Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reflections on a 'blood letting'

My e-mail and blogger account have been alive in the past 24 hours with staffers, former staffers and soon-to-be former staffers letting me in on what is happening in Booth World. Nearly 800 people, mostly from Michigan checked in overnight on the blog.

If it weren’t for the “Jim Smith” clause in the buy-out contracts I would have had many more on-the-record comments. But when people take the buyouts now, Booth requires them to sign a contract that prohibits them from saying anything negative about the company. Pretty incredible coming from a company built on the First Amendment of the Constitution.
I think a good lawyer could poke a large hole in a clause defining what negative comment is. Is the truth, negative? Are the facts, negative?  But who wants that hassle after losing a job? So the company’s attempt at intimidation of its former employees has worked to a large degree. That is why I’m pretty liberal with my anonymity policies on the blog.

Besides many of the folks who are posting anonymously I have talked to via e-mail and on the phone so I am confident they know what they are talking about.
More than one called Wednesday’s announcement a ‘blood-letting.’

All of this was more difficult that previous bad news announcements, the writers said, because for a year they have been hearing nothing but the mantra “we’ve turned the corner,” “ things are better,” and “we’re making a profit” from the suits.
Some folks aren’t waiting for the January date to leave. At least one apparently decided to quit on the spot after being told their job was gone.

At Kalamazoo, the estimates are that 20 newsroom employees are gone. That leaves 7, which is both editors and reporters on the staff. The losses apparently include the metro editor (who has been at the paper for 25-plus years) , the business editor, the public editor, the editor, the photo editor, the publisher and the sports editor.
That’s not all, four full-time writers and two full-time photographers also got lay off notices. The marketing department is no more and a lot of part-time and other support staff are gone as well.

Sounds like a bloodletting to me. Similar situations are described at other properties as well.

People inside the company are not buying this “there will be many new jobs that you can apply for” stuff that the company is putting out. Here’s what one person wrote:
“…everyone knows that those jobs will pay much less and offer little or no benefits. No one will come back to apply for the same job, working more, for less money. No one.”

The suspicions are that the new jobs will be largely paid interns and part-timers.
This blog has tried to avoid getting personal. As people, I like many of the current bosses at Booth. When I knew them closer they were good family people and friendly folks to work for, but something needs to be said about their leadership skills.

They stink.
I’m familiar with both military and civilian organizations (I was in the Navy during the Vietnam War as most of you know), I worked for two police departments in California and a few corporations, including Booth, in my civilian life.

I like the military model best. When a ship runs aground, it doesn’t matter if the captain of the ship is asleep in his bed and didn’t make one decision that led to the ship hitting land, the captain is responsible. In that scenario, his career as a Navy captain is effectively over. Most Navy captains don’t get a second chance at running a ship aground.
They either retire or they get shuffled into a dead end shore job that also ends their chance at promotions or honors.

Military responsibility runs from the top down, if things go badly in a battle, the soldiers who carry out the orders don’t get blamed, their officers do.
"To whom much is given, much is expected," Luke 12:48 (partial quote but one of my favorite).
Things at Booth, are completely backwards. Every time the captains screw up, more and more of the folks at the bottom get blamed and punished.

In 2008, after the folks in my buyout group left, the remaining staff was told that with all the high priced dead weight gone, the company was poised for a bright future. So it was full steam ahead into the future. For awhile anyway.
Then when the ship ran aground again, the same bosses who ordered the new alignment decided more folks had to leave so they could get younger and more agile minds into the mix. Oops, wrong again.

Only in corporate America is the strategy to shoot the wounded again and again.

Most of the folks commenting to me privately are astonished that the same folks who have led this disaster time after time, continue to get to lead this company and the new manifestation that comes after it.
No one disagrees that a new model is needed, but at what point does the captain and his leadership go down with the ship? I don’t think that’s a negative question, but a fair one.


Smakutus said...

Hey Jim.. Herre are some links you may want tom see and link to:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good work, Jim. I know that you are naturally focusing on what is happening at the East Side papers, but could you also let us know what you hear happening at the Press, Gazette and Chronicle?

Thanks, again.

Ex-GR Press staffer

Jim of L-Town said...

The story that you commented on has the best most recent information on the Kalamazoo Gazette. Maybe you read over that.

Anonymous said...

Who's going to let the upper crust go? It's not going to fire itself. That would mean they were...wrong.