The axe has fallen in an expected third round of job cuts this year at the Asbury Park Press, with unconfirmed reports that the entire Trenton bureau was fired and the department that produces art & graphics for the news pages was “decimated.”

Those reports come from other media. Press parent Gannett Co. is reporting only a statewide job reduction for its New Jersey holdings.

Here’s what’s in today’s Press:

Gannett Co. Inc. has eliminated 206 positions at its six newspapers in New Jersey due to declining advertising revenues and the severe economic downturn afflicting the state and the nation.

The company began notifying the affected employees Tuesday at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, the Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, the Courier News in Bridgewater, the Daily Record in Parsippany and the Daily Journal in Vineland.

“The economic downturn we are facing is severe and is expected to last throughout next year,” said Thomas M. Donovan, president and publisher of the Asbury Park Press and vice president of Gannett’s East Newspaper Group. “We have reduced expenses significantly throughout this year. But, unfortunately, as we looked ahead to economic forecasts for 2009, it became clear that we needed to make further reductions.”

Laid-off workers got severance benefits commensurate with their years of service, the statement says.

The firings follow reductions across the New Jersey arm of Gannett by 166 jobs in May and another 120 in August.

This current round had been expected. Gannett told its 85 local and regional newspapers in October that they needed to cut staffs by another 10 percent by the end of the year.

Gannett’s premier property is USA Today.

Jim Hopkins, a former Gannett reporter and editor who publishes the Gannett Blog, wrote yesterday that the layoffs are part of “what is likely the biggest mass layoff in newspaper industry history… slashing 655 jobs by early this morning, in an increasingly desperate bid to return the troubled 102-year-old publisher to prosperity. The final tally could run into the thousands.”

He wrote:

At the Asbury Park Press in Gannett’s especially troubled New Jersey group, Anonymous@12:41 p.m. wrote: “Art department was decimated at the APP. So far the count is 11 in the newsroom.”

We don’t have a total number of layoffs for the Press, and it’s not clear if the pink-slipping for this round is over. But a source tells redbankgreen that the entire state staff — which covers Trenton for all the chain’s newspapers — was let go. The report is unconfirmed.

There’s also an unconfirmed report that most or all of the entertainment and dining/food staff is gone, leaving only an editor.

All this is happening as much of the newspaper industry, saddled with high capital and labor costs, spins toward the drain as advertisers and readers abandon the print product in favor of online publications.

Meantime, the newspaper industry hasn’t figured out how to make the Internet support the costs of legacy infrastructure of large newsroom staffs, printing operations and distribution.

Sharp, recent downturns in the real estate, automobile and general retailing sectors have added to those woes.

The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, recently had its newsroom payroll cut nearly in half as a result of a mass buyout that was accepted by 151 newsroom employees out of 330, according to an industry report.

Email this story