The Seattle Times Co., reeling from continued declines in advertising revenue, announced Monday it will slice its flagship newspaper's staff...

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The Seattle Times Co., reeling from continued declines in advertising revenue, announced Monday it will slice its flagship newspaper’s staff by nearly 200 and make other cuts aimed at saving $15 million.

The staff reductions will include up to 131 layoffs, the company said in an e-mail to employees. Sixty unfilled positions will be frozen.

The Times has 1,845 full-time and part-time employees.

Spokeswoman Jill Mackie would not be specific about other cuts, except to say that “there will be some changes that will affect both readers and advertisers.”

One big change: Employees were told The Times will close its suburban news bureaus in Bellevue and Lynnwood, lay off almost all the reporters who work there and stop publishing zoned editions for the Eastside and Snohomish County.

Vice President Alayne Fardella said in an e-mail to employees that up to 45 circulation workers, 30 newsroom employees and 24 advertising staff could be laid off. The exact number will depend on how many employees choose to accept buyouts and leave voluntarily, she said.

Employees have until next Monday to make that decision, Fardella wrote.

Newsroom staff members who attended a meeting with Executive Editor David Boardman said they were told at least 16 employees in that department will be laid off, regardless of how many choose to depart voluntarily.

Monday’s cuts come on top of $21 million The Times slashed from its budget earlier this year, including 17 layoffs, mostly circulation workers.

“We had hoped the expense reductions made at the beginning of the year would prevent the need for further downsizing, but that is not the case,” Publisher Frank Blethen and President Carolyn Kelly said in another e-mail to employees Monday.

Mackie would not rule out further cuts or layoffs. “We have no choice but to bring our expenditures in line with our revenues,” she said.

Industry battered

The Times’ problems are far from unique. Metropolitan newspapers throughout the country are struggling with declining classified-ad revenues and shrinking circulation, problems driven at least in part by competition from the Internet.

Papers that have announced newsroom staff cuts in recent months include The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Newspapers are still far from dead,” the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organization, said in a report this year, “but the language of the obituary is creeping in.”

At The Times, Monday’s layoff announcement had been rumored for days and came as no huge surprise, considering the string of bad news from the privately held company in recent months.

In a Dec. 27 e-mail to employees, Blethen said that combined print-advertising revenue for The Times and smaller Seattle Post-Intelligencer was down 9 percent in 2007 and had dropped more than one-quarter since 2000.

The Times and P-I maintain competing newsrooms, but The Times handles advertising, circulation, production and other business functions for both under a federally sanctioned joint-operating agreement.

So far this year, ad revenues have fallen even more precipitously.

In an e-mail to staff late last month, Kelly said that, through February, combined print-advertising revenues for the Times and P-I were down 10.7 percent from last year.

More ominously, online-ad revenues fell 6.5 percent year-over-year. While online advertising is only a small fraction of The Times’ and other newspapers’ total revenue, it has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Many say it is the industry’s best hope as it searches for a new business model.

Last month, The Times Co. put its Maine papers — three dailies and one weekly — up for sale, saying it needed cash to help keep its flagship paper afloat.

Despite its troubles, Mackie said Monday, The Seattle Times was one of only a handful of larger papers whose circulation grew last year, and its drop in ad revenue was smaller than the industry average.

Closing the suburban newsrooms marks the end of an era for The Times, which opened its first office in Bellevue and began publishing its first separate Eastside section in 1976.

Suburban “zone” reporters and columnists are in a separate union job classification from their downtown counterparts; all, including one with about 20 years at the paper, were told Monday they will be laid off.

“It’s a sad day,” said Eastside columnist Sherry Grindeland, who joined The Times in 1997. “I feel the Eastside is going to not be getting the attention it should get.”

“Emotional whiplash”

Snohomish County reporter Diane Wright said she was experiencing “emotional whiplash. … It’s a little death. There’s no other way to call it.”

Mackie said The Times “fully intend[s] to cover communities affected by changes to our zoned content.”

While it is joined at the hip with The Times economically, the P-I — owned by New York-based Hearst Corp. — has not announced buyouts or layoffs.

No layoffs are planned, P-I Publisher Roger Oglesby said Monday, but added, “I will never rule out the possibility they might happen, and they might happen at any time.”

The P-I has been cutting expenses and not filling most vacant positions, he said, “but it doesn’t look like we’re going to make money this year. … It’s a very tough year.”

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or