Critical Thinking: Should Publishers Discuss Business Choices with Their Staff Beforehand?

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Critical Thinking January 2016

Recently, the Toledo Blade announced it would cut its print edition for “almost all holidays.” The local Newspaper Guild stated it was an “unwise decision” for the publisher to not consult with staff about this decision. Do you think publishers should discuss these kinds of business choices with their staff beforehand?


Kelly Zegers Kelly Zegers, 21, senior, Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, N.Y.)

Zegers is a journalism and political science major at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. She is currently the managing editor at the campus newspaper, The Statesman.

Ultimately, it is the publisher’s decision to cut the holiday issues at the Toledo Blade. That is dictated by the structure of the business. The decision here, according to a memo sent to the staff, was made in an effort to draw more traffic to the Toledo Blade’s online and mobile products. The Blade outlined the holidays on which there would be no print edition and what it means for them going forward. A news staff and copy editors will still be required on those days, but for publication of a digital version of their paper.

“In terms of deadlines or staffing levels, we are still working on those issues, but we will communicate more when things are firmer,” the Blade’s memo to staff said. There are definitely questions left after the announcement, with some uncertainty on how the cuts will play out.

What are the ramifications of cutting those six issues? How exactly will this affect staffing on those holidays? Is the paper losing major ad revenue without those print editions? How will the staffing levels change on those days?

There is value in trying to drive readers to the paper’s website these days, especially if there is added value on the site that can’t be found in print. But while publishers are by no means required to consult with staff, the local Newspaper Guild, while it may have its own agenda, raises a valid concern over the need adapt to a changing new industry.

“The Guild would have told BCI managers that the decision was unwise if they had consulted with any employees about this decision,” the union’s response to the cuts said.

Publishers should, in good practice, hear what the staff has to say on matters that can impact the staff directly. Those kinds of business choices should not be announced after the fact to the staff members, who could have otherwise offered alternatives from their points of view at the paper. There are other decisions a publisher makes that might be out of the hands of the staff on the editorial side, but this particular one is not.

Russ CassadyRuss Cassady, 36, editor, Appalachian News-Express (Pikeville, Ky.)

Cassady is editor of the Appalachian News-Express, the Mingo Messenger and the Floyd County Chronicle for Appalachian Newspapers Inc. He first entered into the newspaper business in 1999.

Being an editor at a smaller newspaper gives me a skewed view on this issue since the publisher’s office is literally a few steps away from mine and since the news staff is in constant contact on a daily basis with our publisher.

However, I do know that in any management situation, it’s better when you can gain the input of staff on big decisions, when and where it’s possible.

Often, our publisher, Jeff Vanderbeck, will make suggestions for potential changes and, if they are a good business decision and, as a group, we agree with them, then we implement them.

That doesn’t mean that the staff here dictates to the publisher what will and won’t be done, but that he can come to us, bounce ideas off of us and gain our input before making decisions that will affect us. The one impact I can see from top to bottom in our organization as an effect of this is we all feel invested in our products. We’re not simply employees; we’re members of a team.

The other effect of this is that it breeds trust throughout different departments in the organization, where, even though our goals on a particular issue may not be the same, we take into account each department’s needs and preferences in the decision-making process.

We attribute our growth over the past few years with this kind of decision-making process which involves all levels of our company. Since 2011, we have started two new weekly newspapers in neighboring counties, in addition to our flagship newspaper, the Appalachian News-Express. Both of those newspapers were only possible with the input of all departments, under the leadership of the publisher.

In the end, it’s all about teamwork and getting all who work toward getting our products out to the readers invested in and feeling responsibility for what we publish. We’re proud of what we do here and what we provide all the communities we serve. And a big factor in that is the level of involvement our publisher has and allows us all to have in big decisions.

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