Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sometimes no news is hypocrisy

In the 1990s, the daily newspaper I worked for published an editorial criticizing the entire state of Arizona for not observing the Martin Luther King holiday.

It was a well written, concise logical argument on a hot story at the time. What the newspaper left out of its editorial is that no one at the newspaper observed the holiday either. In fact, Arizona eventually adopted the holiday, but the newspaper still does not give the January day off to its employees.

In September the Flint Journal, in Flint, Michigan, offered all full-time employees a very generous buyout. It is the reason I am now retired. But what is interesting is that the newspaper, which has covered buyout news from large and small companies, as well as government agencies, has ignored the news of its own downsizing.

Two local television stations carried the news with only a minimum of comment from the newspaper, which did not authorize any employees to discuss the buyouts publicly. A strange restriction from an organization that demands openness from everyone else.

So here is the story that has not yet appeared in the Flint Journal:

FLINT - In a last ditch effort to stop the financial bleeding, the Flint Journal has offered most full-time employees very generous buy outs aimed at significantly reducing the size of the newspaper staff.

Plummeting ad revenues have resulted in unprecedented losses at the Flint Journal and other daily newspapers.

The publisher met with all the newspaper staff in mid-September and announced that anyone with two years or more of full-time employment would qualify for a buy out consisting of four weeks pay for each full year of full-time employment.

A fifth week for each year was available for any employee who declined the newspapers offer of continued health insurance.

For employees over 50, health insurance benefits were offered to age 65 and for employees under 50, the health benefits were offered for two years.

Deadline for employees to take the buyout was Oct. 29. The previous year the paper offered a buyout of two weeks for each year and only eight employees accepted the offer prompting the new round of buyouts.

While the paper's editor had anticipated 16-18 editorial employees to take the buyout, more than 40 took the deal, leaving the paper in the strange position of having to rehire new employees to replace the many veteran reporters and editors who are leaving.

Flint Journal wide the numbers were more than 80 employees who will be leaving between now and July 1. A little more than 200 employees were eligible for the buy outs.

Some of the Journals most recognizable bylines have left or will leave the paper soon. The entire business desk will leave the paper by early 2008.

The buyout period was also an opportunity for the editorial management to clean house of folks it no longer wanted in the newsroom with some reporters and editors strongly advised to take the offer even though they wanted to stay.

While the newspaper agreed that its lifetime employment policy remained in effect, it was made clear that reporters, advertising and other business employees could be reassigned anywhere in the chain of newspapers following the buyout period.

New reporters and employees hired for the newspaper would be hired under a lower pay scale with different benefits.

Many of the departing employees were grateful for the generosity of the offer and wished the remaining employees well in the effort to right the ship.

In explaining the buy out, the publisher said the paper's condition was dire and that drastic actions were need to save the paper.

With the loss of so many reporters, those remaining have been told they will continue to cover the beats they currently report on as well as picking up additional beats from the departing employees.

The Journal's position is not unlike that of most major daily newspapers in the country which are financially bleeding from the new dominance of free online news web services.

(Now that's the story that should have been written by the paper, but to date is still not published.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A chance to vent

OK, I've had my chance to vent about editors. (And I'll do so again)

But now it's your turn. I'm hoping to collect a large number of the most egregious mistakes that happened after reporters turned in a story. In another words, those mistakes that were avoidable, frustrating and editor caused.

I'll even entertain the stupid questions that editors frequently ask reporters. Example: "Was the bus moving when it hit the man?" (An actual editor question)."What time are the Fourth of July Fireworks?" (Yes, another real editor question)

My answer: "When it gets dark."

Feel free to comment anonymously, but it might be a mistake to post from work. As we all know, freedom of the press and speech does not mean you will not be punished for exercising it, especially at a newspaper. So hold your fire until you are home, but then fire away.