By: Jim Rosenberg and Mark Fitzgerald
Journalists write the stories, so it’s no surprise that cutbacks in newsrooms are usually the focus of all those hard-luck headlines about newspaper job losses in the past few years. But no matter how deeply newspapers cut, none has wiped out an entire newsroom. Yet that’s precisely what’s happening on the operations side, as plants are consolidated or mothballed and work is outsourced or simply ceases to exist.
When a pressroom is shut down, so is the packaging operation and the delivery jobs on the loading docks. Labor-intensive operations departments, of course, were favorite targets for cutbacks long before the Great Recession.
But the dramatic closings of entire departments or plants are claiming a new victim — the operations managers and even top executives who once were an indispensable figure in the manufacture and distribution of newspapers.
From among the many who were downsized since 2007, E&P profiles four plant managers and operations executives willing to share their experiences — their progress in the industry, circumstances of their job loss and, most important, where they find themselves today and their professional prospects, and maybe a little advice to concerned colleagues.
While they rose to similar positions, some at the same newspapers at different times, they started with different training from different places, and found their ways to newspapers along different routes. Their aims and experiences since leaving the industry have been similarly varied, and their backgrounds, expertise and skills variously regarded as everything from eminently transferable to essentially useless.
Executive search professional Kirk B. O’Hara, who on p. XX offers tips for ops personnel who have been laid off, argues newspaper operations experience is a tremendous resume asset, with a host of transferable skills. But some industry veterans who found themselves looking for careers outside of newspapering aren’t so sure. One executive, who is now back at a newspaper chain says, flatly, “I don’t know that the skills are transferable.”
That executive — who is not profiled here — has had to implement consolidation, and has been frustrated trying to get new jobs for “really, really good people” who ran those mothballed plants. He holds little hope of career advancement because of newspaper experience: “A guy that started out as a packaging foreman and then ran the packaging department and then was put in charge of the plant, what does that guy do? Buy a Maaco franchise with his brother-in-law.”
The executives profiled here reflect the varied paths of a “post-press” career: Two have yet to settle on a new career. One is a consultant who, in contrast to so many “consultants” in businesses of every kind, actually has a workload. And the fourth made a very successful transition to a leadership position at a non-profit. But they also have much in common: In every case, the production professional had worked at several newspapers and in several capacities and was beyond the midpoint of his or her career, though not really close to retirement.
While almost all managers in their area and others have had to lay off employees when business was bad, these managers’ job losses are attributable to sustained changes in the nature of the newspaper business and even accompanying changes to the business model.
All these former operations executives have another thing in common: They all still seem to think the world of the newspaper business — at least as they knew it.
From Production to Non-Profit: Dick Malone follows his passion into a new niche
From his graduation in 1977 with a degree in printing management from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dick Malone followed a classic operations executive career path. After short stints selling printing presses and running operations at small Gannett Co. newspapers, Malone joined Tribune Co. and took on increasing responsibilities, starting as a pressroom manager at the flagship Chicago Tribune as it built its Freedom Center production facility, probably the largest single pressroom under one roof at the time.
Three decades later, he’s leading an organization with 65 site locations and more than 3,000 employees that serves some 500,000 people. It isn’t a newspaper chain, though — it’s the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
“In some ways, the Y is organizationally similar to Tribune,” Malone, 55, says from his downtown Chicago office. “Like the Chicago Tribune, it is a large complex organization with a large central office and many branches that performs a public service for the city of Chicago and the suburbs.”
Malone’s particular transition out of newspaper operations after 28 years at Tribune Co. wasn’t a result of consolidation, but the Sam Zell-engineered deal that took the Chicago media giant private in December 2008. “Like any other ownership, they wanted to bring in their own team, and that allowed me the opportunity to transition to a new career,” he says.
In a 28-year career with Tribune, Malone served as general manager of the Chicago Tribune, vice president of operations for the chain’s publishing division, and senior vice president of the Interactive group.
Most of the skills that are crucial to running the Y, Malone says, he developed as he broadened his responsibilities beyond production and into more general management. He gained invaluable human resources experience at New York’s Daily News between 1989 and 1991, for instance, as the tabloid, then still owned by Tribune, was riven by a bitter labor dispute. When he returned to the Chicago Tribune in 1997, after a stint as vice president/operations at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his role as head of technology and distribution morphed into a general management role that included marketing and interactive initiatives.
“It was a fantastic opportunity,” says Malone. “I was involved in a major re-branding and marketing campaign, and the start of the Internet efforts with the launch of chicagotribune.com.” By 2006, he was involved almost completely in digital initiatives, a pressroom hand pioneering on the Web.
