The Wall Street Journal's announcement last week that it is closing down its six regional weekly sections was the latest of several recent cuts by publishing companies both nationally and in the Los Angeles area.

Many local newspapers, facing rising newsprint prices and softening advertising revenues, are trimming staff, eliminating zoned sections and reducing the number of pages in their products.

"It's a softening economy and the newspaper business is softening," said newspaper industry analyst John Morton. "National advertising revenue from January through September was up 5.9 percent, but it has been trending downward since September. This September, ad revenues were up only 3.7 percent compared with September last year."

In addition, newsprint prices are up at least 20 percent from last year, Morton said. Newsprint, he said, costs an average $600 per metric ton, up from $500 a metric ton last year.

The Los Angeles Times was one of the first newspapers in the area to start trimming. In early September, shortly after being purchased by the Tribune Co. of Chicago, the publication announced it would eliminate 14 Our Times sections (localized weekly inserts) that resulted in 125 jobs being cut.

There were another 45 layoffs in the paper's advertising department and more recently about a dozen positions were eliminated from the paper's online division. L.A. Times executives said the layoffs were to improve the paper's operating profit margin, which was 16 percent in 1999 compared to 23 percent industrywide.

The region's second-largest newspaper, the Orange County Register, privately owned by the Freedom Communications Inc., has been struggling to cut $1 million from its newsroom budget. In a memo to the staff this month, Editor Tonnie Katz said: "Although the Register began the year well financially, changes in the economy last summer and anticipated increases in the cost of newsprint left us searching for ways to meet our promises to our corporation."

She noted that there had been layoffs in operations, sales and marketing. One reporting and one editing position were eliminated, along with other budget-cutting measures being implemented.

At the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram, both owned by Denver-based MediaNews Group, zoned sections have been eliminated to cut costs.

The Daily News eliminated two zoned sections in the Conejo and Simi valleys. So did the Long Beach Press-Telegram, which still has three zoned sections.

Also, the Press-Telegram halved the number of pages it prints in its advertising supplements in response to reduced advertising and to save on newsprint costs.

The Wall Street Journal's announcement last week that it would eliminate 34 positions at its six weekly regional editions, including six jobs at its weekly California edition, was aimed at increasing the newspaper's overall revenue. There has been great demand to advertise in the national edition of the newspaper, which is more expensive than advertising in the local sections.

A one-page ad in the California section costs $23,800, with a minimum of 13 purchases. A national one-page ad costs $155,000.

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