Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The axe falls

The Enquirer, which according to the letter below is poised to succeed in the future, will do so with fewer people around. Today the paper put out the word today that it would like 50 employees to volunteer for buyouts. They are being offered two weeks of severance for each year served, with health benefits during the severance period. That's not a great offer, but it's not as cheap as some might have expected. And, writes publisher Margaret Buchanan, "If this voluntary offer doesn’t result in a sufficient number of volunteers, or if in the future, economic conditions worsen, it may be necessary to consider layoffs."
From: XXXX, On Behalf Of Buchanan, Margaret
Sent: Monday, August 04, 2008 3:31 PM
To: Cincinnati-All1
Subject: Voluntary Severance Program

To: All non-represented employees

From: Margaret Buchanan

In the last few years, we have implemented a number of initiatives to help us compete in an ever-changing media landscape, and thanks to your hard work and initiative, we are poised to succeed in the future.

However, as I’m sure you’re aware, the economy has worsened in the last year. Despite putting in place many cost-control actions – including some reductions in staff and many non-payroll expense cuts – we find ourselves needing to cut expenses again.

To that end, we are offering a voluntary severance program. Here are some details about the program:

  • It is being offered to all active non-represented employees of Enquirer Media, excluding Operating Committee employees.

  • The company reserves the right to limit the number of volunteers accepted in order to maintain business operations.

  • The program offers two weeks of severance for every year of credited service – up to 52 weeks. This will be paid out the same way as regular payroll until the severance period is exhausted. During the severance period, health benefits will remain intact.

  • The offer is open until August 15.

  • We are looking for 50 volunteers overall.

  • If more than 50 volunteer, we will review whether we can expand the pool. Decisions about which volunteers will be accepted will be based on position, job function and years of service.
If this voluntary offer doesn’t result in a sufficient number of volunteers, or if in the future, economic conditions worsen, it may be necessary to consider layoffs.

Please see the attached Q&A for answers to frequently asked questions.

Eligible employees who are interested should contact Julie Sawyer in Human Resources at (513) 768-8216.

Employees who decide to volunteer should submit a request in writing (signed and dated) to Julie Sawyer in HR. The company will review the list of volunteers after August 15, make a determination and inform all volunteers who have been accepted. Separation dates will be set at that time.

Margaret

At least she didn't sign it, "Your pal, Margaret." What is her definition of "success"? The Enquirer is getting its ass kicked on the Bruce Ivins story. Compare their pathetic effort to what the New York Times has done. The latter is what reporting looks like. The former is an example of settling for "good enough" but it's really not good at all. The problem isn't the reporter's. It's the combination of too few people, too few resources and too little time creating a bland brew of low expectations.

And it will only get worse. The word of buyouts has unnerved the newsroom, and good people are looking for the exits. Members of the operating committee are exempted from the offer, so that means people who need to go, like Tom Callinan, probably won't.

UPDATE: The buyouts have been reported by the Business Courier, Editor & Publisher, CityBeat and Gannettblog, but not yet by the Enquirer itself.

UPDATE: The Enquirer has extended the deadline by a week.

31 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actions really do speak louder than words and unfortunately, Buchanan’s August 15th deadline speaks volumes about how she and Gannett value people.

Maybe non-believers will finally believe what she values most, her job.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:05: I'd love to know how you'd handle it...if you were smart enough to have made it to Buchanan's position. The victimized finger pointing is kind of pathetic. And I really am impartial.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 11:12 a.m.,

I am not the first poster but I will take a crack at replying.

Giving people 10 business days to make such an important decision is ridiculous and smacks of desperation. Most newspapers give their staff a month.

Also, the phased payouts, as opposed to a lump sum figure, seems cheap.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 11:12 – Since you asked…

- People would get 30 days to review fiancés, check with advisors, Social Security, etc.
- All volunteers would receive notice of their buyout requests no more than 30 days after that deadline.
- Once accepted, all volunteers would have seven days to opt out.
- And, assurances would be given upfront to all that volunteering for this package would in no way jeopardize anyone’s career if they were denied.

Buchanan’s deadline may meet her needs, but it hardly recognizes the hard work and potentially life-long efforts of those who will be so quickly impacted by it. If she’s willing to cut people off this quickly now to make her numbers a bit quicker, then what message is that sending to those who remain? Not a good one and that’s the point. She had time to plan and employees deserve a little extra time to do so too.

By the way, I won’t be a victim. Nor are you correct in assuming that Buchanan is at the top of the local intellectual pool solely by the virtue of her position.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous mr. whig said...

Well I am glad to hear The Enquirer is finally poised for success. It's about damn time.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Callinan fought off Margaret's demand for layoffs (albeit modest ones) a few years ago. That was then...

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buchanan is simply a pawn carrying out the execution order from the parent company in Virginia. The corporate paymasters demand a certain level of profit to be tendered quarterly by its minion media outlets. It matters not that the Enquirer is concentration-camp skeletal from years of freezing jobs. Pay up it must. Gannett goes to great lengths to dress up the Enquirer as a regular company, when really it is just an outpost with loyal order-takers in charge.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anon 11:12

Nice ideas, but wishful thinking. Very few papers have offered so much time to decide, much less opt-outs after signing on. Especially in Gannett.

Also, it is true that the order to cut XX number of jobs -- and fast -- came straight from GCI. Supposedly all their papers got similar orders.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are the likely takers?

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:28:
I'd think everyone. Just imagine what the place will be like to work at afterward. Ugly. Bet they get far more than the 50.

