Thursday, November 13, 2008

Buy out news at Booth

From the private e-mails I have received from more than one Booth newspaper outlet, it appears that the buyouts announced Wednesday were coordinated and done at the same time at many of the Michigan newspapers.

The long and short of the news is bad for the employees. It will also result in major changes to the newspaper that subscribers see: Smaller and probably more expensive in the next few months.

Meetings are ongoing today and Friday to tell individual employees what the company specifically sees for them. Several employees described Wednesday's meeting as a meeting warning them about the next meeting.

The average 38-page Flint Journal will shrink fairly quickly to about 30 pages and then even smaller next year.

The separate Today section will soon be history and feature stories will be folded into the news section of the paper.

At a time when business and the stock market are exploding (in the wrong direction) the paper will significantly reduce that coverage. TV grids and the TV page may also be history or greatly reduced. (Paper savings).

Opinion pages will not be offered every day and when there is an opinion page it will only be on one page, not the two it occupies now.

National news coverage will shrink as well. When a central copy desk takes effect comics, games, puzzles and advice columns will be produced out of one location.

Sports coverage will also involve shared pages with national and state sports news produced out of one location.

There is also a corporate strategy to increase the cost of the paper while looking at cutting back subscribers to a basic core readership.

Core management, which shrank from 18 to 12 after the last buyout will be reduced to 3 or 4, according to the staff at the meeting.

It appears that what were standalone newspapers in cities across Michigan will now become news bureaus. Bay City, Saginaw and Flint will share management positions.

Unlike last year's buyout, the company has a right to pick and choose who takes the offer and they hope to limit the damage to the newsroom of 2-3 reporters. Part-time reporters are basically going to be eliminated, but they will receive some type of severance, according to staff members.

The Booth chain will move remaining staff around as needed to the various newspapers.

A target date for the move of the Flint copy desk to Grand Rapids is late next summer or early fall of 2009. A 24-hour centralized copy desk in GR will involve fewer editors than exist among the eight newspapers, but the number has not yet been set and the number of people currently doing that job is elusive.

Circulation will have fewer district managers and ad sales representatives are not part of the buyout offers and will now be given specific quotas they have to meet. Accounting and advertising appear headed to a new home in Kalamazoo.

Apparently the Flint Journal Internet team is OK, but other plants will be working to fix that particular area.

Reporter beats will likely be unchanged, but there will be a concentration of what readers want: Courts and cops coverage along with local government and school coverage.

The Community Newspaper staff (which has been moved all over the building in an ridiculous try to keep it separate from the Daily) will now be involved in daily, as well as weekly coverage. The separation of the two operation was something many of us never did understand. Beats will change very little.

The buyout offer is two weeks for every year of service, which is half of last year's offer. Health benefits are the same. What the buyout health care offer is still a little foggy.

Unlike last year's buyout, the newspaper is expected to publicly announce the changes in a newspaper article today. The announcements, which have been legally vetted, will appear identically in all Booth newspapers.

There was also a mention that those in line for the Grand Rapids transfer will have to re-apply for the jobs and will not be an automatic transfer.

Sadly, the word was that these may not be the end of the cuts.

It is a painful time for the employees at Booth. All of us hope that there is a bottom for the folks who many of us are still in contact with.

For further information on the cuts, as they relate to other papers you can visit these blogs:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. As a fellow '07 buyout member, these events are disturbing. The "job guarantee" offer in the employee handbook is becoming more and more a grey area. I often wonder if retirees and "terminally vested" individuals are the next to feel the knife, whether it be health care or elsewhere. My thoughts are with the folks left, as they struggle to make this life altering decision.
Jerry Phillips

Jim of L-Town said...

I think we all feel the same way about our colleagues at the paper, Jerry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. For us that used to work at the Journal it's nice to learn of the happenings. I just learned of your blog but will visit often.
Pat Price (Retiree from Display Advertising)

Anonymous said...

One employee described the meeting as visionless and bleak. Most questions weren't really answered. No thoughts on future innovation.

The culture is dictatorial. Those in charge live well and without fear. Long luches, abdication of hard projects in favor of pet peeves. Everyone in sales is constantly being watched. Groundwork is being laid so that every employee has reprimands in his personnel file, so that a 3rd fire-able offense is easily produced. As you can guess, morale is also at an all time low. No praise, no raises or promotions, no conferences or sharing of knowledge. No dawdling, no socializing. Keep your head down and look out for who might be watching. Camaraderie is dying, people blame each other to avert THE EYE from you.

Anonymous said...

Less news for more money, written and packaged by people who may or may not know the community. It sounds like this restructuring will merely hasten the death of the Booth chain, which will be a very sad event indeed.

Anonymous said...

first day of meetings in bay city. they weren't what was promised. people were told if they are staying or going. at least two reporters are out, along with an unclear number of photogs and editors.

the choices: we have a place for you, stay. we don't have a place for you here, take a buyout. or, we don't have a place for you here, don't take the buyout and you'll be transferred somewhere else in the chain, probably working a mop. so much for the job pledge.

Gordon Young said...

This is a little far afield, but I'm in San Francisco, where even freelancers are being let go. Usually the freelancers pick up work as staffers get laid off. It's so bad now that everyone is out of a job.

Smaller dailies were in trouble before the recession, now it seems many papers won't survive to see an economic recovery.

Jim, thanks for covering this.

Anonymous said...

I grabbed my good friend left at the journal today, looked right into his/her eyes.

Said: "Take the money and run."

The newspaper business in America is a dead man walking. Double-tapped through the heart, no paramedics available, and about three steps away from dropping to the dirt, glassy-eyed.

TFJ was an awesome place to work with awesome people. It is no more. The leadership there is either lying or delusional.


Should you work for either type?

Sorry for being so blunt. The time for tap-dancing is over.

Anonymous said...


Your suggestion to "Take the money and run" makes good sense, but if things at Flint are anything like they are elsewhere in Booth Land, the leadership isn't escaping the losses. At least some of the top editors(and other managers) are not being offered buyouts. And that's not a good thing. They're being forced to stay with a sinking ship and/or face transfer across the state and/or not have the option of getting out with a nice severance package. I'm sure some of them would love to take the money and run, but they can't.

Anonymous said...


Top leadership.

I fully and painfully realize that everyone didn't get a buyout offer, this time.

Again, sorry to be so blunt.

If I could spin back the clock, I would have been blunter during the first go-round.

Vaughn Smith said...

I have very fond memories of my days at The Flint Journal.I do hope The Flint Journal finds it way to profitability and soon. Employees, readers, and the community benefits from a healthy newspaper. Let us hope those who have stayed, possess the wisdom to turn this situation around. Jim, I do want to "Thank You" for keeping us informed.
Vaughn Smith

Unknown said...

I was a paper boy for The Flint Journal in the 1940s' I had over 100 customers in Lapeer.
The Sunday papers were so thick I could only carry a few duzen at a time. Those were the glory days when the Journal was a powerhouse not the whimppering PC rag it became.

Unknown said...

Yes The Oakland Press was always behind the in pay. The publisher was always on the lookout for any paper in some dinky town out west or south he could use as example of the "general pay rate" The Press lost one great reporter after another for as little as $5.00 raise. What a gift the Press got when the Freep and News went almost away. Catpaws