Eleven Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings employees were laid off Thursday as part of companywide staff reductions by Ottaway Newspapers Inc., based in Campbell Hall, N.Y.

Eleven Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings employees were laid off Thursday as part of companywide staff reductions by Ottaway Newspapers Inc., based in Campbell Hall, N.Y.

The nine full-time and two part-time employees were notified their positions were being eliminated during a series of morning and afternoon meetings. The layoffs included five advertising department positions and four newsroom positions. In addition, about a dozen vacant positions will not be filled within the Southern Oregon Media Group, which comprises the Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings and The Nickel.

The layoffs were attributed to the region's economic slowdown that has affected many businesses, including other media.

"Challenging economic conditions continue to grip our region and the effect has been felt in all the businesses in our community," said Publisher Grady Singletary. "It is unfortunate that action such as reducing work force was necessary for our company."

Employees receiving layoff notices were provided with severance packages and a continuation of health-care coverage for up to two months. The layoffs left the three publications with 185 employees.

"It was a tough day today," said Bob Hunter, editor of the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings. "We had to part company with some very capable co-workers who are also our friends. Our goal is to look forward and to continue to try to produce the best possible community newspapers and Web sites."

The Southern Oregon Media Group became a News Corp. operation in December 2007 as part of News Corp.'s purchase of Dow Jones.

"It is important that we acknowledge the contributions that these co-workers made to this company," Singletary said. "I am encouraged and proud to be associated with a group of people who are determined to work hard and creatively for the sake of our readers, advertisers and fellow employees."

In a release from corporate headquarters, Ottaway said the move came only after the company had made other changes, including leaving positions open and adjusting other expenses.

The chain's chief executive officer, John Wilcox, said the decision is not connected to a possible sale of its newspapers. News Corp. has sought a buyer or buyers for its eight daily and 14 weekly newspapers in seven states as well as the company's community Internet sites.

The decision to eliminate positions at this time is not connected to management's ongoing evaluation of the company's strategic alternatives, said Wilcox. Positions were eliminated at corporate headquarters as well.

"Newspaper companies across the country have been making adjustments to their work force, seeking ways to become more efficient," Wilcox said in a statement. "Despite the dominance of our media groups in print and Internet in their markets, increased competition and changing economic conditions affect our ability to meet our goals."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.