MediaNews plans to cut 81 jobs at Reading Eagle

The new owners of the Reading Eagle plan to lay off more than a third of the staff after they assume control of the 150-year-old newspaper and the company's other assets later this month.

MediaNews Group stepped forward to buy the Reading Eagle Co. for $5 million after the family-owned company filed for bankruptcy protection in March.

A filing with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry said that MediaNews intends to lay off 81 of the Reading Eagle's 221 employees. The Reading Eagle's other properties include news-talk radio station WEEU-AM and a weekly newspaper.

"As we anticipated, (MediaNews) has determined it will have a reduced need for a large number of Reading Eagle employees following the closing of the sale," Jennie Rodriguez-Priest, the Reading Eagle's human resources director, wrote to the state labor department. The new owners are "still considering other Reading Eagle employees for possible employment," she wrote.

The company promised a final list of cuts by June 28. MediaNews plans to complete its purchase of the paper June 30.

A Reading Eagle spokeswoman had no information on how many newsroom jobs will be lost. A message was left with MediaNews seeking comment. The company has previously said it will "re-create" the Eagle so the paper "has the appropriate resources" to provide local news coverage in a city where the Eagle has long been the dominant source.

Better known as Digital First Media, MediaNews has a history of buying struggling newspapers and slashing their staffs. Its portfolio includes about 200 papers and other publications, including The Denver Post and the Boston Herald. Its biggest shareholder is Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund that invests in distressed companies.

Employees who are let go will not receive severance pay, according to the sales agreement.

In a column published Monday, Eagle Editor Garry Lenton said that he would be leaving at the end of the month.

"It wasn't an easy job. My tenure came during a difficult time in the newspaper's history, as the company struggled to meet the challenges of a changing market and strong competition for advertising dollars from online sources," he wrote.

"Things will change because they have to, but the commitment to journalism by this staff will remain," Lenton added.