'34 years of experience' for 7 of those eliminated: the Guild

Dateline: Tue 30 Jul 2013

Today's note from the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, in all its uncensored fire and glory:


These new layoffs – the fifth round of layoffs conducted at the Star in the past five years – didn’t cut deeply into the heart of the news operation as have some of the past cuts and didn’t remove layers of coverage as some have before. By and large, they may go unnoticed by readers.

But the layoffs Monday of 11 good people still hurts, and once again revives an old fear that had subsided a bit in the two years since the last round – that the knife of force reductions can be brought out with little notice.

Monday’s casualty list – 3 copy editors, 3 clerks, 2 custodians, a part-time photographer, a part-time graphic artist and an assistant calendar editor – were removed from the front lines of the newsgathering process by a layer or more.

Yet there are some things still troubling about Monday’s effort at – how did management characterize it – “right sizing.”

First, the Star’s copy desk is getting thinner, the protective layers between publication and error prevention just got leaner. This started with deep cuts to the desk two years ago and shows little sign of being turned back. Plans that were in the works to retool the desk had to be scrapped as these new cuts were made. Our copy desk protects our credibility. That's a valuable commodity.

Second, this right sizing effort seemed to save money for the company by reducing people with some of the smallest salaries – two custodians, three clerks, a calendar editor and a part-time photo editor. In the world of setting priorities for a leaner business, these jobs may seem less important than they once were. But we find it interesting that, while two management positions were cut, people at the bottom continue to be expendable when corners of management that seem superfluous – and where salaries are more robust – still remain intact.

Third, the Star continues to be a less than hospitable place for its most veteran staffers. We’re still gathering data but the average amount of experience for seven of the nine newsroom staffers let go Monday was 34 years. This follows issues that other veteran employees have faced in recent months, from the worst evaluations of their careers to demotions. This is a serious matter we will look further into.

Finally, what is it about Summer at the Star? We’ve had layoffs here in August 2008, July 2009, June 2011 and now July 2013. Most often, the layoffs have been corporate ordered reductions that have come at the end of bad revenue figures in the second quarter, as if executives start to worry their year-end bonuses are in jeopardy without a little cost cutting. We know the industry and its ad revenues have been shrinking, but it’s getting to where you want to hold on to your vacation until the summer layoff season passes.

In this instance, the surgical strike seems solely directed by Star Media publisher Karen Crotchfelt who, along with Editor Jeff Taylor, say it reflects our priority of having more boots on the ground. Both deserve credit in the past year for adding back reporters -- namely for investigations, business, higher education, breaking news and features. But after they’ve been trying to tell the community we’re evolving, and that our business is transforming instead of dying, moves like Monday’s muddle the message, try as they might to see that the message goes unnoticed. It especially muddles the message for the employees who remain behind, and who are weary of being told by management that “we’re still bullish about our business.” We’ve heard that message five times now. It’s beginning to wear a little thin.

Here’s a solution: Hire some people who can sell advertising on the fucking internet. Get some folks there who can think creatively enough to generate some new revenue streams. And make sure the next person who runs advertising doesn’t show up at the corporate meetings and perform the same happy song and dance routine without some results. That’s wearing a little thin, too. 

--Your Guild leadership


Joe [unverified] said:

Agree completely that this strike was executed locally, and that Publisher needs to be held accountable. We need stronger leadership from her. Sad sad day.

2013-07-31 06:36:41

hendy [Member] said:

You could hire salespeople, but they're captive to the thoroughly awful CMS that the paper uses for its online presence.

For decades, monopoly thinking caused a lot of trends in regional publishing, and today, many of the pubs you see in groceries that have a regional flavor, are smart thinkers that have picked off market segments from what was once Indpls Newspapers, Ink.

Gone are the days when auto dealerships and real estate people purchased huge blocks. Mailers now do coupons. Bars and entertainment establishments thrive via Nuvo.

And the other staff @ The Star had a hand in it by not covering "unfavored" establishments. Businesses have a long memory of abuse at the hands of unfair coverage. Worse, the political radars favored certain businesses owned by one political party, rather an other. Liberal? You were screwed. Jim Kittle? Smiles!

So don't believe it's a transitional problem. This one cooked for forty years. I'm sorry for those that were laid off, but no job is safe there.

2013-07-31 07:41:51

Chris Wright [unverified] said:

All job losses suck, so this isn't a comparison. But I would like to thank Ralph and Tony, whose love and knowledge of Indiana high school basketball is surpassed by perhaps two people on the planet, Garry Donna and Pat McKee. Ralph and Tony were unsung heroes. I worked with them for 7-plus years. They caught historical fact errors related to HS hoops that slipped past my new-to-Indiana self. I frequently bounced "This guy better than that guy?" story ideas off them because I knew they knew.
Those guys were an absolute asset, and they loved their job.
Just a bad, bad deal.
Thank you Ralph and Tony.
You guys deserved better.

2013-07-31 19:08:07

ruthholl [Member] said:

Beautifully said, Chris Wright. Thanks for chiming in. It is important to give praise when Gannett tears people down by laying them off...

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escapedbeforebeinggannettized [unverified] said:

Regarding the comment on "hire some people who can sell the f - internet". It's not all that easy.
Points to consider:
The Star's online product is mediocre at best. Try to get back to the home page after clicking on a story?
Try to find an obit in the archives?
Can't do it. I've tried to find a main story that ran in the paper the day before & couldn't. The local tv stations websites are much better and if an advertiser can buy a spot on there with more viewers at a lesser cpm, they are going that route. TV stations notoriously pay more to their sales reps than newspaper online reps. Turn-around time to get an ad loaded up on line is much quicker than it is at the Star. Their weather info, maps, etc. is much better than the Star. Breaking news hits much quicker on the broadcast stations online product. Competetion is supposed to make you & your product better. Someone has to come in last & right now it is the Star.

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