Category Archives: Layoffs/Buyouts

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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Indy News Guild spared from Q1 furlough

This is a follow-up to an earlier e-mail regarding the Bob Dickey/corporate announcement today. It’s “good” news; the employees covered by the Indianapolis Guild will not be asked to participate in 1st Quarter furloughs. Publisher Karen Crotchfelt told this to Guild president Tom Spalding in the newsroom, in person, this afternoon. She also sent an e-mail to a reporter separately, same comment. We have asked for a statement from the company, in writing. That is pending.

Regardless, this is a victory for the contract. We’ve already made a huge financial sacrifice. The company knows our unit is NOT in a giving mood, especially given the outrageous bonuses paid out to Gannett’s executive leadership.

This is also a reminder that 2011 will represent another milestone year for the Guild, what with negotiations expected to commence in late summer/early fall. We thank you for all your support and/or feedback.

In solidarity,
the officers and stewards of Indianapolis News Guild 34070

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