August 6, 2009

Talking about Advance from Oregon to New Jersey; There's pain, envy, honors

Some daily newspaper publishers in Advance Publications went beyond ending a job pledge in staff announcements Wednesday.

Many at Newhouse-owned daily newspapers heard that starting Feb. 5 the company no longer will guarantee jobs even if the economy stinks or technology could allow staff reductions.

Steve Newhouse, who heads up, tells Richard Perez-Pena:
“I think the policy was meant for a time when the newspaper business had ups and downs, but was relatively stable. It was not meant for a time when our newspapers, like others, are struggling to survive.”
Newhouse told Editor & Publisher no layoffs are planned, saying the notification is "an alert that we need the flexibility to take the steps to address our newspapers' revenue decline."
"As all of us are working to keep our daily newspapers going, the pledge in many respects became a deterrent to actions that could actually save the daily newspapers and jobs for the majority of employees"
The Oregonian staff will take six more days off without pay in the first six months of 2010 and start paying for part of its health care benefit, according to Williamette Week. That news was in addition to notice of the ending of the Advance Publications job pledge. The Portland Business Journal told us to expect details on Thursday, but the announcement came out early.

Publisher Fred Stickel said that all Oregonian employees would be required to pay a portion of the premium for their health care, depending on income level, starting Jan 1. Employees hired before 2005 had not been required to contribute to the cost of coverage for themselves or their family.

In March, The Oregonian staff had pensions frozen, pay cuts of 5 to 10 percent and were required to take four unpaid furlough days. That same month, many Advance daily newspaper staffs learned of frozen pensions, pay cuts and 10 days off without pay.

In Alabama, Media of Birminham is reporting (as part of its post on the no-layoffs out announcement) that staffers with at least 5 years at the Birmingham News were offered buyouts, two weeks salary for every year (six month maximum).

The day caused anxiety for some. There was this Tweet:
Boss has called an all-hands meeting ... feeling anxious, as in anxiety - not eager
followed shortly by:
Well, the news wasn't that bad. We just don't have a guaranteed job pledge as of February

Notice is "old Newhouse"

The fact that the Newhouse organization gave its daily newspapers' employees six months warning that the pledge of no layoffs will end Feb. 5 was called "an element of the chain’s old paternalism" by Perez-Pena, who blogs in Media Coder for the New York Times.

Blogof called it a bad day at 3800 Howard, while noting:
"The pledge was a lovely thing in theory, but it was hardly legally binding; the life of a newspaper employee isn’t a civil-service sinecure, with all its perqs and guarantees. The days of big-city dailies as fat-and-lazy “velvet coffins” where people remain for decades are gone forever. It’s possible to foresee a day when big-city dailies are gone forever, too."
Perez-Pena also said that Advance would not say whether its newspapers remain profitable. (Advance newspapers include The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey; the Staten Island Advance and Post-Standard in New York; The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; the Grand Rapids Press; the Muskegon Chronicle; the Kalamazoo Gazette; the Jackson Citizen Patriot; Cleveland Plain Dealer; The Patriot News in Pennsylvania and the Huntsville Times in Alabama).

Don't wait, get resume ready

Reaction to an article on the announcement in Pennsylvania by Express-Times, publisher Martin K. Till includes this advice:

"Riiiight. If I worked at any of Advance's newspapers, I wouldn't be sitting around, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Feb. 6 to roll around, after hearing this announcement. "No specific plans" to lay anyone off doesn't mean they won't lay people off the first chance they get."

In a letter Wednesday to employees, Till said the change is needed to allow the company more flexibility in managing the economic downturn.
"While we are reluctant to make this decision, it is necessary for the long-term survival of our newspaper, and the long-term survival of most jobs."
The newspaper employs about 270 and reported a 1.3 increase in daily circulation and Sunday circulation holding steady through March. Changes this year included 20 employees accepting voluntary buyouts, all employees taking 10 days off without pay, salaries frozen, retirement plans switched, and employees paying an increased share of health benefits.

The newpaper also began joint distribution with The Morning Call of Allentown and opened depots at central locations instead of delivering bundles to most carriers homes.

The publisher, like others, wants to steady the course:
"Our goal is to remain a daily newspaper, printed and distributed seven days a week. We have been serving readers and advertisers in our community in this fashion for 150 years."

Honors for consultant

University of Missouri just announced that Advance consultant Deborah Howell will get one of 7 2009 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism.

Deborah Howell, who led the Newhouse Washington Bureau for 15 years, returned to Advance after spending about three years as ombudsman at the Washington Post.

It's not funny to some

Is there anything more serious then the funny pages? Editor & Publisher reported that a week after cutting six comic strips and moving a half-page of the daily funnies to another location -- which drew some 1,200 complaints -- The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. has returned Pickles and Frazz to print. The original move was to save the company $300,000.

Not quite so funny, but usually entertaining is the Jersey Guy. He used to do Jersey People, but now focues more attention on what's up with the site where he oversees content.

By the way, Michigan folks missing their daily dose of comics could visit to sneak a peek. Or look at daily offerings.

Some earlier links

By the way, I updated some links in an earlier post on the job pledge, including:
Publisher's letter emphasizes job pledge for daily newspapers and the post that led me to the letter.

Two newsroom employees sent to mailroom. (Actually, it's a link to a post about the job change for two Star-Ledger employees who didn't take a buyout as the Editor & Publisher article is unreachable. I like Paper Tiger No More's version of the events, too. I spent too much time trying to learn if reporter Jason Jett and Assistant Deputy Photo Editor Mitchell Seidel are in the newsroom still.)

Some other links

Free From Editors and the Daily Derelict heard from some Michigan newspaper folks that they also heard about the rescinding of the job pledge in staff meetings or letters on Wednesday.

Receptionists may be going
the way of newspaper subscriptions at Conde Nast, the magazine branch of the family. We've got the New York Magazine and Gawker reporting that the secretaries finish up work Friday. The New York Observer calls it D.Y.I. Reception for Vogue and other magazines

Did you check out McKinsey's second trip to Conde Nast or Si Newhouse's Dream Factory or Did Conde Nast call in its sweetheart loan to Annie Leibovitz? (That last one is Gawker's chance to talk again about how the family sometimes is in the mortgage business.)

The magazines are such a different world from the Advance newspapers. Here, a quote from a New York Times article on Vogue, a magazine about "wish fulfillment and escapism":
"It’s not uncommon at a top American magazine, editors say, to spend $5,000 a day just on food at a shoot. In this regard, European glossies are practically tightwads."
Really, who needs a water cooler or has to stand in line for groceries when the Internet is so willing to serve.