Category Archives: Layoffs/Buyouts

For Those of Us Who Remain: The Case for Moving Forward

It’s been more than a week since Black Tuesday, the latest, deepest round of job cuts at The Indianapolis Star. For many of us, our focus in recent days has rightly been on concern for our friends and former colleagues — how they are doing, will they be OK, what’s their Plan B and what can we do to help them get their benefits, and start looking toward their next career. And we will continue in these efforts.

But for a moment I’d like to speak now to those of us who remain employed, who are left behind and charged with continuing to publish a daily newspaper seven days a week. I know from listening to some of you in recent days how dispiriting this has been.

Someone on the copy desk told me yesterday how these last three days have been the most difficult, stressful days of her career just because of the additional work load, not to mention the emotional toll of not seeing her friends.

Someone on the photo staff told me that it’s clear — because of the talented people the Star let go — that simply being good at what you do is no guarantee of job security. It was a realization that has shaken this talented person deeply.

For me, the reality of these cuts has come home in several ways.

First, there were the three times in the past week that I could have really used a librarian to help research a story — but there was no one to call. That’s what happens when you have only one librarian — and she’s on vacation.

Second, there has been all the unsolicited pity I’ve received from sources in the community who have called or emailed to see if I’m still employed, to offer their condolences. It’s as if someone died. They mean well. But I don’t do pity. And I want to strangle every one who offers it.

Next, there was sobering realization that the career planning sessions we’ve been arranging for the newly displaced workers are drawing a tremendous amount of interest from people who are still on the staff — folks who wonder if their number will be called next. I even heard someone say they wondered if the folks who were just laid off might have an advantage in the long run because of their head start on a new career. Confession here: I’ve had the same thought myself. Anyone who wants to develop a Plan B has my full blessing. Anyone who seeks higher ground, I understand. I keep telling the establishment that big layoffs have ripple effects on talented employees who will finally decide they have had enough. Including the creative people who might find The Answer, the next big idea that could turn things around

Finally, I think most of us who remain have been living under a cloud of despair. Black Tuesday was traumatic. The anger and the companionship of our coworkers carried most of us through the rest of the week. But come the weekend, when I had a moment to breathe, I felt a real sense of melancholy, of loss, of disillusionment. Again, I step into the confessional booth here and beg your indulgence.

Like most of you, journalism is the only career I’ve ever known. It’s something I love. It’s a large part of my identity. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Working in a newsroom — even a diminished one — has got to be one of the most interesting, entertaining and sometimes thrilling places to work there is. We sometimes talk about how all the characters have left the business — the people who kept the flasks in their bottom desk drawer, who took calls from the corner bar. But I’ve got news for you — the folks in the newsroom now are the most interesting people I meet, day in and day out. Every last one of you has more good stories to tell from your career than probably anyone you know — the people you’ve interviewed or photographed; the nights you were working the desk when war broke out, or terrorists attacked or there was a big election; the near disasters that were averted at the last moment, the amazing triumphs you pulled off under incredibly tight deadlines.

Part of the joy of what we do is promoting justice — telling the story of the oppressed and busting the balls of politicians who are corrupt or the corporate raiders whose greed propels them to tear apart companies and displace blue collar people, just so the next quarterly report will look sharper, and their bonus will be bigger.

Part of our frustration right now is that the greedy corporate raiders we want to rail against are at the top of our own corporate ladder. The little people who are getting trampled are our former colleagues, and us. If it were another company in town, we’d do an expose. In this case, our publication remains silent.

So, what’s the point in going forward? And how do we do it?

We go forward because it’s what we do. It’s who we are. As my despondent friend in the photo department said, “I just want them to leave me alone so I can tell good stories.” There are good stories still to tell. There’s a difference we can still make in our community. It has gotten harder, yes. But we must find a way.

How do we do it? The new, smaller writing corps must continue the great conversations we’ve been having about how to better tell stories. We must celebrate good writing. We must experiment and take more risks. Writers and photographers must help our beleaguered copy editors by meeting our deadlines. We must help our diminished photo staff by planning ahead.

