At the start of the second hour of class today, I pointed my second-year journalists-to-be to the latest news on CanWest’s stock market woes: a piece that included an unnamed analyst suggesting that the media company was being forced to do something to control costs.

By the end of the hour, there was this: Canwest slashes 560 jobs as downturn takes toll.

The 560 jobs, which will be cut through buyouts, attrition and layoffs, will hit CanWest’s publishing division hardest. It will take a 350-job hit, with the remainder of the 560 coming from the broadcast division.

The announcement came on a day when CanWest’s stock hit a new low — 81 cents — and two days before the company is due to release its fourth-quarter results.

According to the Reuters report:

“These reductions are in addition to several hundred jobs that have been eliminated over the last two years,” the company said in a statement, adding the latest moves will shave annualized operating costs by about C$61 million ($49 million).

The layoffs equal five per cent of the company’s total employees. According to a CP report:

Canwest Publishing, which operates the former Southam chain and other publications, will see about 350 positions disappear through a restructuring of the community newspaper group and cuts in web operations at some newspapers.

Without more details, it’s hard to determine exactly what is going on, but I read that as CanWest squeezing its smaller, community-based newspapers to save itself from having to hit its dailies hard. And CanWest’s internet activities have always been largely centralized, making local web staff vulnerable as the company concentrates on bolstering print.

Other cost-cutting measures include a reduction in the width of some newspapers, and concentrating the National Post on major cities while cutting discounted circulation.

I’ll have more as this develops and will be watching how CanWest’s stock opens and closes tomorrow and, of course, what the company has to report Friday. The fact these changes were announced two days before the release of the quarterlies suggests there will be little good news in them.

UPDATE: Alfred Hermida says there’s some confusion in the coverage of the CanWest cuts, with various media identifying a planned cut in the newspaper web width (the width of the newspaper), as cuts in the web operations of CanWest. He’s probably right, but I haven’t been able to confirm it: try as I might, I can’t find a link to the CanWest press release from either the media who are covering this or CanWest itelf.

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