All along, Malone was pursuing another passion. “I was volunteering actively during my time with Tribune — and actually encouraged by Tribune,” he says. His son was ultimately diagnosed as autistic. “I was trying to find services for him and meeting people who were as desperate as I was to take care of their kids who had this terrible diagnosis.”
Malone found a struggling center serving five autistic kids, with expenses of $40,000 annually and income of just $20,000. “My personal motivation was that there was a waiting list of five kids and my kid was number six,” Malone says. He put his operations executive skills to work, building financial systems and putting the non-profit, Have Dreams, on sound footing.
The volunteer work smoothed his transition to the Y, Malone says: “When I was thinking about my next career opportunity, I had the epiphany that non-profits would be a great place to be, and particularly with the human services aspect.”
Malone says he has nothing but warm memories of Tribune Co., and would encourage young people to go into newspaper operations. “Should they go into print exclusively? Absolutely not,” he says. “But I happen to be very hopeful about the newspaper business.” — Mark Fitzgerald
When Newspapers is All You’ve Ever Known: Sherry Gryder contemplates a post-‘Post’ career
From her first job at a Virginia semiweekly, Sherry Gryder’s work world has been nothing but newspaper operations — often its most unglamorous side. She was a hand-inserter in Virginia, and became the first-ever woman to work as a laborer in the packaging department of Dow Jones’ White Oak plant in Maryland.
She hired on as a casual laborer manually inserting at The Washington Post, and more or less accidentally began a nearly 30-year career that would culminate in her becoming manager of the paper’s College Park, Md., plant.
With more responsibility came signs that her own position could be eliminated. As long ago as 2006, she forwarded a committee’s recommendation to close College Park. But even as the final closing date of the plant was announced, Gryder could not let concerns about her career future distract her from the complex task of mothballing the plant and sensitively managing the last days of her workforce.
The plant finally closed just last December, and Gryder is now trying to figure out life after newspapers.
“I think it’s time for a change,” she says, wondering aloud about distribution or warehousing in another manufacturing sector.
Here’s how Gryder got to this point: The Post opened its Springfield, Va. plant in 1981, and what she thought would be a part-time job gradually became something much more. In 1989 Gryder became the mailroom’s first foreman in 1989 when its Springfield, Va., plant opened.
Production Vice President Jim Coley recognized her potential, and along with Labor Relations Vice President Patricia A. Dunn, “encouraged me and acted as my mentor during the early years,” she says.
In 2005 Gryder was named manager at College Park, Md. — the plant Kelly Benson opened a few years earlier and ran until she departed for the Orlando Sentinel in early 2000 (see page XX).
Late the next year, however, she forwarded a committee’s recommendation to close the plant. The decision to do so was not announced until February 2008. Even then, the particulars changed with the outlook, from relocating two presses to the Springfield plant, to just one and then to none.
Gryder, 48, left the Post when there was no plant to manage. From the day the closing was announced, people asked “almost daily” what she would do. “I wasn’t worried about it,” she says. And she told others not to worry either.
“My first responsibility was to make sure they were taken care of,” she says of the plant’s employees. Looking back, though, she wonders if she shouldn’t have worried more about her own future. Would it really have distracted her? She says she doesn’t know: “I never put myself in a position to feel that.”
The Post offered a buyout package to the plant’s staff — but it was no help to Gryder.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify, because I was too young,” she says. Gryder did receive a severance package, and her years of service did not go unrecognized.
Ironically, productivity actually increased in the last year Gryder ran the plant, and she pulled off a smooth closing. She even organized a 10th anniversary celebration for the plant and continued to present awards and recognition of events that were important to employees. “It sent the message that life goes on,” she says.
Labor Relations chief Dunn urged Gryder to take advantage of the time she would have, to “step back and think of what you really want to do.” Gryder admits she hasn’t done that as much as she should have — except for giving thought to some non-profit groups, such as programs that help women develop their careers.
Still, operations management is what appeals most. “I really miss that,” she says, noting that things like setting goals and showing people what they can accomplish align with what she’d like to do with community service or other non-profits.
Recognition of those intersecting non-newspaper interests and newspaper experience emerged after a brief initial discussion with a career services firm, she says.
Gryder isn’t considering consulting, or work for a vendor. “I don’t know that that would be the best fit for me,” she says of the former. Gryder likes building teams, and believes she couldn’t do that, because as a consultant “you walk away — and I can’t walk away.” And for obvious reasons, she notes, vendors to newspapers aren’t seeing the business they used to.
Were there work, Gryder concedes, it would “be easy to go back into a newspaper.” But she so loved working at the Post, anywhere else “would fall short,” and any job with lesser scope would be tough.