There’s one last thing. And this is my unabashed sales pitch. We need you to be active in the Guild. If you’ve been coasting, we need you to pay up and become a dues payer. Right now. Why? Because, we’re about to negotiate a new contract this summer and The Man things he has us on the run. He thinks we’re going to break. He thinks he’s finally going to kill off the Guild in Indianapolis. Personally, The Man can kiss my ass.

You may ask, ‘What’s the point? What did the Guild do to slow down this latest freight train?’ Truthful answer, nothing. We got flattened. We were blindsided and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Yet it is because of the contract that people before us negotiated that our people are getting any kind of severance pay. And it is because of the contract that we have any framework whatsoever to examine the process used in making the cuts, a framework that may show us they violated the contract in ways that warrant further action, that could help our lost employees.

Then there are literally half a dozen ways on a weekly basis that the Guild and the contract works for you. Come see me and I will give you some examples. Without the Guild and the contract, things would be worse. I didn’t realize this until I became your president. But it’s true.

Finally, I think we have a case to make this contract season.

The community who cares about The Indianapolis Star as an institution has been given lots of reasons to think that Gannett cares little for good journalism. Three rounds of layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, unfettered attrition and shrunken newshole leaves Gannett rightly open to criticism that it is simply milking the Star for its last dime. It is a lesson the public has been taught through repetition. It’s why I get the pitiful phone calls.

We will make the case — publicly — that Gannett needs to do something substantial to retain the good journalists it still has. If for no other reason, Gannett needs to do it to assure advertisers that the newspaper will still produce good content, that attracts an audience worth selling to, so the cash cow can survive. Gannett needs to send a signal that good journalism — the kind we got into this career to do — still has a place in Indianapolis. And that it’s willing to invest in it.

I need you to help me make that case. By standing up. By signing on. By being counted. The few of us who remain are doing much, much more with much, much less. And we deserve to be paid accordingly. I can’t make that case without you.

I need your help.

— Bobby King, President Indianapolis News Guild

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“Celebrating Service, Looking to the Future” event this Saturday at IUPUI

The first of what we expect to be two programs aimed at former Star employees looking for their next career will be held Saturday at IUPUI’s campus.

“Celebrating Service, Looking to the Future” will offer some perspectives on careers in news, public relations and, generally speaking, life after the Star from people who know – former Star staffers themselves.

The event will be held at room IT 160 in IUPUI’s Informatics Building, which sits at the corner of Michigan and West Streets. It will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with lunch provided by the Guild.

Former Star staffers Kevin Corcoran and John Strauss are spearheading this effort, with help from many others. They’re putting together a panel of folks to address key topics such as “The Next Steps.”

This effort is also intended to offer a thank you for your good work and some fellowship time, since many folks didn’t have a chance to say a proper goodbye to their friends and colleagues.

Already, there’s a Facebook page, “Celebrating Service, Looking to the Future,” where you can find more information and let us know if you’re coming. If you have other questions, contact John Straus at jcs1122@yahoo.com or myself robertkingster@gmail.com.

Hope to see you there.

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Health insurance reminder and career counseling sessions

An update to our friends and colleagues affected by last week’s layoffs:

Career counseling — We’ve had quite an interest from former Star staffers/Guild members in helping you find your next career. At present, it looks like we might be offering two career sessions with information on resumes, job searches and life after journalism. The first session may be offered as early as Saturday, July 2. The second second session would come later in the month. Stayed tuned here the next couple of days for more details.

Health insurance  — As we’ve mentioned before, your health insurance coverage through the Star will last only through the end of June. But you are eligible for Cobra coverage as soon as your health insurance runs out. Please contact Olivia Lamelle at 444-8165 for details. She can also be reached at olamelle@gannett.com.

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A note to our friends and colleagues who were let go

As we are still trying to pick up the pieces following Tuesday’s layoffs, I have a few tidbits of news for our friends and colleagues who were let go.

