By: Joe Strupp
A day after announcing the second buyout offer in less than seven months at the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, which could mean another 30 employees gone, Editor Thomas Fladung would not rule out even further job cuts before the end of 2007.
“We are all on unsure ground,” said Fladung, who announced Tuesday a buyout offer that could see up to 15 newsroom jobs lost. “I didn’t see doing these now because I didn’t see the first six months of ’07 having a revenue slide.”
Newspaper Guild leaders criticized the move, saying the paper needs to reorganize the way it approaches news instead of continually cutting. “We are trying to get the company to take a look at how it does business, revamp everything,” said Alex Friedrich, Pioneer Press unit chair for the Minnesota Newspaper Guild. “How are we doing advertising? What is our online presence? Some stuff is inefficient, we need more training. Why the company thinks cutting and cutting year after year is going to work is beyond me.”
Friedrich said Fladung’s failure to rule out further buyouts or job cuts after this round is not a surprise. “I asked how low MediaNews would be willing to go,” Friedrich recalls about his conversation with the editor. “He said he didn’t know.” MediaNews Group of Denver, Colo., owns the Pioneer Press.
Fladung said the decision for the latest buyout offer came about quickly. “We have been talking about it for about a week, we had to get MediaNews approval, which we got on Friday, and had one more meeting on Monday,” he explained. “We had to react fast because the financial situation dictated it.”
The buyout offer is the second to occur at the newspaper since late last year, when 29 employees, including 22 newsroom staffers, took advantage of a similar offer in December. Some employees have complained that the latest buyout plan gives them just a week to commit, with a July 25 deadline to decide. “Journalists should be able to react quickly,” Fladung said. “These are life-changing decisions and I don’t mean to minimize it.”
If the predicted 15 newsroom employees leave through this buyout, that will mean the news staff had shrunk from 202 before the 2006 buyout down to 165 at the end of the latest one. When asked if a third buyout is more or less likely before the end of 2007, Fladung said, “I am not into predicting the future. I sure hope it is less likely.”
Fladung, who said the current buyout offers two weeks’ salary for each year of service up to one year of pay, blamed the revenue slide on a mix of advertising downturns, including classified and auto ads. But he said local ad sales were holding steady, “which is encouraging.”
The latest buyouts were announced as the guild is in ongoing contract talks to forge a new agreement. The current contract expires July 31, Friedrich said, noting that no salary proposals have been put forth by either side, but procedural changes have been discussed.
Company officials have proposed eliminating daily overtime in favor of a weekly overtime plan, freezing the employee pensions, and changing the vacation policy. Friedrich said the union wants to merge the online and print newsrooms, a move that would bring the online workers under guild representation. “We’ve got editorial folks wondering why we aren’t merged,” he said. “Advertising people wondering why they can’t sell online.”