PD SLICES DEEPER INTO EDITORIAL WORK STAFF

Submitted by Roldo on Wed, 10/08/2008 - 08:36.

If you think you’ve been on a news diet lately reading the skimpy Plain Dealer, get ready to tighten your reading belt. The newspaper has announced new editorial staff reductions.

Editor Terrence Egger told PD the editorial staff yesterday that he wants a further reduction of 38 editorial staff with a new buyout offer of two weeks pay for each year worked but no health insurance, according to a reporter. The paper lost some 17 percent of its staff in an earlier buyout.

In an earlier plan, reporters said, Egger told them the paper was looking at “drastic changes,” including a price increase and some 35 fewer pages, or 1,820 fewer news pages, a year as the paper looks for cost cuts.

Egger who comes across as an amiable guy and plays that role well turns out to be a hatchet man for Newhouse, as I expected when he was brought here from St. Louis.

Below is an e-mail from Egger, a response to an e-mail I had sent to him inquiring about a previous reduction of 75 management and other employees, including some editorial people. The buyout was offered until Oct. 2. As you will notice, Egger is less than forthcoming in his response. Egger does not respond as to how many people have taken the buyout or on other questions about people being essentially forced out.

Others say that the management editorial buyout takers include long-time reporter Jim Sweeney; Betsy O’Connell, feature editor; Becky Gaylord, editorial page writer; Chris Jindra, an editor most recently at the paper’s web site; Stewart Warner, project editor who handled columns by Regina Brett and Connie Schultz.

The new buyout of editorial people offers two weeks pay for every year served, actually no bargain at all since that’s what the Newspaper Guild contract demands.

But the real killer for employees who might want the buyout is that it offers no health insurance. “Some people have cancer,” said an employee noting that they would be very hard pressed to get insurance even if they could afford it.

Egger, described as “seemingly sincere” by one employee has worked as I suspected he would when he came to Cleveland. His job, as is Editor Susan Goldberg, who has experience chopping away at editorial elsewhere, is to slice costs and employment with deep cuts.

Egger, as you see from the e-mail below, really answers no questions I posed.

For example, reporters tell me, that three secretaries at the Cleveland editorial offices were offered security jobs at the Tiedeman plant or layoffs. Another mail room worker who had lost both legs was given the same offer, a move described by a reporter as “Just cruel.” All took the buyout offer rather than move to a new job location in the suburbs.

Egger was brought here by the Newhouse family, owners of the Plain Dealer and Sun Newspapers, from St. Louis where he helped in the sale of the Pulitzer’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Egger was described as walking away from St. Louis with “millions of dollars through various compensation schemes.”

Egger is sensitive about how much money he made in the St. Louis deal. He previously contacted me to say that he was well-paid but that I exaggerated his earnings.

I don’t think so.

Here’s what the St. Louis Journalism Review said about that:

“From various company reports and government findings, these figures were gleaned: Egger got $3.2 million in cash for stock-based compensation when Pulitzer was sold. He got a Lee (buying news chain) retention bonus of $675,000 and a $75,000 transaction incentive. He could get as much as $900,000 to cover taxes associated with his extra compensation. Add a $197,000 bonus in lieu of 2004 stock options from his supplemental pension plan.

“His common stock in Pulitzer was valued at $11.4 million,” and the article by Ray Malone says, “There’s probably more,” but other information is guarded and undisclosed.”

“He fucked us over,” was one reporter’s response to the latest buyout offer.

Some employees are angered that high-salaried individuals who didn’t take the buyout will continue to earn those salaries even if shifted to lesser jobs.

Ted Diadiun, called the reader representative though really a defender of anything any reader might complain about, was one of those cited.

It’s said he refused the buyout and the paper will carry his heavy earnings that some put near $200,000 a year. The same was said of sports editor Roy Hewitt, who refused the buyout.

The rationale among reporters is that the PD will carry these large salaried management employees under a Newhouse policy known as “The Pledge” to management people while heavily cutting into the editorial staff of union people earning at a far lesser wage scale.

So subscribers and readers can expect a reduced diet of news from an already meager serving.

The following is an e-mail I received last evening from Egger after I contacted him last Friday about the PD buyouts:

Roldo,

We just concluded a meeting with our newsroom staff in which we informed them of pending staff reductions that department.

Going back to our employee meeting this summer we shared with all of our people the exceptionally tough economic conditions all metro newspapers are facing and that to stay viable we were going to have to significantly reduce our expenses.

We also emphasized at that point that we were in the early stages of working on plans that would carry us for the longer term, not just this year. We noted that as these plans were developed, finalized and approved we would share the info (as tough as some of it might be) with employees.

The buyout we completed last week was for all full-time non-represented employees (note that is not simply managers but any full-time employee not represented by a union contract). We have not yet disclosed the final number of people signing up for that buyout because many are still within the required seven day revocation period.

We also do not discuss any of the people involved as a policy since these are personnel decisions.

However, the results of that buyout informed us enough to determine the number of positions we would still need to reduce in the newsroom to meet our plans, that number is 38.

Today we shared with employees that rather than go straight to a layoff (as provided for in the contract), we were first going to use the same economic terms called for in the event of a layoff (two weeks of salary for every year of service up to one year) as a voluntary buyout for those who self-selected to go.

We hope that enough people will decide on their own that they would like to accept this offer, but that if we do not get 38 people to make this selection, we would need to lay-off the balance.

Regardless, in these unprecedented times we are committed to adhere to all our obligations as negotiated and agreed to in good faith by both parties.

I didn't respond to you yesterday because I wanted to wait until after today's announcement to give you a more complete picture.

Terry

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RElevance

Sad. Just as newspapers have regained some of their relevance in this country. I hope that the PD spares Henry Gomez, Christopher Evans and Becky Gaylord. Henry Gomez recently wrote about the switcheroo game at Cleveland City Council and the hefty slush fund used to back appointed candidates. Expect more of that scam after November 4th.

Ironically, today the PD is running a contest to win $1,000 in food for your family, if you submit an entry describing your reason to read the PAPER newspaper every day. I entered.