  • First, your absence is already being felt. Your faces are already being missed. And your stories — of your exploits — are being told with a mix of fondness and loss. Those memories can’t be cut off.
  • Second, the final list of people who were laid off was 25. As the carnage was beginning on Tuesday, we were told there would be 26. But we had never been able to account for more than 25. And a final official list we saw today shows that 25 was the actual number. I’m not sure what the explanation is for discrepancy. We’re printing the list below because some expressed a desire to know who among your friends was affected.
  • Third, I’ve already given notice in person and in writing to the Star that some of our most experienced veterans should be receiving more than the typical maximum of 26 weeks of severance called for in the current contract. These include the handful of people who had more than 26 weeks of severance before the 2002 contract and whose accumulated time was “grandfathered” into the current contract. I received some verbal assurance that this would be honored. Please let me know if that doesn’t happen.
  • Fourth, the official word is that your Star insurance covers you only through the end of June. I hope to have some information soon about Cobra options. Stay tuned here.
  • Fifth, some of you have already been in the building to pick up your personal belongings. The company is allowing you the time you need to collect things your self and to log on to the network to save any files or emails. You’ll need to have a supervisor let you in the building. If you would rather not come back into the building send a message to indynewsguild70@gmail.com and we’ll make arrangements for one of the guild officers to set aside your things until you can pick them up.
  • Sixth, we’ve made a page and a half of information requests aiming to find out just what the hell the company was thinking when it came up with this list of people who were laid off. We’re asking for a written rationale, an accounting of where the affected folks fit in on seniority lists and other items. Their answers will be a factor in deciding whether we file any grievances in response to what’s happened.
  • Seventh, I hope to get some clarity on issues relating to filing for unemployment.
  • Eighth, some former Indy News Guild alums were greatly concerned by what happened Tuesday. So much so that they have contacted me about offering those who have been laid off — now or in the past — a handy workshop on career counseling, with tips on resumes, cover letters and job searches. Tentatively, we’re talking about holding it Saturday, July 9 on Butler’s campus. Stay tuned for details.
  • Ninth, I know this may sound trivial in comparison to everything you’re dealing with, but the Guild is planning to hold its annual outing to an Indianapolis Indians game for dues paying Guild members and their families. We want you to be part of that with us, whether you were a dues payer or not. We’ll buy the tickets and provide some concession stand coupons. Stay tuned for details on the date and how to make the ticket requests.

Finally, I want to confess that I think I failed you.

I failed in not discerning earlier that this layoff was coming. I don’t have any illusions that I could have stopped it, but had I discerned things sooner, I could have given you at least some warning.

About a week ago I heard rumblings that something was up. I immediately inquired about it and was told there was a newsroom reorganization afoot. I asked if any people covered by the Guild were in danger of losing their jobs. I won’t go into details here, but I was left with the distinct impression that we were safe, and that the biggest impact would be on the non-Guild managers, who were going to be asked to apply for new roles. In retrospect, I should have pressed harder for clarity.

By Monday afternoon, the rumblings about layoffs were louder. I made some new inquiries and it became clear that something was coming. I had no idea exactly what. But it was something. I didn’t learn any specifics until Tuesday at 12:02 p.m. By then, the email was already going out to the newsroom and you were beginning to receive phone calls at home. All I can say is that I was caught flat footed, and stunned. I never imagined such a blow would come. Forgive my failure of imagination.

In the last couple of days I have learned that the Star’s management has been discussing this layoff list for several weeks. And given the 700 layoffs across Gannett nationwide, this cut was orchestrated in Virginia, details to be worked out locally.

I want you to know that in the moment I received this news I spoke directly and bluntly to Karen Crotchfelt about the devastating impact these cuts will have on the Star. I told her there’s no way we can maintain the same standard of quality with a layer of the copy desk removed. I told her how important our researchers/librarians are to building good stories. I told her  that I didn’t see how a short reporting staff could make due with eight fewer people gathering news. She said the reorganization would help us manage the cuts and that within six months we will be a stronger product than before. I told her that was impossible and I didn’t see how she could say that with a straight face. I told her that too many people in the public already feel that our newspaper is too thin, and that we don’t provide enough local content, and that this was going to make things worse. I had a similar conversation later in the day with Dennis Ryerson. Unfortunately, the train had left the station.

So, I want to say I’m sorry for not picking up on the signals that were there. Knowing sooner might have helped better prepare our folks for the bad news.

I ask your forgiveness.