“But I love newspapers … the roar of the presses and the smell of the place. It doesn’t get any better than that.” — Jim Rosenberg
Engineering a New Start: After the ‘Sentinel,’ Kelly Benson stays in Florida and in newspapers
Soon after Kelly Benson’s job was eliminated in the spring of 2009 as Tribune Co. consolidated operations management of its newspapers in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a pharmaceutical company came calling. But tempting and flattering as the job offer was, Benson realized she wasn’t ready to leave newspapers.
And at least so far, she still isn’t ready.
Benson, who is in her 50s, is a busy Florida-based newspaper consultant. A former International Newspaper Group president, she remains a board member of that independent organization of operations executives.
“I decided to consult for newspapers because I love working in a business with a strong sense of purpose,” says Benson. She says her family stood by the decision to pass on the pharmaceutical job offer, and encouraged her “to pursue what I love.”
Benson’s love affair with newspapers began in 1986, when Glen Nardi, now president and publisher of The McClatchy Co.’s Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., persuaded her to join his production team at Philadelphia Newspapers, then owned by Knight Ridder. She came into the newspaper industry as an industrial engineer, having served as senior engineer for Siemens Corp. and a division of General Motors.
With a strike just ended and new inserters installed, Philadelphia Newspapers needed someone accustomed to working with unions who also could deal with the equipment suppliers and mechanical maintenance. Benson put the mailroom in order, with daily inserting on one manufacturer’s machines and Sunday inserting on a second manufacturer’s machines.
Her first job in Philadelphia was to right a problem capital project, experience that would serve her well when she spent a year helping to restart The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune following the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Benson spent a decade at The Washington Post, first at the old Southeast plant and later at the College Park, Md., facility, which under Operations Vice President Michael Clurman she helped plan, then opened as the company’s first female plant manager.
In 1999, Benson headed south to the Orlando Sentinel as production manager, and in five years was promoted to operations vice president. But beginning in 2007, Tribune Co. implemented management changes throughout the paper, ultimately consolidating operations management with its South Florida Sun-Sentinel — eliminating Benson’s position.
Today, she reports being busy traveling, with a full schedule. “It would be good to see what I can do to help others,” she says, adding that she’s been lucky “to be able to build upon a terrific network within our industry [that] enabled me to utilize my engineering background, organizational workflow skills and operational experience to assist others in improving their organization and streamlining their costs.”
Her manufacturing experience proved easily transferable to newspapers, especially knowing “methodologies for streamlining processes and managing and implementing capital budgets and projects,” she says.
And newspapers broadened her experience and knowledge, Benson says: “I also benefited from Tribune Co.’s suggestion to get my masters degree. It sharpened my approach to the industry — and not just in my area of expertise.”
Benson cites another influence from another paper, Marty Petty, who arrived in Florida in 2000 as the soon-to-be St. Petersburg Times publisher. Petty had been the Hartford (Conn.) Courant’s publisher after serving that paper as an operations executive. Today, Petty is CEO of alt-weekly chain Creative Loafing Inc., which publishes the Chicago Reader, Washington City Paper and Creative Loafing weeklies in Atlanta, Tampa, Charlotte and Sarasota.
Though she initially resisted consulting offers, Benson credits Petty’s “reputation for building strong teams, and hearing where she wanted to take CL Inc.” with persuading her to consult for that company.
“They’ve created collegial environments and built strong teams that allowed others to grow and become successful,” says Benson. “From them I’ve learned the importance of nurturing and developing others to become strong leaders.”
With those recurring themes of developing teams and individuals, Benson’s advice to other operations executives recently separated from their newspapers comes as little surprise. “Be willing to give of yourself and share experiences,” she urges, “because people remember, and your legacy will speak for itself. The industry needs good people who are willing to put themselves on the line and deliver.” — Jim Rosenberg
Back to School: Plant closing hastens Robin Shank’s pursuit of an MBA
When she walked out of the Riverside, Calif., plant for the last time, Robin Shank just kept going in the direction she’d already been heading. The plant closed late last summer, but Shank already had set a new course by spring — not to leave Dow Jones & Co. so much as make herself useful there in new ways.
So when word of the closing came, Shank at least had a head start on a new, if uncertain, career.
Shank, 52, has had a long and busy career in newspaper operations. She had managed the Riverside plant since the spring of 2006. Before that she headed production for three years at the alternative papers LA Weekly/OC Weekly. Shank came to that position after spending five years as print quality services director at the Los Angeles Times print quality services director. Before moving west, she was Orlando Sentinel production manager until the early 1990s, when she moved from Tribune Co. to Knight Ridder, becoming the group’s print-quality manager and printing manager at the flagship Miami Herald.
