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Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers buyouts, cuts delivery area

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered buyouts to up to 80 newsroom employees and announced plans to revamp its operations, including cutting its circulation area and focusing more on digital news.

The changes were announced Thursday by the newspaper. The voluntary buyouts were presented during the day to employees 55 years of age or older and with more than 10 years at the paper.

In the buyouts, two weeks of compensation is being offered for each year worked at the paper, up to 52 weeks, said Mary Dugenske, director of communications. Those employees have until April 2 to decide, and those who don't accept a buyout will still have jobs at the paper, she said.

''It's a reward for their years of service,'' Dugenske said.

Effective April 1, the newspaper will scale back its circulation territory to no longer include Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and many parts of Georgia. The paper had been delivered in 145 of Georgia's 159 counties, but now will only be available in 66 counties in the state. The paper won't be found in cities like Augusta, Columbus, Savannah and Albany.

Publisher John Mellott said those areas only account for about 5 percent of the paper's total circulation.

The changes will mean the end of 44 circulation positions, with displaced workers offered severance packages, Mellott said. The paper also will end its relationship with 128 independent contractors who delivered the paper.

The newspaper's parent company, Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, also will spend $30 million on upgrading its presses in suburban Gwinnett County, with plans to close the paper's downtown Atlanta production facility in two years. Mellott said the changes will mean the shift or loss of 98 production jobs.

The changes come as the Atlanta paper, like other newspapers, adjusts to major shifts in news consumption and advertising spending on the Internet.

''Online technology allows us to tell stories in new ways,'' Mellott said in a letter to readers posted on the paper's Web site late Thursday. ''It requires us to become as adept in the world of the Internet as we are in the world of print.''

The newsroom will be reorganized to put print and digital news on equal footing, said Editor Julia Wallace. It isn't clear how many staffers could shift from primarily print work to digital. But many leadership positions will change and staffers throughout the newsroom will be asked to reapply for jobs after new plans are set, Wallace said.

The Journal-Constitution, Georgia's largest newspaper, currently has 475 employees. In the six-month period that ended on Sept. 30, 2006, the paper reported average daily circulation of 354,475 and average Sunday circulation of 523,965.