– Bobby King, President Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, CWA Local 34070

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List of employees affected by layoffs

The following is a list of the guild covered newsroom employees who were let go by the Indianapolis Star during a round of layoffs that took place on Tuesday, June 21, 2011. We’re posting this list for current and former employees and to clear up incorrect information that’s been reported on other websites.

  • Rob Annis (reporter)
  • Scott Bacon (copy editor)
  • Gretchen Becker (reporter)
  • Marilyn Cooley (copy editor)
  • Julie Dart (copy editor)
  • Mike Davis (copy editor)
  • Bob DiNicola (copy editor)
  • Carolyn Doyle (copy editor)
  • Josh Duke (reporter)
  • Angela Edwards (graphic artist)
  • Jenny Elig (reporter)
  • Melanie Hayes (reporter)
  • Barbara Hoffman (librarian)
  • Kelly Jones (paraprofessional)
  • Kevin Lane (copy editor)
  • Tom Leix (copy editor)
  • Russ Leonard (paraprofessional)
  • Kevin O’Neal (reporter)
  • Geoff Ooley (copy editor)
  • Alan Petersime (photographer)
  • David Savka (librarian)
  • Ted Schultz (reporter)
  • Phil Tatman (copy editor)
  • Maurice Williams (copy editor)
  • Judy Wolf (copy editor)

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Reaction to Indianapolis Star’s newsroom staff restructuring

By now, most of the staff at The Indianapolis Star has been given at least an overview of the new staff restructuring in wake of the leaner (that’s putting it charitably) newsroom.

Though I wasn’t there today to enjoy the presentations, I was given a brief sneak preview last night. But I would be eager to hear your feedback on what you think, your concerns, problem areas, etc.

My first reaction was that if we’re going to have a staff as small as the one we do now, then we’ve got to do some things differently. Dennis Ryerson says this will afford people from all sections — features, sports, metro and zones — regular access to A1. In exchange, the metro folks who now supply most of the A1 copy, will have more time to work on more high-impact stories. All this sounds good. But we all know something has to give. Dennis says we will have to stop doing incremental stories and focusing on minutiae. But most of us know that’s never been the culture in Metroland, where the Feed-the-Beast mentality persists among the editing corps, who seem to wake up in cold sweats if they won’t have a full budget when they walk in the building at 10 a.m. Changing this attitude will be a key. Dennis also says he will be willing to draw in more good wire stories to help fill A1. That, too, has been an idea that has gained and lost favor several times before around here. We’ll see if it sticks this time.

Besides the open season on editing positions in the new structure, it appears that many reporters will have a chance to redefine your beats. This is something that you should give some thought to, for you will surely have to live with the consequences.

Perhaps the biggest change — and one frankly that I didn’t quite comprehend in my sneak preview Tuesday but that seems clearer in the light of day — is that Online is getting a bigger slice of the personnel pie. Lord knows we could have a better web presence, but if we continue to shift people away from print toward the web when print still pays most of the freight. The transition to digital may be an inevitability, but we just have to hope we don’t go broke before they figure out how make the web pay.

Those are my initial impressions. But I’m sure since you had to sit through the lengthy spiel today, you have better thoughts and more insight. I’m all ears if you want to share. You can leave comments with me on Facebook (Bobby King) or at my private email, robertkingster@gmail.com

Best,

Bobby King
President
The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild

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Indy News Guild’s response to latest round of layoffs at Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis Star Tuesday executed one of the most dramatic force reductions in its history, eliminating 81 positions — 62 by layoffs — and dramatically downsizing its news gathering operations.

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild lost 26 of its own copy editors, reporters, librarians, photographers and others. It was nearly equal to force reductions conducted two years ago, when 28 people were laid off in multiple reductions in 2008-09 in the darkest depths of the market meltdown.

Those are the raw numbers — the hard news lead to the story. But the more in-depth analysis shows that Gannett Co. Inc., the Star’s parent company, didn’t like the looks of its bottom line. The Star is still turning a profit. Its editor and publisher have said that repeatedly in recent weeks. But the Star’s revenues have been on the decline. Translation: The Star is making money, just not as much as it once did.