Viewed from the outside, Dow Jones had just been acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., so of course it could expect it would soon be shedding plants and outsourcing printing while focusing attention on the revenue side as the principal product was refined and repositioned.
On the inside, however, it looked different. The operations people were busy. Far from thinking about closing the plant, recalls Shank, “We were looking at a solar energy project for the Riverside plant.” Other plants, it seemed, would be the candidates for closure.
All the while, Shank wanted to spend more time with her son and maybe earn the MBA she had thought about 20 years earlier. She took the GMAT, looked at schools, and had “a lengthy discussion with a recent graduate” whose degree matched her aims.
Dow Jones supports such professional development, So early last spring, Shank approached Operations Vice President Larry Hoffman. “If I were to get an MBA with sustainability management, there might be some value to Dow Jones, long term,” Shank says she thought at the time. Murdoch, after all, had announced News Corp. would become carbon neutral by the end of 2010.
At the same time, and unknown to Shank, an auto auction expressed interest in the Riverside property, and Dow Jones thought it could strike a print deal with the LA Times to save on production costs.
By late spring, two events coincided: Shank was accepted at grad school — and Dow Jones announced her plant’s closing.
“I went ahead with my plans to go to school, and the company went ahead with their plans to close the plant,” she says. Along with good severance arrangements, she adds, “we had three months’ notice of the shutdown.”
Dow Jones would have paid half of her graduate studies, had Shank still been an employee. But it worked out in another ways, she adds: “As it was, I used a retraining bonus offered to every non-union employee who was in a plant-closing situation. You just had to identify a program and start it in six months.”
Shank threw herself into studies full time — “I’m not patient,” she says — at in San Francisco at Presidio Graduate School, combining traditional MBA courses with classes that have a “sustainability emphasis.”
But being a full-time student, she acknowledges, “is kind of a barrier to hiring me.” Every month she drives from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where she spends seven hours in classes for two days.
With another year of school to go, Shank has looked at non-profits, which may value combined competence in production operations and sustainability.
“I love newspapers. It’s been an awesome career,” she says. She doesn’t see herself returning in a production operations role, especially since newspapers are now so lean they are no longer staffing positions that would interest her. Instead, Shank is looking for comparable positions with other manufacturers.
Shank’s one best piece of advice: “If your company provides outplacement — or even if they don’t — take advantage.” She did, and says it helps with everything from the resume to clarifying career objectives.
“A lot of what we’ve done translates into logistics, lean manufacturing, [but] sometimes it takes another person to help you see,” she says, noting that’s especially after spending years in one career. Other examples she notes of transferable skills from newspapers are quality assurance and project implementation — “things that people look for when scanning resumes.” — Jim Rosenberg
Career Change Checklist: The next steps to your next position
Kirk B. O’Hara has helped operations managers and executives transition from newspaper careers in his 20 years of career coaching. O’Hara is vice president of consulting services at Executive Career Services, a boutique management and organizational consulting firm in Los Angeles. Here’s what he says to do if consolidation takes away your job:
* Realize that your emotions will bounce all over the map in the beginning. Give yourself time to absorb the emotional blow if you are laid off before starting a job search.
* Inventory your skills. Think of multiple demands you met in newspaper operations, such as maintaining quality standards while keeping workflow going under tight production schedules. Training and deploying skilled and unskilled workers. Ensuring a safe workplace for employees. Overseeing compliance of complex government labor, environmental and safety regulations.
* Be able to articulate the value you have demonstrated to past employers. Develop specific examples that show how you saved money, improved a process or delivered exceptional service. Operations managers can often give exact figures for the costs they saved, for instance, by reducing newsprint waste or labor downtime caused by web breaks. Did you recommend or green-light equipment or systems purchases that created new efficiencies or generated incremental revenue?
* Network, network, network. Studies have consistently shown that the majority of jobs are found through contacts — not in the published job market. Apply both strategies, but focus your efforts on expanding your base of professional contacts.
* Use your professional references as Board of Advisors. They can be a rich source of ideas in your job search and contacts that you need to meet — especially if they are making a career outside of newspapers.
* Be proactive. Job search is hard work, so don’t be afraid to push the envelope a bit to get noticed.
* Be patient, but follow up. Finding a new job is your No. 1 priority, but it isn’t a high priority for others. Allow sufficient time for things to happen, but don’t drop your follow-up activity if a company has shown interest in you.
* Don’t lose heart. Job search while in between work is a notorious emotional roller coaster. Don’t let it get you down. Showing positive energy and enthusiasm is a great sales technique. Remember that you likely had even more stressful days and nights ensuring the production and delivery of the “Daily Miracle.”