Tag Archives: job cuts

The danger of the state of journalism

I’m normally an optimist, but I’m finding it difficult to be upbeat today. Yesterday I learned that many former colleagues of mine are among those

Danger Sign

Danger Sign

with 10-day furloughs and pension freezes as Advance Publications attempts to help the bottom line, and also that Gannett journalists I know are facing their second furlough for the same reasons.

Today I read that Janice Okun is retiring from the Buffalo News on March 31, the same day the Buffalo News had previously reported those accepting buyouts would have to be off the payroll. Thirty-six members of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild (not all editorial) took that offer. (Okun will continue writing reviews as a freelancer, but will no longer be a staffer.)

I couldn’t help thinking about all this when, in my media law class, we were talking about the importance of  Freedom of Information Act and state Freedom of Information Laws. Students brought in examples of stories where government records were used.

Among them was this gem:

The city of Auburn would not release the names of two employees who took equipment until two newspapers — The Post-Standard and The Auburn Citizen–filed a notice that they intended to sue the city for the names.

My question is, with journalists working fewer hours (if at all), who is going to do these stories? Who is going to find out about this stuff?

I know some new media types say citizen journalists or bloggers will do it. Really? In a small city like Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse someone who works a paying job is going to have time to file foia/foil requests and hold public officials accountable?

And please don’t tell me TV and radio journalists will do it. Government record stories don’t have exciting visuals, and TV and radio journalism staffs are cut to the bone, too.

This newspaper crisis has far deeper implications than what happens to journalists. It’s about what happens to our society.

As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” But let’s face it:  We are losing a major conduit to that power.

Buffalo News full-time editorial employees safe from layoffs

The Buffalo News and the Buffalo Newspaper Guild have reached an agreement that will mean only two part-time sports clerks will lose their jobs in the newsroom. Outside the newsroom, at least seven jobs are proposed to be cut.

Guild members have to vote on the plan — which includes giving up raises, bonuses and higher Sunday pay — on Thursday, according to the Guild.

While the news that full-time newsroom employees won’t be facing the chopping block is good, it’s hard to take any kind of pleasure in this. The fact is the Guild is giving up a lot to save the jobs. And the News has lost several experienced, brilliant reporters to its cost-cutting buyouts. Case in point:

  • Sharon Linstedt, News business reporter recently lauded by the paper’s Editor, Margaret Sullivan, for her coverage of the crash of Flight 3407, which killed all aboard the plane and one on the ground. Sullivan wrote: “By 4 a. m., Linstedt had become a major source of information for the world, providing audio interviews for NBC, MSNBC, ABC and CBS. Linstedt was also the first to report that 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert was one of the victims.” That grit, expertise and experience will be gone from the paper by month’s end.
  • Fred Williams, perhaps best known for his business reporting. Recently, he’s been covering community news, including the beheading of a prominent Orchard Park woman.
  • Howard Smith, managing editor and former sports editor, who ended up in the media spotlight himself when News Sports reporter Tom Borrelli died last year from injuries sustained in a fall while covering a game and Smith was asked to comment on Borelli’s accomplishments.

While I’m happy that it appears the News might avoid newsroom layoffs of full-time employees at this time, my heart goes out to the folks in the Buffalo News newsroom, who in the past six months have dealt with the tragedy of the Flight 3407 crash, the unexpected death of a colleague who was covering a game, and the threat of losing their jobs.  Hang in there. Better days are coming.

Idea: Get unemployed journalists to teach news literacy

Perhaps the greatest news to come out of last week’s “News Literacy:  Setting a National Agenda” conference at the State University of New York at Stony Brook was this:  The University’s Center for News Literacy is working on a proposal aimed at hiring 50 unemployed journalists and training them to teach in colleges throughout the country. The goal is to have government and foundation grant money pay for the salaries and the training of these journalists.

When Howard “Howie” Schneider, dean of the University’s journalism school, asked if any of the nearly 100 educators, administrators and journalists attending the conference on Long Island Friday would like to have one of these journalists for their schools, hands quickly shot into the air.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded SUNY Stony Brook a grant to help find full funding for the project. The hope is that some of the education money the Obama administration has targeted at education might be used for this project, along with foundation money that SUNY Stony Brook hopes to secure.

It is a fabulous idea that takes a step toward solving two major problems in journalism:  the unemployment of experienced, excellent journalists and the inability of many news consumers to differentiate between quality journalism and propaganda, public relations and/or shoddy journalism. The goal of this conference was to discuss ways to integrate classes on being a savvy news consumer into high school and college/university curriculums. I can think of no better way to get students interested than to have “guest teachers” who worked in journalism talk about the ins and outs of understanding the news.

Here’s hoping SUNY Stony Brook can pull this off. My hat’s off to the teachers and administrators at Stony Brook for their innovation and dilligence.

Buffalo News layoffs won’t start for at least a week

No layoffs will happen at the Buffalo News until the end of next week at the earliest, the Buffalo Newspaper Guild states on its web site.

The Buffalo News says it may have to lay off up to 52 employees.  The Guild, which represents about 325 News employees — including newsroom/editorial staff — is trying to find $2.9 million in cuts to prevent that from happening. In total, the News is looking to cut $15 million in expenses, the Guild says. The paper lost money in November, December and January, with the greatest amount at $714,000 in November, the Guild reports.

The Guild is asking its members to “be prepared to do your part if future workplace actions are necessary.”

There was a day when I would read “workplace actions” from a union statement and think “strike.” Sadly, in the current newsroom environment, I think the phrase “workplace actions” can now be translated as “sacrifices.”


Glowing praise amidst job worries

Buffalo News Editor Margaret Sullivan details the “all-out effort” of News staff to cover the crash of Flight 3407 in today’s paper.

The piece takes on a new layer of importance in light of the job situation at the News.

Monday the Buffalo Newspaper Guild Local-CWA Local 31026 will be meeting with union members to update them on information they expect to get from News executives, according to the union’s website. Friday the union issued a statement that it is,

“extremely disappointed that Publisher Stan Lipsey would send out a memo regarding potential layoffs before the Guild has had the opportunity to work with managers to avoid these losses.”

When all is said and done, it could be that some of the people who helped cover the plane crash tragedy may be facing a crisis of their own–unemployment.

Newspaper job losses and humor

Romensko reports that the Boston Globe may cut up to 50 newsroom jobs. This follows yesterday’s Gannett announcement of employees taking a week without pay and massive layoffs at Gannett, among others, last year.

If you want to see the mounting tally of cuts at U.S. newspapers, check out papercuts. The site is depressing, but reality is reality. If you need a chuckle after the bad news, papercuts links to Overheard in the Newsroom, where users post random things they’ve heard at work.

Gannett paper mentions CEO’s salary in job cuts story

By now, those following journalism know that Gannett has asked its employees to take a one-week unpaid leave in order to save the company money.

I was thrilled to see my local Gannett paper, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, mention Gannett CEO  Craig Dubow’s salary — $1.2 million in 2007–in its story about the unpaid leave.