from the sale of the printing plant would be used to “enhance” severance packages, which will include paid health care and outplacement services. The 191-year-old Inquirer is working with affected unions to negotiate severance payouts. Earlier this year, the newspaper offered buyout packages to eligible employees based on age and years of services, resulting in a reduction in the newsroom and advertising divisions of the paper.
Among the reasons for the severe cost-cutting measure is the significant decline in advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lower print circulation as the company has shifted to a digital focus.
“I do believe that the decision will ensure our business and our journalism for the future, and that’s what I have to look at,” Hughes said. “These changes I believe will provide the economic stability to help ensure our core mission, which is to provide vital news and journalism to the community.”
The Inquirer joins a long line of newspapers and magazines that have been hard hit first by the pivot to digital publishing and next by the COVID-19 pandemic. While readers need newspapers like The Inquirer to keep them informed more than ever, ad revenue declined significantly because many businesses could no longer afford to advertise. Added to lower print circulation and The Inquirer needed to make a big move to reduce expenses. This plant closure is painful but apparently necessary to keep the newspaper alive.