updated 1/14/2009 5:28:12 PM ET 2009-01-14T22:28:12

USA Today publisher Gannett Co. imposed one-week unpaid furloughs for most of its U.S. employees Wednesday, saying the move could help minimize the need for further layoffs amid a severe advertising downturn.

USA Today also declared a one-year freeze on wages effective Feb. 1.

Although Gannett is regarded by many analysts as one of the most financially sound U.S. newspaper publishers, the economic recession and the ongoing migration of advertising to the Internet have pounded its revenue prospects.

Gannett had several rounds of layoffs last year, including one in December slashing the work force at most of its U.S. newspapers by 10 percent and another in November cutting newsroom jobs at USA Today by about 5 percent.

Employees must take the furloughs during the first quarter. Union-covered employees will be asked to participate, and layoffs are possible if they refuse.

"After much consideration, we decided a furlough program would be the fairest and least intrusive way to meet these fiscal challenges in the first quarter, which is traditionally the lightest time of the year," Gannett Chief Executive Craig Dubow said in a staff memo. "We sincerely hope this minimizes the need for any layoffs going forward."

Gannett owns 85 U.S. daily newspapers and 23 TV stations in the U.S. It has more than 40,000 employees.

USA Today Publisher Craig Moon told employees in a separate memo that their sacrifices will keep the newspaper healthy.

"We find ourselves in an incredibly tough media and economic climate," Moon said. "Our advertising revenues continue to slump as we enter 2009. With little visibility of future ad schedules, we like others at Gannett, have had to make some very difficult decisions."

Gannett's British employees are not affected, but the U.K.-based Newsquest division is taking other, unspecified expense-reduction measures.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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