McClatchy Sought ‘Truthful Messages’ in Cutback Notices

By: Joe Strupp

If it seemed like internal memos and public announcements of the McClatchy nationwide job cutback Monday were saying the same thing, that’s because many of them were.

Certain paragraphs and phrases appeared in most of the stories and staff memos circulating Monday that informed local readers and employees about how the 10% nationwide cutback would affect their local publications.

In many cases, the bad news began with the statement: “This is a painful but necessary step,” followed by “We?re operating in a time of great change.”

Howard Weaver, McClatchy’s vice president/news, admitted that corporate executives sought to unify the message that went out Monday, noting such a big change was unusual for the chain. “There was a working document that people could use” at each paper for their announcements. “Many of them pulled up whole paragraphs.”

He said that effort to make such messages and memos concise and direct is needed in today’s Internet age: “We are in an era where nearly every memo ends up on Romenesko before the copier cools down.”

Added Weaver, “There was a lot of back and forth between all of the papers and us over how we were going to announce this. We had a very strategic process to decide what is the best way to handle things. There was a desire to have us all communicate as clearly as we could, a truthful message to staff.”

Other specific phrases that appeared in McClatchy announcements and stories, from The Fresno Bee to the Kansas City Star:

? “Although many of these job eliminations will occur through involuntary layoffs, there also will be opportunities for employees to voluntarily elect a severance package where reductions are occurring in large groups.”

? “As a news company, we have often reported on such transitions in other industries. Now we face the painful reality of severing employment ties with valued friends and colleagues, many of whom have served the company well for many years. We are sorry to do so, and will do everything possible to make their transition as smooth as possible.”

Most also included this comment from McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt: “McClatchy is committed to remaining a healthy, profitable company positioned not only to meet current challenges, but to take full advantage of opportunities for growth as we restructure to support our mission of delivering high quality news and information.?

On Monday, even some of the most responsive McClatchy editors and publishers remained mum as word of the cutbacks spread. Weaver acknowledged that there was an effort to keep the announcement direct on at least the first day. “On the day of the announcement, we wanted to be as coherent and responsible as we could and avoid misunderstandings,” he said. “There was no across the board ban, but we did want the message to be a coherent one on the first day.”

Asked about the criticism of the cutbacks by some workers, including several Newspaper Guild representatives, Weaver said the company still retains 90% of the staff it had prior to cuts. But, he said, “we are at a place where we have to demonstrate that our plan will work — we have to perform. I remain convinced that growing audience is the best predictor of success and we are doing that.”

Weaver cited recent reports that McClatchy’s online audience had increased 40% in the first few months of 2008 compared to the same period last year: “We are producing information people want, we can do this, we are doing this.”

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