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The Associated Press June 12, 2012, 4:00PM ET

Times-Picayune cuts half of newsroom staff

The Times-Picayune said Tuesday 200 employees will lose their jobs when one of the nation's oldest daily newspapers shifts its focus to online news and publishes just three days a week beginning this fall.

The paper said 84 of the newsroom's 173 employees were cut at the 175-year-old paper. Advertising, circulation and other departments also were affected. The change means New Orleans will become the largest metro area in the nation without a daily newspaper in the digital age.

In Alabama, three major daily newspapers laid off about 400 employees. It wasn't immediately clear what departments were hit hardest at The Birmingham News, the Press-Register in Mobile and The Huntsville Times.

All four papers will continue to publish on their websites, and online access will remain free.

The newspapers' parent company, Advance Publications, is shifting its focus in the digital age. Papers have struggled in recent years as print advertising declined during the recession, and newspapers have yet to learn how to make online advertising as profitable as its printed counterpart.

In New Orleans, the announcement has been greeted with dismay. A rally in support of keeping The Times-Picayune a daily drew hundreds of people outside a popular restaurant last week.

Community leaders and a group of advertisers that includes an auto dealership, one of the area's largest real estate agencies, jewelers and a regional grocery chain have called on the parent company to keep the daily publication.

"Many readers can't imagine the morning without our newspaper in their hands," The Times-Picayune editor, Jim Amoss, said in a video posted on the paper's affiliated website, "I understand that. I'm a print guy. I grew up in this business. But I'm also a news guy, a journalist and a New Orleans native. My priorities are to cover the news of the New Orleans area, to have the best reporters investigate and explain the complexities of this politically byzantine community and to write about our culture our food our music, our sports mania."

The staff reductions in New Orleans are effective Sept. 30. It was not clear when they would take effect at the Alabama papers.

The Times-Picayune is laying off columnist Peter Finney, who has written sports for New Orleans papers since 1945; managing editors Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea, among the newsroom leaders during the paper's Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath; and Brett Anderson, the current restaurant critic for the food-obsessed city.

Reporter Barri Marsh Bronston said she was being let go after 31 years.

"These last three weeks have been unbearable, but I'm feeling a sense of relief right now," she said in a post on Facebook. She did not want to be interviewed but gave permission for her comment to be used.

Throughout the day, employees met with various managers and were told either that they would have a job with the new company, Nola Media Group, or they were offered severance packages. Some will later be able to apply for positions in the new operation, the paper said.

The Times-Picayune was acquired by the Newhouse-family run Advance chain in the 1960s. The current news operation was rooted in the combination of The Times-Picayune, a morning newspaper, and its afternoon companion, The States-Item, in 1980.

After the merger, the newspaper expanded coverage with the opening of bureaus in the New Orleans suburbs. It earned a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s for environmental coverage and then another for its reporting of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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