‘Orlando Sentinel’ Publisher Acknowledges Newsroom Cuts

By: Joe Strupp

Orlando Sentinel Publisher Howard Greenberg acknowledged that the newspaper is cutting 20% of the newsroom, contradicting a newspaper spokesperson’s earlier comment that no cuts were planned.

“We have announced a reduction in force to our newsroom staff in Orlando,” Greenberg told E&P Friday. Employees, he added, “have been told about the reduction in force.”

Greenberg’s comments followed E&P’s report Thursday that 20% of the 250-plus newsroom would lose jobs by the end of July, with about 20 being informed this week of the cuts. The reduction includes both layoffs and voluntary departures and a severance package of two weeks’ pay for each year of service.

On Thursday, Editor Charlotte Hall declined to comment about the cuts, refering calls to Lisa Jacobsen, a human resources and marketing spokesperson. She told E&P that no cuts were planned “at this time.”

Greenberg said that there was a miscommunication and that E&P should have been told that no cuts beyond the 20% in the newsroom were planned. He said the staff had been told about the cutbacks, but not each individual.

“We are in the middle of the process,” said Greenberg, who is also publisher of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. He added that not all employees who are being terminated have been notified. “What Lisa should have said is that we have no further reductions planned beyond that.”

Numerous staffers had objected to the paper’s lack of public disclosure about the cuts.

Asked why the Sentinel, a Tribune Co. paper, had not publicly revealed the job cut plans to readers prior to making them, as most papers do, Greenberg said: “We chose to do it the way we did. Unfortunately, there was a mistake.”

The publisher said that the paper would publicly report the cutbacks at the end of July when they are completed. He also said that cuts in other departments would occur, but had no specifics.

Hall and Managing Editor Mark Russell, meanwhile, issued a memo to staffers Friday following E&P’s story that detailed the cutbacks.

“This has been a tough week for all of us. We have lost valued colleagues and talented journalists. We want to update you on the terminations,” the memo stated, in part. “As we told you two weeks ago, about 20 percent of positions in the newsroom would be eliminated. Seven of those positions are currently vacant. The open positions and people who asked for the severance package will make up about 70 percent of the job eliminations. Sixteen staff members were terminated this week, with 10 of them seeking the package.”

It also acknowledged the lack of public disclosure about the cuts, stating: “As you know, we have another round of cuts coming at the end of the month, and numbers can change up to the last minute. At that time, we will do a news story when the process is complete. We do not release the names of those leaving the Sentinel. That has been our longstanding company policy and is grounded in respect for the privacy of those terminated employees.”

The memo mentioned Jacobsen’s comments to E&P, stating: “Unfortunately, Lisa Jacobsen’s comments to E&P were taken out of context and, therefore, did not reflect the situation accurately.” Greenberg, however, has acknowledged that Jacobsen was unclear.

Among those laid off is Tammy Lytle, the longtime Washington, D.C., bureau chief for the Sentinel and one of only two reporters in that bureau. Lytle, who had worked 11 years for the paper in D.C. and served as top D.C. reporter for eight years, said she was told Tuesday that she would lose her job.

“They said my position was eliminated,” she told E&P. “I think it is a shame, because I think Washington news is important to Orlando. It is important to have that kind of coverage.”

Lytle, 47, said she had gone to a three-day work week two years ago after her twin sons were born, working Tuesday through Thursday. She thanked the Sentinel for allowing her to put in a shorter week: “They have been good about letting me do that.”

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