By: Joe Strupp
As many as 100 newsroom staffers at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis may be taken off their current beats and forced to apply for new assignments when a week-long shake-up is finished, according to a guild official who called the overhaul “the worst ever” situation for employees in her 19 years there.
“I’ve never seen anything as sad as this,” said Pam Miller, secretary of the local Newspaper Guild, and the paper’s religion writer. “It is being handled without attention to individuals or their talents. People are coming out sobbing.”
Editors have been calling in those affected to inform them since Tuesday, Miller said. “They are being told ‘what you do now, you won’t be able to do anymore’,” Miller said. “Either the beat is going away, or they won’t be doing it.”
She said the changes are expected to affect between 90 and 100 staffers in the 340-person newsroom. These changes come as the paper offers a companywide buyout that is expected to cut 145 jobs, including 50 in the newsroom. That is on top of 24 buyouts that occurred in March.
“It is quite unbelievable,” said Doug Smith, a 20-year Star Tribune employee who has been an outdoor writer for 11 years, but was told his beat had been dropped. “The job was basically eliminated. I will have the chance to apply for other reporting or editing jobs, but it is not real pleasant.”
Editor Nancy Barnes and Managing Editor Scott Gillespie could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. In a conversation on Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week, Gillespie said, “We’re in a business and the business model that we came to know and be comfortable with in the 90s changed dramatically.”
The Star Tribune, which had been owned by McClatchy, was purchased earlier his year by local investors, Avista Capital Partners. Since then, the job cuts and beat changes have sparked ongoing concern among staffers. But Miller says the cutbacks are not as bad as what she considers “arbitrary” assignment changes.
“I think they just want people to leave by making it discouraging enough that they will do it,” she said. “It is not just the dead wood or those with poor performance. They are just shaking up longtime beats, and some prize-winners here.”
In addition to the outdoors beat, Miller said the paper also is losing its architecture and travel writer posts, as well as two of the four metro columnists. A sports finance beat is being eliminated, while the paper’s Duluth bureau is closing, she said.
When asked how these shake-ups compare to the recent sale of the paper and the other cutbacks, Miller said “this is the most traumatic thing and the most confusing thing.”