So, the answer that Star publisher Karen Crotchfelt came up with was to gut suburban coverage, eliminate an entire layer of copy editors (that last line of defense which separates us from the animals in the blogosphere) and make a nip here and a tuck there to reduce expenses. Crotchfelt didn’t sugar coat things. Asked a question about the prudence of such cuts at a time when her corporate bosses are getting six-figure bonuses, she answered straightly: That’s how the corporate world works — boards of directors set profit targets, execs try to meet them, if they do they get bonuses. She said it well, I thought, and with the precision of an oncologist delivering word the cancer is malignant.

Star editor Dennis Ryerson, meanwhile, tried to put the happiest face on the reductions at a staff meeting Tuesday afternoon following the carnage. He barely paused to acknowledge the blood-letting, or to show empathy for everyone’s pain. Instead, he charged into a discussion of an exciting new flow chart that will guide the Star into its next chapter. He talked about how the Star would focus less on incremental stories and more on big picture, magazine style packages. He said readers would still find “magic” in their daily paper. And he said the elimination of one complete layer of the copy desk wouldn’t affect the quality of the news product, something that seems truly an incredible statement to this reporter, who’s had his bacon saved more than once by a rim editor who’s caught a misspelled name or an errant fact before it could find the light of print.

The essential message from Ryerson could be a slogan in Gannett’s next marketing campaign: “Less really is more.”

At the Star, like so many Gannett papers, Reductions in Force have become a periodic fact of life. They tend to come along every time we get a new publisher. Still, somehow, the staff gets back to work and gets lulled into thinking it’s safe to go back into the water. Only to be eaten alive again. It had been two years since the Star’s newsroom had taken a hit. We had seen more than 20 Guild-covered people leave of their own volition since then, with only one or two being replaced, hurting greatly our ability to cover the news. But those folks who left were picking a different life for themselves. That wasn’t the case Tuesday, when folks got a phone call at home or a summons at their desk to visit HR (short for “Hit the Road”). They were shown the door to a new life, then given a kick in the ass on the way out, whether they wanted it or not.

On Tuesday, I watched as a veteran copy editor of more than 30 years packed his dictionaries and thesauri (?) and wheeled them out the door on a dolly. I met another copy editor as he walked out carrying only his brown bag lunch. At least he had something to eat. I got calls from home from the newly-unemployed. I called one of my guild officers to relay that the Grim Reaper was on the move. He said he knew that, because the reaper had called his house, looking for him. I delivered a bass guitar to a photographer who had loaned his to a co-worker but forgot to collect it with his belongings on the way out. At his home, he thanked me and offered me a beer. I took it, gladly.

I also watched those of us who remain — who will have to work harder to try and make the journalism still happen — suffer in grief for our friends. There’s nothing like hearing loud sobs in the newsroom — from one of the survivors. It’s a sound I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

It will be my task on Wednesday, as the president of The Indianapolis News Guild, to meet with a representative of The Newspaper Guild of America to review the facts of this massacre and see if our contract was followed. I will do this at home in the afternoon, as I will be recovering from a cortisone shot — and the accompanying heavy doping — that will be administered in the morning by my doctor. I’ll be taking a 4-inch needle delivered between two vertebrae in my back. It still sounds preferable to picking through the wreckage at the Star.

In the days ahead, I will be trying to ensure that the victims of this corporate downsizing get their due severance, among other things. And we, as leaders of the The Indy News Guild, will have to regroup. Our own treasurer and resident expert of all things about the contract, Geoff Ooley, was among those let go. He will be missed. Just as all the other folks will be. But someone else will have to try and step up and take his place. If you’re interested, I’ll be seeking applicants soon. Finding a newsperson who’s good with numbers is never easy.

Finally, I’d like to say that despite Tuesday’s unpleasantness, despite the corporate greed that made it possible, and despite the sense of loss we all feel, our readers still depend on us to put out a newspaper. They still need us to tell the stories of their city, to root out the corrupt officials, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We do it to pay the bills, as did our friends. But mostly we do it because we feel it’s important, and because we will never concede defeat to those rat bastards at corporate headquarters.

— Bobby King, President Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, CWA Local 34070

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