Morning Must Reads: Got Gas?, Foreclosures Up, and Layoffs in the Business of News

In petrochemical news this morning, Royal Dutch Shell choose Monaca Pennsylvania for a new cracker plant, there is still no buyer for Sunoco's Philadelphia and Marcus Hook refineries, and more from Paul Krugman on the job hype surrounding natural resource booms.

The settlement between states and mortgage lenders over questionable document processing is accelerating foreclosure activity in the Commonwealth. Now would be a good time to visit www.pasaveourhomes.org and send an email to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly to tell her direct settlement funds toward restoring the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP).

February foreclosure filings in the Philadelphia metropolitan area rose almost 50 percent from the same month a year ago, while mortgage defaults in Pennsylvania increased 35 percent during the same period, RealtyTrac said in a report released Thursday.

A total of 2,940 houses in the Philadelphia region, or one in 828, had foreclosure filings, a 47.2 increase from February 2011, the California-based foreclosure search engine reported...

The increase in filings in judicial-foreclosure states might be a result of the $25 billion settlement reached between 49 state attorneys general and five major lenders over questionable document processing...

John Dodds, executive director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, said he had warned a meeting of housing advocates in Harrisburg in early March that foreclosures had begun to rise in Pennsylvania and would do so for the rest of the year because of the settlement...

Another reason for an increase in filings in recent months might lay in the end of state funding for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency's Home Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP), which in 28 years rescued 46,000 homeowners from foreclosure.

Advocacy groups and lawmakers have been pushing to have some of the $69 million Attorney General Linda Kelly's office is receiving from the settlement with the lenders.

A new round of layoffs was announced by the firm that owns The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com:

Philadelphia Media Network Inc. will lay off 19 unionized workers in its three newsrooms — four full-timers and 15 part-timers — and 21 additional newsroom employees have been approved for voluntary buyouts.

The layoffs of reporters, copy editors, multimedia content producers, and others at The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com would occur March 31. Five nonunion employees from the three newsrooms, including three from The Inquirer, also were laid off, bringing the total number of jobs being lost to 45...

A bulletin sent by Newspaper Guild Local 10, which represents editorial, advertising, and circulation employees at PMN, said the union intends to challenge the company's layoff plans and considers them "unnecessary."

"It is our position that between the significant savings of the salaries of the members who volunteered to leave, and the concessionary contract in 2010 that gave the new owners $6 million in cost cuts from our union, that enough is enough," the Guild statement reads.

In the statement, the Guild took aim at PMN chief executive officer Greg Osberg for "creating a poorly launched tablet" product last fall and "trying to be seen as some sort of a digital visionary."

"Whether Osberg wants to admit it or not, the print editions of The Inquirer and Daily News, which he offensively labels 'legacy products,' are responsible for generating more than 90 percent of the revenue," the Guild said in its statement.

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