And 11:12:
1:20's expectations for how a buy-out should be conducted are not farfetched. They are civilized and respectful. But that's not Gannett - nor is it how the company has ever treated the Enquirer staff. Smarts are not so much what it takes to get to Buchanan's level as desire.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:28
It's true the Enquirer as a whole, not just the newsroom, is hardly the model for enlightened management in its relations with employees. That being said, the orders are coming from corporate and the short window suggests a measure of desperation that I think Margaret and others would prefer to avoid.

The comment about what the mood will be in the newsroom among those who remain is interesting.

History in recent years suggests expectations will only rise irrationally for those who remain. That's a recipe for fear and ultimately failure. The idiots who think you can do higher quality work with fewer people are just that, idiots. It might be time for Gannett to consider an editorial management change.

Would not expect Callinan to move; he has a few years to retirement and is one of Phil Currie's "boys." However, the managing editor (his title for somewhat ineplicable reasons is executive editor) clearly is being given a nudge to consider other positions elsewhere in the company.

The managing editor role -- as well as other editor positions -- may be in the crosshairs or at least is being considered at the corporate level for elimination. With the equivalent position at the Enquire designated executive editor, there is no ME title there now.

The bottom line remains: How many cuts is enough? The answer, as waves of layoffs and buyouts continue to be announced at newspapers around the country, may be that the business model will not support more than a handful of staff, perhaps someday about as many as work at the truly awful television news operations in Cincinnati.

Clearly Gannett, as well as other newspaper chains, has not found the formula to make the internet pay the dividends that the print product has for so many years. Until there is a magic bullet of profit that approaches the former 30-40 percent margins Gannett, the slaughter will continue.

The clock if ticking for Gannett. It's cash position so far has fended off major shareholder unrest. But with the stock down from nearly $90 at the end of 2003 to the $18 range today, how much longer can it continue?

Complicating the mess: Who would buy the chain? Those who've stepped in to take the remains of Knight Ridder and others have discovered to their horror the truth of what is happening in the industry. And guess what? It's not a news problem, it's an advertising problem.



Just a fact of life.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no mystery at the Enquirer. If you really dive into the problems plaguing all newpapaers, I would truly say it is in ADVERTISING. For years I've seen this newspaper struggle with producing ads to advertiser spec's. Since advertisers can't get what they are paying for they opt to spend those dollars elsewhere, thus creating a door opening to the internet.

When you look at the hiring of our sales staff they want degree's, degree's, degree's. What about plain old knowledge of how ad's produce when printed?

The writing has always been on the wall with Gannett. Profit at minimal expense. Gannett is not run like a business that has goals to stay in business for the long run, it's hit and miss, squeeze out the profits without improvements. This company will fall because they are just milking the golden cow, and until the milk runs out they will be cutting, cutting, cutting.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without saying too much, I will add to the last two posts re: advertising. Not to place blame, but LORD, are you guys right. Few options, esp for smaller businesses and strangely high demands and little, paltry pay for not the best-of-the bunch advtsg staff do not present a successful formula at ALL.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arts and Entertainment are soon to be reduced.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a lawyer, and I can tell you the "standard" is one month pay per year of service. That's kind of the do we sue/not sue point. Take it for what it's worth.

--Nasty, Brutish & Short

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another round of awards that the Enquirer wasn't nominated for. The 2008 Online Journalism Award nominees can be found at http://journalist.org/news/archives/001176.php.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@10:46 -- One MONTH per year on staff? You're kidding, right? Have never heard of such generous terms in the news racket in the past two, three years of escalating layoffs/buyouts/what-have-yous.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nor one month with any other company, at least as a standard, broad buyout.

However, I am aware that companies have paid out one month per year of service (and more) to avoid potential litigation on individual employee terminations, including the Enquirer.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My advice to any and all minions in the Enqy newsroom: Take the money and run. Get out while you can. It's only going to get worse as the newspaper descends into oblivion.

Trust, I've been there.

Former Postie

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya gotta wonder if bubba bronson's looking at the end of his rant rage. today's slam on democrats strikes me as a "best of" piece before he packs it in and takes the buyout. he's got 9 days to let it fly against his favorite targets. he's 55 and knows he's expendable. smart guy like that knows better than to pass up a buyout offer that might not come again.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least two columnists have indicated they are going to take it, since it looks like their beats are going to get less attention. Syndicated reviews will likely replace them.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@6:21 What columnists write reviews? Are you talking about CinWeekly? Cuz Enquirer stopped running original reviews of everything but theater and live music (not available via wires) at least three years ago.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another rerun from Bronson's bag of favorites today: a shot at the hippies and what the nation will become if Obama is elected. He's really pulling out the old standbys before taking Gannett's payoff money.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Bronson wants to pee on everything before he (finally!) leaves, I will gladly pull down his panties and hold his dick for him.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why? Does anyone truly care whether Bronson stays or goes? Does he have a shred of relevance or credibility at all?

Maybe he'll follow one of his predecessors and become a flack for the sheriff.

Former Postie

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enquirer insiders -- what's the buzz around the newsroom? How many reporters are expected to take the buyout? Are we going to lose some of the longtime reviewers in features (Polly Campbell, Jackie Demaline, Janelle Gelfand)as has been rumored?

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would Bronson want to leave? I'd love to get paid for walking to a fax machine and retyping the GOP Talking Points of the Day. Where else could he get a gig like that? Bronson is one of the reasons I cancelled my subscription years ago.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Bronson fave today: Chinese dictators. Next up: Why the county courthouse needs a 10 Commandments plaque.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll have to disagree with all of you. I like Bronson's columns, a lot. I look forward to them. Believe it or not, he writes what a lot of us think. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Bronson is one of the bright spots in the Enquirer.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless I'm missing the sarcasm, the previous post is quite scary indeed.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's from Brown County, one of the Enquirer's target markets

3:23 PM  

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